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It’s official — Arrow McLaren Racing SP names O’Ward, Askew in IndyCar

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It’s now official – Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew are in and popular driver James Hinchcliffe is out at Arrow McLaren Racing SP in the NTT IndyCar Series. Both moves were expected and widely covered by NBC Sports.com on Tuesday as the news broke earlier this week.

McLaren issued the announcement at 11 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, October 30. It’s two-driver lineup will feature the past two Indy Lights Series champions. O’Ward won the Indy Lights title in 2018 for Andretti Autosport. Askew drove Andretti Autosport to the 2019 Indy Lights championship.

“It’s a dream come true to be joining Arrow McLaren SP for my first year in IndyCar,” said Askew, who won seven races in 2019. “The new team brings together three great partners and it’s an honor to be representing them in this new chapter for the team and for my career. This is an exciting new challenge for me and the next natural step after winning the Indy Lights title this year. I can’t wait to get started.”

For O’Ward, he is back in IndyCar, one year after he was announced as a driver for Harding Steinbrenner Racing after an impressive IndyCar debut in the 2018 season-finale. But that deal unraveled before the 2019 IndyCar season ever began. He drove a few races for Carlin, failed to make the field for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 and left IndyCar to participate in the Red Bull driver development program in Europe.

The 20-year-old driver from Mexico left that program earlier this month and has returned to IndyCar.

“I couldn’t be happier to be with Arrow McLaren SP for my first full season in IndyCar,” O’Ward said. “I’ve had some great opportunities over the last year, but this is by far the greatest thing that could possibly happen for my career. I had a taste of IndyCar earlier this year and cannot wait to represent Arrow McLaren SP in the best way possible for a full season in 2020.”

Also, the team announced the end of its relationship with popular Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe. NBC Sports.com reported on Tuesday that IndyCar Series team owners Bobby Rahal and Dale Coyne plan to talk to Hinchcliffe later this week about the possibility of putting together a third entry on their respective IndyCar teams.

The Canadian joined Arrow Schmidt Peterson in 2015 and scored three wins throughout his tenure with the team, while admirably leading the team through moments of huge adversity.

While Hinchcliffe will cease racing for the team in 2020, he remains under contract with Arrow McLaren SP but is free to seek and secure alternative options.

“James has been a great ambassador for our team, and for the sport, over the last five years,” said Arrow McLaren SP co-owner, Sam Schmidt. “Our history dates back to his early days in Indy Lights and we’ve been on a tremendous journey together. Most impressive was James’s determination to come back after his accident in 2015. I have the utmost respect for James and would like to thank him for his hard work and accomplishments during that period and wish him well in his future endeavors.

“We recognize that James is a fiercely motivated and determined competitor, and we won’t hesitate to release him unconditionally to secure another drive, whether in IndyCar or another series.”

Ric Peterson is the third ownership partner of the team and offered his thoughts on his fellow Canadian.

“James’ passion for the team has been crucial in our development since he joined us in 2015,” Peterson said. “His perseverance and teamwork led us to three wins and an Indianapolis 500 pole position. James has been a big part of our growth over the last five years and I’d like to personally thank him for everything. On behalf of the entire team, we wish him all the best moving forward.”

Arrow McLaren SP has a history of developing young talent into championship winners. The team, formerly known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, are the winningest Indy Lights team in history with seven championships and have given IndyCar opportunities to rising stars such as Simon Pagenaud and Robert Wickens in recent years.

“With our background in Indy Lights, I’ve followed Oliver and Pato closely over the last few years on the Road to Indy,” Schmidt. said “I couldn’t think of a better pairing as we write the first chapter in Arrow McLaren SP’s story. They’ve proven their skills on the Road to Indy and with an Indy Lights championship each, they are ready and deserving of full-time seats in IndyCar. I have no doubt that Oliver and Pato are the right drivers to move Arrow McLaren SP forward.”

Finally, Gil de Ferran is McLaren’s Sporting Director, which includes overseeing the entire IndyCar program. He gave his thoughts on the moves.“As we look to establish Arrow McLaren SP and re-establish McLaren in the world of IndyCar, I’m delighted to be welcoming these two young, homegrown talents to the team,” De Ferran said. “Oliver and Pato represent the new generation of IndyCar drivers. Proven winners and exciting prospects, I have no doubt that they will form an excellent pairing as we take on the 2020 season.

“Both drivers were super-impressive in Indy Lights, racking up 16 wins between them over the last two seasons. We have taken time and care to make a driver selection that we believe is in the best long-term interests of Arrow McLaren SP.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Alexander Rossi hopes to dodge oncoming traffic in second Baja 1000

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One of the great viral videos of last year’s offseason was the sight of Alexander Rossi’s Honda Ridgeline off-road vehicle and its near head-on collision with a passenger SUV coming in the wrong direction of last year’s Baja 1000.

The video of the incident overshadowed an outstanding debut for Rossi in the SCORE OFF Road Desert race.

Rossi (pictured above on the right along with fellow driver Jeff Proctor) told NBCSports.com that driving down the same roads still used by passenger traffic is one of the unique challenges of the Baja 1000.

