McLaren takes Miami in bid to become North America’s team across F1 and IndyCar

F1 McLaren Miami
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Bruce McLaren was a Kiwi, born and raised in New Zealand, and his eponymous F1 team and high-technology supercar company are based in England.

And yet McLaren very much wants to be North America’s official team.

The crowd roared Wednesday night at the Formula One Opening Party for the Miami Grand Prix when the Papaya orange – that’s the shade, don’t get it wrong – appeared on stage. In a city used to superstars and the super wealthy, the spectators seemed to be bouncing at the very sight of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.

Their bosses were there, too, but the inaugural Miami Grand Prix has been built around the star drivers and, wow, does McLaren have a crew. Norris was voted most popular among women in a fan vote, and Ricciardo, the Australian who drinks champagne from his shoe after a win, has the biggest personality in the paddock and counts the United States among his favorite countries.

And then there’s the IndyCar trio of Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist and Juan Pablo Montoya, among the first to drive the sprawling course around Hard Rock Stadium when they took laps Wednesday in McLaren road cars.

O’Ward, who turns 23 on Friday, is a Mexican who resides in Texas and IndyCar’s most recent race winner. Like Norris, he won his series’ favorite driver among female voters.

Montoya, part of McLaren’s lineup at Indianapolis, is a former McLaren F1 driver, and the Colombian was a longtime Miami resident and one of the race ambassadors. Rosenqvist relocated to Indianapolis, and the Swede has blended into the community.

It’s the IndyCar team that is McLaren’s ticket to building a base in sponsor-rich North America, which has finally taken notice of F1, and major companies are scrambling to get involved. It’s fertile ground for Zak Brown, the head of McLaren Racing who just happens to be a regular race fan from California.

Brown has had a meteoric rise from owner of an Indianapolis-based marketing firm that dominated the market during NASCAR’s halcyon days and pushed Brown to the front of motorsports. He’s now the quirky American running the late Bruce McLaren’s team his own way.

Brown is a straight shooter who wants to have fun but takes little credit for McLaren’s gains in relevance both on the F1 grid and in fan popularity. McLaren was voted favorite F1 team in a fan survey, and Brown said McLaren’s image has been cultivated through its drivers and a commitment to spotlighting them through thoughtful social media aimed at the targeted younger demographic.

“The drivers are the right age, right personality,” Brown said. “Pato is a combination of Lando and Daniel. Lando’s quite reserved. Quite witty. Daniel comes dancing into the garage. That’s how Pato is with his presence. Pato has the youthfulness of Lando and the extroverted personality of Daniel.”

“Drivers are a big part of it. I think a lot of credit to our digital and comms teams… what do the fans want to see? It’s the whole reason we went back to papaya in the first place. That’s what the fans wanted. Fans know how important they are to us, and we have a good two-way relationship.”

The quest to capture the market is working, but also not that competitive. F1 has only one team owned by an American – Gene Haas – but the series has no American drivers; McLaren signed 22-year-old Colton Herta, an IndyCar star from California, to a testing contract that begins later this year.

McLaren is using this week, one of a recently unthinkable two U.S. races on this year’s F1 calendar, to continue to build its presence. There’s a full “SpeedShop” experience that’s been billed as “top secret” and “the most immersive (race) experience outside of sneaking into the McLaren garage.” The SpeedShop sold out and was offered only to U.S. McLaren fan club members.

At The Wharf in Miami, a customized 2022 McLaren GT is on display all weekend as part of the “Vuse Ultimate Ride” challenge. The car is a collaboration with streetwear brand UNDEFEATED and will be awarded to a fan at the Formula One race in Austin, Texas, in October.

The olive-green car is inspired by the livery designed for the three McLarens in this month’s Indianapolis 500 and will go to the winner of a video submission contest answering “how do you drive change?” The challenge asks consumers to describe in 15-30 seconds the impact they make daily in their community.

“While designing new liveries for Vuse and Arrow McLaren is thrilling, having the chance to help celebrate and reward someone who is on the ground putting in the work and giving back is rewarding,” said James Bond, founder of UNDEFEATED.

Brown just wants to give away a McLaren and make another new fan for the team.

“Without the fans, there’s no motorsports,” Brown said.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.