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Brown provides the background for McLaren’s INDYCAR decision

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Zak Brown, the CEO at McLaren Racing, discussed in detail the company’s decision to merge with existing Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to field a fulltime NTT IndyCar Series team in 2020. NBC Sports.com was among a very small group of media that had a chance to talk to Brown, shortly after McLaren announced it would field a two-car IndyCar team next season.

“I’m very pleased to get it over the line,” Brown told NBC Sports.com. “We’ve been working on it for a while and we’ve been a tire kicker. We stated our intentions from Day One about joining IndyCar fulltime and have said it’s a matter of ‘when,’ not ‘if.’

“I’m very pleased the conversation can now turn to talking about racing as opposed to, are we going to do it? Are we not going to do it?

McLaren announced very early Friday morning that it was merging with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to create a new team known as Arrow McLaren Racing SP and will field two Chevrolet-powered cars in the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series.

Arrow SPM team principal Sam Schmidt told NBC Sports.com at Mid-Ohio two weeks ago that he had been talking to McLaren officials about this arrangement and would have to switch from Honda to Chevrolet to make it a reality. Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had one more year remaining on its contract with Honda Performance Development, but that deal will conclude at the end of this season.

What is surprising is Schmidt and Honda share a long-term relationship. By reneging on the final year of a contract with the automotive manufacturer, instead of waiting for the current deal to expire so the team could join rival Chevrolet, is controversial to put it mildly.

It’s the second time that McLaren and Honda have been at odds in the past two years. When McLaren F1 was saddled with an uncompetitive Honda engine in 2017, the team publicly criticized the Japanese manufacturer when it switched to a different manufacturer.

Schmidt’s decision to leave Honda with one year left on an existing contract has likely alienated the automotive manufacturer further.

Brown and McLaren were prohibited by Honda Japan from doing business with one of its teams in IndyCar. That is why the team could not align with Andretti Autosport, as it did in 2017 in two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso’s impressive Indianapolis 500 debut.

In order to come to IndyCar in 2020, it would have to be with a Chevrolet team. McLaren found a team willing to make the move, but Arrow SPM would have to leave Honda for that to happen.

Ironically, these two teams are the last two big-name operations that have failed to miss the 33-car starting lineup for the Indianapolis 500 over the past two years. James Hinchcliffe’s Arrow Honda failed to make the field for the 102ndIndianapolis 500 in 2018 and Alonso couldn’t get the McLaren entry into the 103rdIndy 500 starting lineup this past May.

After dealing with the major embarrassment, Brown vowed that McLaren would be back.

INDYCAR Photo by Walter Kuhn“I had a clear mandate from our board,” Brown said. “They have been bought in to the benefits of McLaren having an IndyCar program as part of McLaren racing ever since 2017. I started and laid out my vision of what McLaren Racing should look like over the next five to 10 years. I’ve been working hard to put together a program that would fit the criteria that was outlined for me. It has obviously taken some time to get there, as you all know.

“We’ve been working on it for some time and done two Indy 500s. It all came together around an SPM partnership thanks to Arrow Electronics and Chevrolet. We have a lot of long-standing relationships inside SPM with Sam and Ric that go back to my racing days and Gil de Ferran, who I brought on last year with what we’ve announced today in mind.

“He played a great role helping get Formula One pointed in the right direction. That was always the intent. (McLaren Sporting Director) Gil De Ferran is a two-time CART champion, Indy 500 winner and had his own team. The pieces were put in place some time ago and just came together in the last few months.”

Because INDYCAR rules on testing are extremely limited, McLaren will depend on the Arrow SPM side of the operation for the foundation of the team and its setups. McLaren will then utilize many of its resources in what it hopes will elevate the overall team performance.

“The rules are the rules, and everyone has the same conditions in front of them,” Brown said. “That was one of the benefits in partnering with an existing team. We saw the challenges by being a startup and how difficult that is. We are partnering with a team that has already won races, already been on the podium this year. Without starting from scratch, like we would if we were starting our own team, what we now need to do is Gil and Taylor Kiel (current Arrow SPM general manager) need to start working together to see what McLaren resources can help elevate the team to where podiums aren’t occasional, but on a more frequent basis.

“That was one of the benefits when we looked through how do we want to go about this, going with an existing that has already won races, I think will help a lot on the areas that would be bigger challenges if we were a new team.

“It’s definitely a very integrated partnership – technically, managerially and commercially and ultimately marketing. Yes, we will have some McLaren-led partnership on the full-season cars and if we did a third entry at Indy, I would suspect that would be the same, too.”

