Arrow McLaren Racing SP expected to name drivers O’Ward, Askew

INDYCAR Photo by Stephen King
INDYCAR Photo by Stephen King
1 Comment

When Arrow McLaren SP announces its two drivers in the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, youth will not only be served, it will be showcased.

In an expected announcement later this week, Arrow McLaren Racing SP will introduce the last two Indy Lights Series champions as its IndyCar lineup for next season.

That is expected to include Pato O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion, and last year’s Indy Lights title winner, Oliver Askew.

It also will be announced that popular veteran driver James Hinchcliffe has been released from the team.

Hinchcliffe has a close working relationship with Honda, including commercials for Honda Canada and American Honda. He was expected to be retained by the Chevrolet-backed Arrow McLaren Racing SP for 2020 when the team’s merger was announced on Aug. 9.

RACER.com reported the impending news Monday night. NBCSports.com made several calls very early Tuesday morning to see how the new arrangement takes shape.

With Askew and O’Ward, Arrow McLaren Racing SP is doubling down on its youth movement. It’s similar to the move McLaren’s Formula One team made by hiring teenager Lando Norris to drive one of its two F1 entries this season.

The original plan was to pair a young driver with a veteran, such as Hinchcliffe. Arrow McLaren Racing SP originally pursued 19-year-old Colton Herta, who won two races and three poles in 2019 as a rookie for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Andretti Autosport successfully put together a deal to make him the team’s fifth full-time driver.

Pato O’Ward

McLaren Chief Executive Officer Zak Brown has kept an open dialogue with O’Ward since shortly after the 20-year-old Mexican’s deal collapsed with Harding Steinbrenner Racing before the 2019 season.

O’Ward struck a deal with Carlin for a few IndyCar races, but when he was named as one of the Red Bull drivers in May, O’Ward focused on making it to Formula One.

O’Ward left Red Bull earlier this month but was confident he had a path to a great ride in IndyCar.

Askew dominated the 2019 Indy Lights Series after successfully climbing the Road to Indy Ladder system. Askew won the championship in his only Indy Lights season with Andretti Autosport, winning seven of 18 races (including seven poles and 15 podiums).

Askew (pictured at the top) turns 23 on December 12. McLaren officials have had interest in him all season.

Askew tested with Chip Ganassi Racing during the summer and was under consideration for a third seat with the Honda-backed team before it chose to sign former Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Marcus Ericsson of Sweden.

Hinchcliffe was told he was off the team Sunday night, according to RACER.

The 32-year-old driver from Oakville, Ontario is among the most popular drivers in IndyCar because of his engaging personality, which landed him an appearance on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2016. He finished second to Olympic Gold Medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez.

Hinchcliffe also was featured in ESPN “The Magazine” in its “Body Issue.”

He has also triumphed over adversity, including a near-fatal crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis 500 practice on May 18, 2015. Hinchcliffe nearly bled to death when his left leg was pierced by parts from the car.

He returned to win the pole for the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 but failed to make the 33-car starting lineup for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 in 2018.

Out of a ride at the beginning of November, there aren’t any options currently available on any of the Honda teams in IndyCar for Hinchcliffe.

Team owner Bobby Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has cooled on adding a third car unless a significant amount of sponsorship can be arranged. Dale Coyne Racing is expected to retain Santino Ferrucci as its second driver, paired with four-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais.

Last week, Ferrucci’s engineer, Michael Cannon, left Coyne’s team to join Chip Ganassi Racing, where he likely will be paired with five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon.

Hinchcliffe has overcome much bigger personal adversity than this but to be hunting a ride entering November creates a massive career challenge.

Much more remains to this story, and NBCSports.com will continue to follow it.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media
0 Comments

ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”