While unveiling F1 cars, McLaren also focused on new era with IndyCar team in 2022

IndyCar McLaren F1
McLaren Racing

McLaren Racing unveiled the F1 cars it will use this season in a splashy presentation Friday — with an IndyCar element — at its Woking headquarters southwest of London.

The annual pageant for the Formula One team had a twist: McLaren this year included its IndyCar, Extreme E and Esports teams in the show. For the IndyCar program, it was the recognition of offseason restructuring that made McLaren the majority owner of the team.

McLaren ended its 40-year absence from IndyCar in 2020 when it returned to competition as a commercial partner with Sam Schmidt’s team sponsored by Arrow Electronics. The IndyCar program was rebranded Arrow McLaren SP – and the name isn’t changing – but McLaren is now officially in charge.

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“There’s always growing pains when you’re scaling up in the way that we are, but it’s been awesome and I think we’ve been embraced,” said Taylor Kiel, who just completed his first year as president of the IndyCar program. “We’ve been brought in with open arms and in all the internal communications, they talk about Formula One, and they talk about IndyCar and they talk about Extreme E and it’s all very balanced.”

McLaren’s unveil showed the 2022 design of the Indy cars, which adds a splash of blue to the No. 5 driven by Pato O’Ward, and a lighter shade of blue than last year to the No. 7 driven by Felix Rosenqvist. More important was their inclusion in the overall McLaren presentation.

McLaren Racing

Kiel, who started with Sam Schmidt Motorsports straight out of college when a job with its Indy Lights team was the only position he could land, has risen through the organization and now finds himself running the day-to-day operations of the team. In an interview with The Associated Press, Kiel said the McLaren takeover allows Schmidt and partner Ric Peterson “to take a step back, what they were looking for” and cede control to McLaren Racing head Zak Brown.

Brown’s expectations have been made perfectly clear. O’Ward won two races and was part of the championship hunt all the way to the season finale, but the title went to Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing. Team Penske and Ganassi combined for nine wins through 16 races, and both Palou and Josef Newgarden of Penske finished ahead of O’Ward in the championship standings.

“Zak has come in and he’s very bullish and aggressive and got with me right away, sort of `Hey, what’s it going to take to get this thing to the Ganassi and Penske level? Let’s figure it out. Let’s get on it,’ ” Kiel said. “You are always concerned about the dynamics when something like this happens, but it’s been great and we talk weekly and we’re aligned and all on the same page.”

The team has taken a considerable leap since McLaren bolstered Schmidt’s program two seasons ago. It began with an overhauled driver lineup that landed O’Ward, who Brown snagged when Red Bull Racing released the Mexican from its development program because O’Ward has been unable to gain the super license required to compete in F1.

Brown believes O’Ward is a future superstar and the 22-year-old is quite open about his F1 aspirations. He’s spent the entire offseason strengthening his neck muscles in anticipation of being used as McLaren’s test and reserve driver at select races this season.

Kiel is confident O’Ward’s dreams won’t be a distraction.

“Once he gets locked into the race season, he’s all about the race season, and you take that with a grain of salt because he’s still a 22-year-old kid, right?” Kiel said. “So there’s some times you’ve got to be like `Hey dude, let’s refocus ourselves a little bit.’ But he’s wise beyond his years, he knows what it takes, he’s got incredible work ethic and he’s obviously very talented.”

The team needs O’Ward to also exert his energy on the unpleasant parts of the job such as data analysis and deep engineering debriefs. And if O’Ward really wants to move to F1, he’s got to score enough points in IndyCar for the FIA to grant him that super license.

“His job and his pathway there, should it open, is through IndyCar,” Kiel said. “He needs to perform, and he needs to perform at a high level and frankly, it’s not a race win or two that will put you in that position.”

McLaren also needs to make a dramatic improvement with Rosenqvist, who returns for his second season with the team. Rosenqvist struggled initially to get comfortable driving McLaren’s car after two seasons racing with Ganassi. And when McLaren started making gains with the Swede, Rosenqvist was injured in a crash at Detroit and missed two races.

Kiel said Rosenqvist was still able to be a balance to the effusive O’Ward by remaining calm and thoughtful.

“To his everlasting credit, and I will sing praises on this man, he carried himself like a professional through what probably was his worst year in his motorsports career,” Kiel said. “And at the same time he was watching his teammate compete for the championship. That’s got to be hard for any competitive professional, but he was the consummate teammate and did an excellent job to help not only himself, but Pato and the team in total.”

McLaren plans to bring two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya back in May for a second consecutive year to run both the road course at Indy and the Indy 500. Montoya drove for McLaren in F1 and finished ninth in the Indy 500 last year for the team.

McLaren liked the cohesion between the three drivers at Indy and found the trio worked exceedingly well together – once Kiel stopped Montoya and O’Ward from speaking Spanish in engineering debriefs.

With McLaren now in charge, a team once known for contending for a win or so a season is now a championship contender.

“We’ve been a team over the years that have had an underdog mentality, we’ve been able to punch above our weight,” Kiel said. “We just need to go out and do it now.”

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).