“The most demanding form of racing is IndyCar racing,” Rossi told NBC Sports.com. “But the big thing for me in the Baja 1000 is mentally being able to understand the terrain that is coming at you at 120 miles an hour in the dust and pedestrians and other cars, people and cattle that come along with this race.”

Rossi is becoming a modern-day Parnelli Jones, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti. He wants to race anything on wheels and win.

Since the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season concluded with the Sept. 22 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, Rossi competed in the Bathurst 1000 in Australia on Oct. 13. Earlier this year, Rossi drove for Acura Team Penske in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

This weekend, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 and a perennial contender for the NTT IndyCar Series championship will compete in the Baja 1000 for the second straight year.

Rossi will be driving for the Honda Ridgeline Racing team and is the sixth Indy 500 winner to compete in the Baja 1000.

Other Indy 500 winners who have raced in the SCORE Baja 1000 include Jones, the 1963 Indianapolis winner and a two-time Baja 1000 race winner (1971 72); fellow Honda IndyCar Series driver and Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, the Indy winner in 2014; Rick Mears, who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, 1985 Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan and 2004 Indy winner Buddy Rice.

NTT IndyCar season champions who have raced in the Baja 1000 include Mears, Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais, Jimmy Vasser and Paul Tracy.

Rossi has a better understanding of what to expect in this year’s Baja 1000 after last year’s rookie experience.

How valuable was last years’ experience?

“It’s hugely valuable,” Rossi said. “The course changes each year. There will be some elements that are the same, but it’s a new route from start to finish this year. That is why we go down a week early. We do pre-running in a similar type of vehicle and take course notes and analyze each individual section of the course, find the danger areas and what you need to do come race day.

“Ultimately, the biggest thing is having the knowledge of how to prepare for the race and what to expect once you roll off the starting line. That is something I will have going for me this year that I didn’t have last year.”

As an off-road rookie, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“I don’t know that I can pinpoint any highlights other than just the whole experience,” Rossi said of last years’ experience. “The whole week and a half I had down there in 2018 was phenomenal. The team made me feel part of the family from Day One. I just love driving a desert truck through Baja California. It’s an experience unlike any other.

“The entire event was a highlight more than one specific moment.”

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Driving an off-road Honda Ridgeline through the desert of Baja California in Mexico is vastly different than Rossi’s regular ride in the No. 27 NAPA Honda in the NTT IndyCar Series. But Rossi believes there are many similarities, also.

“It’s very different, for obvious reasons, but ultimately, a race car is a race car,” Rossi said. “It has four wheels, and you are trying to get it from Point A to Point B quicker than other people. The general underlying techniques of getting a car through the corner efficiently is all the same; it’s just a different style.

“Everyone here is very talented at what they do and very good so in order to win this race, you have to be at the top of your game.”

The Baja 1000, like most forms of off-road racing, is more against the clock than a wheel-to-wheel competition such as IndyCar. Rossi believes it is a different form of endurance racing, similar to IMSA in many ways.

“You have to compare it like an endurance race,” Rossi said. “It’s a race where the first part of it, you are trying to get through and not take chances and stay in touch with the people you are trying to stay in touch with.

“When you get down to the final 20 to 30 percent, that is when you try to either close the lead of extend the lead of whatever position you are in. That is similar to the Rolex 24 at Daytona. It comes down to the last three or four hours, and we take a mentality closer to that.

“The only difference is if you get it wrong at Daytona, you spin in the grass. Here, it can be more dramatic than that.”

As an off-road rookie in 2018, Rossi acclimated to the demands of desert racing as the Jeff Proctor-led Honda Off-Road Racing Team finished second in Class 7. It was the fourth consecutive time the team finished first or second in the Ridgeline Baja Race Truck at the Baja 1000.

“The Honda off-road guys and my co-driver/navigator Evan Weller make it so easy for me to just jump right in and go to work,” Rossi said. “I can’t wait to share the seat with Jeff [Proctor] and Pat [Dailey] once again, and hopefully, bring home a win.”

The Honda Off-Road Racing Team has had an outstanding 2019 season, including class wins for the Baja Ridgeline Race Truck at the Parker 425, the Mint 400 and the Baja 500; where the team successfully debuted the second-generation “TSCO” chassis; and a second-place Class 7 finish at the Vegas-to-Reno event.

Proctor won his class in the Baja 1000 in both 2015 and 2016 with the Ridgeline, finished second in class in 2017 and 2018; and won the companion SCORE Baja 500 race both in 2016, 2018 and again earlier this year. The Ridgeline competes in Class 7, for unlimited six-cylinder production-appearing trucks and SUVs.

“We are stoked to have Alexander back racing with us in Mexico for his sophomore attempt at this iconic off-road race,” Proctor said. “This year’s 52nd annual Baja 1000 course covers ALL of the toughest terrain and areas in Baja Norte….as always, it will be tough.

“Alex is one of the brightest motorsports minds I’ve worked with, and he is a great asset to our team.”

The Baja 1000 begins Friday and runs through the weekend along the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500