Brown stressed the decision to create a two-car NTT IndyCar Series program was fully dependent on McLaren’s Formula One program returning to competitiveness. This year, McLaren has made great strides in F1 with drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris. Sainz is seventh in the standings and Norris 10th.

“Formula One was No. 1 on the checklist that the IndyCar program would not be a distraction to Formula One,” Brown explained. “We need to have the Formula One team on a strong foundation. If I didn’t feel Formula One was going in the right direction with all of my leadership in place, I wouldn’t have brought it forward if I didn’t feel the two could run parallel and complement each other commercially but have zero distraction to each other’s program from an on-track point of view.

“If this was 2018, I don’t think it would have been something we would have brought forward because I don’t think we would have been ready.”

Brown also said technical partner Arrow Electronics was also a major player in bringing the two operations together to create Arrow McLaren Racing SP.

“Arrow was a critical partner in bringing this all together and a very big partner inside,” Brown said. “Technically, we do business with them inside McLaren Group in racing, in automotive, in our Pi Technologies and our IT infrastructure. Arrow does business across all of our businesses with McLaren. The automotive division of Arrow has ground tremendously. It’s a key focus for them.

“While they are a very important commercial partner supporting both our IndyCar team and the F1 team, they are equally important behind the scenes driving our businesses forward from a technical point of view.”

Popular driver James Hinchcliffe, who married his longtime fiancée Becky Dalton last Saturday in Ontario, has a contract with the team through 2020. The team intends to honor that, but Hinchcliffe has endorsement deals with Honda, including the popular “Honda Dream Garage Spring Savings” line of commercials.

Rookie driver Marcus Ericsson of Sweden has a one-year deal with the team that concludes at the end of this season.

After Friday’s announcement, Hinchcliffe sent out the following message on his Twitter account:

“It’s an exciting day for all of us with Arrow McLaren SP, and the culmination of a lot of hard work put in by all. My love for motorsports started on those weekends watching F1 races with my dad and McLaren was a huge part of that. To be able to drive for that name is a dream come true.

“Thank you to Arrow, Petro Canada Lubricants and all of our partners that put us in this position.

“It is rather unfortunate what this means for our relationship with Honda. They are another company that has done so much for me and when the time is right a discussion to what that means for my partnership with them and Honda Canada will need to occur but that is secondary right now to this exciting news. I’ve worked with General Motors in the past and look forward to rekindling that relationship in 2020.”

Finally, Brown spoke about McLaren’s potential team for the 24 Hours of Le Mans and how both the Formula One and IndyCar programs would have an impact on that decision.

“I think Le Mans is something much like Indy we want to go to,” Brown said. “We think it’s great for our automotive business. We have won Le Mans before. There are a lot of similarities. With IndyCar, we are filling in the North American gap. Formula One is tackling America and getting more popular by the day, but it’s still not a strong market for them.

“Le Mans is more about our automotive business and our road car. We like the rules and it has not been expensive and there is a longer lead time

“I wouldn’t say it is on the back burner, it just moves at a slower pace. It is more complicated. We need to align that more with our automotive business. We have already stated we want to be there in the first season and make sure we don’t bite off more than we can chew is a big element to when and if we go. We really need to understand what the new Formula One looks like because that will be a big element we take into consideration when we get into regional allocation in the future.

“We need to see what the future of Formula One looks like before we get into a Le Mans program.”

