ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Zak Brown intends to use his commercial expertise to bring a big-name title sponsor to McLaren.
The 45-year-old American was hired as executive director of the Formula One team on Monday as part of a significant restructuring following the departure of Ron Dennis.
“It’s critically important we find a title partner, a major sponsor. We need some logos on the side of our car,” Brown said Friday from McLaren’s motorhome. “The brands we have on the car now are fantastic companies. We need more of them. It costs a lot of money to go motor-racing and we need to deliver a lot of value to our marketing partners.”
Brown is well placed to attract potential new sponsors given his wealth of experience. He founded the motorsport marketing company JMI in 1995 and is an ex-Formula Three racer who started out his junior career in karting.
Brown, who once had aspirations of being an F1 driver, clearly knows what he is looking for.
“If you look at the McLaren brand and what it stands for: it is technology, lifestyle, wealth, competition, speed, precision,” Brown said. “Those are the types of companies that make sense for us to partner.”
Dennis, McLaren’s chairman and chief executive, last week failed in a bid at London’s High Court to stop the team’s board from forcing him out.
Brown paid tribute to him.
“Ron, at the end of the day, is the one who recruited me,” Brown said. “The last couple of years he left the door open. He turned up the volume in pursuit of me.”
The British team is continuing its search for a chief executive to replace Dennis, who oversaw the historic tussle for the F1 title between McLaren drivers Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in 1988 and 1989, before Mika Hakkinen clinched championships in 1998 and 1999. Three-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton won his first title with McLaren in 2008.
McLaren’s success has since dried up, and its renewed relationship with Japanese engine manufacturer Honda has yet to bring titles. Although McLaren has 2009 champion Jenson Button and two-time champion Fernando Alonso, neither has placed higher than fifth since Honda’s return last season.
This year, Alonso is 10th overall while Button is 15th heading into Sunday’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
However, the car’s improving speed leaves Brown optimistic the team can get podiums next year, when highly-rated Belgian prospect Stoffel Vandoorne will partner Alonso.
“We’ve got what I think is the best race car driver in the world in Fernando Alonso,” Brown said. “I think Stoffel is very much a future world champion.”
MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook
Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.