Schmidt explains why he left Honda to make McLaren IndyCar deal happen

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens
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For most of Sam Schmidt’s career as an NTT IndyCar Series team owner, he has been loyal to Honda. But all of that loyalty was put aside when McLaren CEO Zak Brown convinced him to a lucrative arrangement where McLaren will join forces with Arrow Schmidt Peterson to create Arrow McLaren Racing SP beginning in 2020.

In order to make that happen, Schmidt had to break a contract with Honda Performance Development (HPD) that had one more year left. Next year, Arrow McLaren Racing SP will be powered by Chevrolet.

“It was an extremely difficult (decision) because there is that loyalty,” Schmidt responded to a question from NBC Sports.com on a national teleconference Monday afternoon. “There is that length of time and a lot of success, and at the end of the day, they (Honda) are a great motorsports and OEM operator.

“When they aren’t winning, they do everything possible to win, so we wanted to stay in that camp.”

Business is business, however, and the opportunity to align his team with the powerful McLaren group from England outweighed Schmidt’s loyalty to Honda. That is why he broke the contract, much to Honda’s dismay.

“When you draw the line down the center of the paper and you put your pros and cons on each side, that was definitely a big negative to doing this deal,” Schmidt said. “On the other side of the page, there was so many positives that it really was, a no-brainer.

“At the end of the day, it’s just unfortunate, but it’s ultimately their decision.”

Because of an acrimonious split with Honda following the 2017 Formula One World Championship season, Honda Japan will not allow American Honda to conduct any future business with McLaren.

There are four races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule for Schmidt and the two-driver team that includes James Hinchcliffe of Canada and Marcus Ericsson of Sweden. Next year, Hinchcliffe’s contract with the team will be honored, but the team is actively seeking candidates for the second ride.

The team also confirmed it would field a third entry for the 104thIndianapolis 500 on May 24, 2020. That could potentially be two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso of Spain, should he decide to return to the Indy 500.

“The phone has definitely been very active since we have announced with all sorts of individuals, but I’ll let Sam comment further on the driver situation,” McLaren CEO Zak Brown said in response to a question from NBC Sports.com.

Schmidt admitted it’s a key decision to make sure this arrangement is successful.

“It’s a big decision, so, between ourselves and Arrow and McLaren, there’s a lot of great minds there with years of experience,” Schmidt said. “The first goal was to get past the announcement last week, and then as Zak said, see how the phones light up and then make that list, and then reconvene later this week and start making some of those decisions and offers and whatnot.

“Stay tuned, but it will be a few weeks before we make any announcements.”

McLaren already owned new equipment and two Indy cars to run a team in the NTT IndyCar Series. That equipment will now move into the current Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports shop on the northwest side of Indianapolis.

McLaren, Arrow, Schmidt and Ric Peterson of Calgary, Alberta will be the principals of the operation with two-time CART champion and 2003 Indianapolis 500 winning driver Gil De Ferran in charge of running the operation. He is currently McLaren’s Sporting Director.

“I’m super excited that McLaren has placed Gil de Ferran in sort of the head connect for us there, because with his championships in Indy car and Indy 500 victory, his long-term association with Roger Penske, his ownership of his own team that was successful, really excited to work with him as a major conduit in the McLaren situation,” Schmidt said. “But then it’s just kind of we want to make sure we manage the opportunity. That’s probably our biggest challenge is the fact that we see a lot of opportunities, both on the technical side of the business and on the commercial side of the business, and I think we need to manage those opportunities carefully to not be overwhelmed. Just setting up the structure to do that and moving forward, very exciting for all of our partners.”

Current Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports general manager Taylor Kiel and team president Jon Flack have met with McLaren management.

“That was to meet some of the people that will be working alongside them and to start identifying and understanding what some of McLaren’s capabilities are,” Brown said. “Now you will see Gil and some other McLaren people at the remaining INDYCAR races and in Indianapolis.

“We have started the education process from SPM and looking into McLaren, and now we’ll have McLaren look into SPM, and then over those next few months, start to identify areas in which we think we can further support and amplify what SPM has sitting within their capabilities as of today.”

Ganassi announces multiyear sponsorship extension with American Legion for No. 10

Chip Ganassi American Legion
David Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Chip Ganassi Racing announced a new primary sponsorship deal with The American Legion this week, shoring up the funding on its No. 10 Dallara-Honda of Alex Palou.

The 2021 NTT IndyCar Series champion primarily had driven with NTT Data sponsorship the past two seasons. But NTT Data will move next season to McLaren Racing as a primary sponsor for Felix Rosenqvist in 10 races and on the Indy 500 car of Tony Kanaan (who drove an American Legion car for Ganassi at the Brickyard last year).

It was the latest twist in a McLaren-Ganassi saga that included a contract dispute for the services of Palou (who is expected to move to McLaren in 2024 after reaching an agreement to race with Ganassi next year).

Ganassi stayed within its own walls to help plug the sponsorship gap left by NTT Data, re-signing The American Legion to a multiyear extension. The Indianapolis-based non-profit organization, which has been sponsoring Ganassi cars for the past few seasons, also will be associated with other Ganassi drivers, including Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson and development driver Kyffin Simpson in Indy NXT.

The Ganassi organization will continue promoting The American Legion’s “Be The One” campaign aimed at reducing veteran suicides. The team launched an online auction for the initiative this week.

“Supporting our nation’s veterans is of immense importance to our organization and we are humbled to continue supporting The American Legion’s mission in ending veteran suicide,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a release. “We will do absolutely everything we can to help veterans get the support they need while raising public awareness of the ‘Be The One’ platform.”

“We have received an overwhelming amount of support from fans, active-duty military members and veterans as a result of this partnership and we’re pleased to see it grow,” said Dean Kessel, chief marketing officer at The American Legion. “Thanks to the continuous collaboration with the team’s other partners, and the promotion of the ‘Be The One’ initiative, we are discovering more ways to engage with the military community than ever before. We want all veterans to know that it’s okay to ask for help.”