INDYCAR: what drivers said after Pocono

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Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s 14th race on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule – the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – WINNER: “I had a few issues during the race but we just kept coming back. Full credit to the team. We had a great car and we just kind of hung there and saved fuel and when it was time to go, I went. I was so determined and I really wanted to win. This is my 13th year in a row of winning races and I have been thinking about that. I just wanted to win a race for Verizon and these guys who have worked their butts off all year and just haven’t had the results.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished second: “Definitely gets exciting in that situation. We definitely had some luck. Today the car went through some good changes. The car was pretty quick.  Not sure really what happened on the last stint there. We put more front wing in there, more pressure on the right rear tire. Couldn’t turn the car. We were running 213, 214 (mph), struggling to do 208. So much understeer. Will was definitely extremely strong today. It was good to see him get another victory this season. Had we gone back out, even with headlights on, I think Will was going to take the race. Congrats to him and Team Penske. We’ll keep our head down and see what we can come up with for the last three races.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet) – finished third: “Well, it’s a great day. Very happy for Will and Team Penske to get another win here in Pocono. It’s pretty awesome. I think we showed our cars were the strongest today. Overall it’s a pretty good points day for us on the 22 car this weekend. Obviously, yes, I did think we could have done a little better. At least we would have tried. I think we had the car to do so… Who knows what would have happened, but I think we could have challenged at least. At the end of the day it’s not a bad day. We’ll take it. Go to the next one, keep pushing.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda) – finished fourth: “This weekend has been pretty amazing to have over 120 people here, from family and friends to sponsors and to race in front of such a large crowd. Hats off to the whole team, we rolled the car off the trailer and it was fast. I’d say that’s a job well-done and homework well-researched. The No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda was on rails. I think we definitely had a top three in us and we were fighting for a chance to win the race at one point. Obviously with the conditions and everything, I’m still happy to bring home a top-five. It makes a huge difference in the rookie championship and moves us up to 12th overall. With three races to go and one more oval, we’ll see how much further we can move up.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished fifth: “It was kind of an interesting day, but it could have been worse. It was sort of like qualifying yesterday where qualifying got rained out but we started on the pole. We didn’t finish this race but we finished fifth. We’ll take it. I wish we could have been a little bit higher, but I think Will (Power) was going to be tough to beat today. He looked very strong. Certainly towards the middle of the race I thought he was looking very good. We fought with what we had today and I thought the Hitachi Chevy was pretty good. Coming out of here with a decent finish allows us to now focus on the last three events. We just need to set our sights on Gateway next weekend and execute. I think we will have a good car. I always feel confident with Team Penske, and Team Chevy has been pushing hard, so I’m looking forward to it.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 SONAX Chevrolet) – finished sixth: “We needed a decent run. We DNF’ed at Iowa, which wasn’t good. I feel like we have been performing better this year, we just haven’t really been able to put it together. It was nice to be in the mix, racing with the guys you need to race with to be up there fighting for wins. I wish we could have seen out all 500 miles, but Pocono always has its own craziness when it comes to the weather. Hopefully, all of the fans got to their cars before they got too wet. I thought it was a really good turnout today, it was a fun race while we were out there. It was unfortunate to see guys kind of lose their minds a bit there at the start, but all in all it was a fun day and nice to be moving forward.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda) – finished seventh: “It was a strong run for the No. 18 SealMaster Honda. We were quick and I got up to fourth at one point. I think we deserved that position. It was kind of a broken up race and unfortunately, on the last restart, the guys in front of me checked up and I got swallowed up and lost four positions. I got one position back, then the race was stopped because of the weather. I think if the race continued we would have finished better than seventh, but that’s racing.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished eighth: “Good day for us, another top 10. We have a few things to improve still but we’ll take it from where we started. We had a competitive car all weekend. The goal was to finish in the top 10 and we finished eighth, which is my best result of the year. It’s a good energy boost for the boys.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 TOTAL Honda) – finished ninth: “We need a little more pace. We were a little slow on the straights for some reason, but we’ll keep digging into it. I had a bad restart (went from fifth to ninth), but it wasn’t that bad actually. I was pulling up on the guys in front of me, but I just got driven around and was in a position where I was a little bit of a sitting duck and lost a bunch of spots and that killed our race from then-on, frankly. We were scrambling just to get ourselves back in position. I had another good restart later and went from 13th to ninth and made some of those spots back up.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Carlin Chevrolet) – finished 10th: “First and foremost, I’m glad that everyone is OK from the incidents on track today. Secondly, I’m just really proud of this Carlin crew. We made great progress with the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet in superspeedway trim and we learned a lot after coming here last year. The racing at Pocono Raceway is really tough, but these guys just kept their head down and made it happen. I made a mistake in the first pit stop, but we were able to run our strategy and get a really good run going. To come away with a top-10 finish from a very challenging weekend where we didn’t get to qualify is really a credit to the entire Carlin team. It was really great to get that top-10 finish in front of all of our Novo Nordisk guests who made the trip out to the track to support us and also to round out the top 10 with a bowtie for Team Chevy.”

CONOR DALY (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): – finished 11th “After where we started at the back of the field, to finish 11th is awesome. It’s unfortunate though, because we were really just starting to get to the point where I was happier with the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet. The last few laps before the final red flag, we were the fastest car on the track, so we were definitely moving in the right direction. We were catching all of the people in front of us and starting to get to where we needed to be, but these 500-mile races are long and the goal is to be strong at the end, which I really felt like we were working toward that for sure. To be 11th is really good and it’s another strong finish for this group of people here at Carlin. Hopefully we can keep this momentum going into Gateway and that’ll be even more fun.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) – finished 12th: “It was a tough race. I thought I had some really good starts and restarts; we made up positions there. Unfortunately, throughout the race we were struggling a bit with the balance of the car throughout the stints, so I was struggling to keep up with the pace with the guys ahead or behind us. I thought at one point there after the second restart and we were up to P5, the day was looking to potentially be really good. Just a tough race trying to hang on and make the best of it. We learned a lot and the Arrow SPM guys did a great job with stops, but disappointed we didn’t have a better result than that.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) – finished 13th: “Thirteenth obviously isn’t where we wanted to finish – but all things aside, it was an OK day for us. Just lacking overall grip, I think as a team, but we moved forward from our starting spot – which with qualifying being canceled hurt us. I’m thankful for all the work the guys did. Honestly, walking away 13th isn’t what we want, but we did all we could and I’m proud of that. We’ll go to Gateway and have a better result.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 14th: “The car was good. The stops were perfect and I think we had a good strategy. We went a lap down cause we had too much vibration in one of our tires, so we had to stop early and that was it from there.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 US Concrete / Curb Honda) – finished 15th: “Mainly, I’m just glad everyone walked out OK after the wreck on the start. I had an issue with one of my head pads coming out and we lost some time fixing that. Beyond that, the car had a big imbalance and by the time we got that resolved, we were a lap down. There wasn’t much we could do, and it made for a long day. Looking ahead to Gateway and working to finish the season strong.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda) – finished 16th: “The No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda guys gave me a great car for the ABC Supply 500, I think we had one of the better cars on track today and definitely a better car than where we finished. It’s unfortunate that we got into the wall there. It’s very disappointing. I know we’ll be able to rebound next week at Gateway. I really like racing there and I’m excited to compete under the lights.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Autogeek Chevrolet) – finished 17th: “That was a frustrating end to the day, we hit a bump in Turn 1 and it caused something to break on the front of the car. From then on, I was just a passenger and went straight up into the wall. I had no steering at that point, unfortunately. We were running pretty comfortably there in seventh and the car was feeling pretty good. We had lost touch with the group in front but I felt like we had a solid car. I feel bad for everyone at Ed Carpenter Racing, we have a race again next weekend and now there is a lot of extra work to do.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda) – finished 18th: “Obviously, I didn’t get a good start – so that’s on me. But we were three-wide; Ryan was on the inside, I was in the middle and Takuma was on the outside. I can’t even begin to understand how after last year Takuma thinks that any sort of driving like that is acceptable. To turn across two cars, at that speed, in that corner at a 500-mile race is disgraceful, upsetting and may have cost us a championship. It’s upsetting. This team works too hard to have something like that happen. The whole team worked tirelessly to get the 27 car back on track. Once we got out there, the car just didn’t have the handling we needed so we held on to make up as many points as we could. Unfortunately, the weather came, and the race was called one lap before we could gain another spot. We have a couple days to rebound and go for race wins now – that’s all that matters.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – finished 19th: “The opening lap wreck was ridiculous and thank God everybody was alright. It’s so unfortunate at the beginning of a 500-mile race. The car was good yesterday and we just needed to put together 500 clean miles. The DHL car deserved to be fighting for a win today. We did all we could do after coming back out. The guys did a great job; unbelievable effort in getting the car turned back around. But we were really loose in (Turn) 3, and it turned out we had holes in the underwing from the crash. The last thing we want to do is be a risk out there and damage more equipment, so we got the points we could and came in just before the weather hit.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) – finished 20th: “It unfolded in front of us. We had a pretty good start with the No. 5 Arrow car. We were heading into Turn 2 kind of three-wide, and I knew that wasn’t a good idea, so I backed out. I thought I was actually gonna save us because it happened in front of me. I couldn’t see exactly what started it, but then the wreck sorta moved down to the inside… I was able to slow down, but it just slid out to where I was. There was nowhere I could go. It sucks. I mean it wasn’t too hard a hit, so glad everybody is ok. It’s a 500-mile race, I don’t know how many times we have to do this before people figure out that you can attack all you want, but it doesn’t give you a chance to win if you are in the fence.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) – finished 21st: “First of all, I am worried about Felix. Hopefully he is OK. I am sorry for all the guys fighting for the championship. Ryan and I were obviously racing at the exit of Turn 1 and it looks like Alexander had a slow start. We both went right and left (of Rossi) and I thought it was all clear. All the (track) seams also are putting the car really easy to get the lane change and everybody gets close. Unfortunately, it looks like we made contact for that.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT Data Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 22nd: “First of all, it’s good to see that I’m cleared from the medical checks. Just with minor back pain and some headache. Hopefully I should be back to normal in a couple of days. A big thanks to the INDYCAR track staff and medical staff, did an awesome job looking after everything. Luckily the other drivers are OK as well, I think that’s the main thing. A shame that we were caught out already on lap one. I think we had a good car today. Good to see Scott being up there all day. Good points for him, probably throwing him up there in the championship hunt. Looking forward to get back in the car in Gateway.”

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