McLaren’s Zak Brown: ‘No other race in the world I’d rather be at than the Indy 500’

McLaren Zak Brown

INDIANAPOLIS – McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown has stood on the starting grid of the most famous races in the world, such as the Grand Prix of Monaco.

That iconic Formula One event will take place on the streets of Monte Carlo on Sunday, but Brown won’t be there.

Instead, Brown will be overseeing his three-driver Arrow McLaren SP effort that will compete in the 106th Indy 500.

HOW TO WATCH THE INDY 500Details and schedule for Sunday’s race on NBC

STARTING LINEUPWhere the 33 drivers will take the green flag

There is no other starting grid in the world that Brown would rather be standing than at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the start of an Indianapolis 500.

“Absolutely,” Brown told “It is the same feeling when you to Le Mans, the Daytona 500, the Grand Prix of Monaco, and the Indianapolis 500. These are ‘The Masters’ of these different racing series so they all have unique places on bucket lists for a very good reason and it never gets it.

“When you go to the Indianapolis 500, that’s a very big deal. When you are at Monaco or LeMans or Daytona, it’s no different than if you are at a golf tournament and it’s ‘The Masters’ or if you are at the ‘World Series’ it always has that very big feel.”

Brown and McLaren have three Dallara-Chevrolets in Sunday’s race — the No. 5 of Pato O’Ward; the No. 7 of Felix Rosenqvist and the No. 6 of two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya.

Brown believes this is the best-prepared McLaren effort for the Indianapolis 500 since returning to Indianapolis Motor Speedway after a lengthy absence in 2017.

That’s when two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso drove an Andretti Autosport car under the McLaren banner and led 27 laps in that race. He was a contender until his Honda engine expired after 179 laps.

“I definitely feel this is the best prepared,” Brown said. “I think we have a great, now very experienced driver lineup. We have three very strong race cars and three strong teams. The drivers are very prepared, and the team is very prepared. The Chevy engine is looking strong and was strong in Texas.

“I believe we have as good a chance as anyone, but that anyone list goes 12 deep.”

Even though Montoya is starting in 30th place, the driver believes he can win from that position. When he won his second Indy 500 in 2015, he was involved in an early crash and restarted the race 33rd. He won over Will Power.

“I think there are probably 20 cars and drivers that are capable of winning and three of ours are in that list of 20,” Brown said. “Felix was as strong as Pato last year but had an incident in pit lane and got shuffled back. I think Felix had the best 15-lap average earlier this year at Texas (the previous oval before the Indy 500).

“Juan Pablo has told me what he told you, that he has the car to win it with his experience and knowledge. Who am I to doubt him?”

The difference between Alonso’s effort in 2017 and Arrow McLaren SP this year, is this is an “actual” McLaren program, not a rent-a-team like at Andretti that year.

“Absolutely correct,” Brown said. “In 2017, we brought the driver and Andretti brought the team. Realistically, we did not have a lot of technical involvement. We have from last year onwards.

“I think this year we are really very well positioned.”

Arrow McLaren SP also announced a new shop that soon will begin construction in Whitestown, Indiana, north of Indianapolis.

The target date for a grand opening is by the start of the 2024 season.

It will double the size of the team’s current headquarters to more than 97,000 square feet — a spacious foundation for a team that secure another building block Friday with the news that O’Ward had signed a contract extension through 2025 .

O’Ward, 23, is considered one of the rising stars of IndyCar. Sunday, he will be a highly marketable star racing in a marquee event.

“The Indy 500 is certainly the biggest event on the calendar of IndyCar and one of the biggest events in all of the world,” Brown said. “It’s no different than the way the NFL handles the Super Bowl. It’s understandable that IndyCar does the same thing with the Indy 500.

“It’s the best race to win in racing because of the competitiveness. Like every racing series, we need to evolve into new forms of media and social media. But you never reach your final destination and there are always room for improvement.

“We all have a role to play in that and everyone can step up and be a part of it.”

Formula One has benefited from the “Drive to Survive” Series on Netflix, that features exclusive, behind-the-scenes looks at the lives of Formula One’s top drivers.

Many believe IndyCar should do the same thing.

“It all helps,” Brown said. “I don’t see it as a knock off. It’s a different market. ‘Drive to Survive’ has had a huge impact in North America, but that’s a different product. The NFL has done something similar to ‘Drive to Survive.’

“Our programming has shown that if you show a different side to the sport, the better.

“Formula One has never been more popular. IndyCar has a fantastic grid. Nashville was a huge success. We’re going to downtown Detroit and sports car racing is looking very good. That’s the three series we are closest to.

“Formula E with our involvement and Maserati’s involvement that series goes from strength to strength. When you talk about those series, I think motorsports is doing very good.”

Brown is emphatic when he says he is surprised that Formula One has reached this level of success in the United States.

“If you had told me 10 years ago that there would be three races in America, I would have placed good money that wouldn’t happen,” Brown said. “Liberty has done a good job growing the series and Austin had a very good crowd last year. I think the three events in the United States are really going to help each other.”

Sunday’s 106th Indy 500 is the first time since Roger Penske purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that he will get to host a race at full capacity.

“If you are a buyer of anything that was live entertainment, you couldn’t have bought at a worse time,” Brown said. “However, someone who makes their living in the sport, there isn’t anyone you would rather have buy the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I think it’s great that we are now back in business because I don’t think we’ve seen the best out of Penske Corp. yet, because they have had one hand tied behind their back because we were living in a pandemic.

“Roger and his organization, now, we are going to see them stretch their legs.”

In 1995, Brown opened Just Marketing International (JMI), which would become among the world’s largest motorsports marketing agencies. He helped bring many top sponsors into IndyCar at a time when the sport was struggling in the early 2000s.

Brown was convinced IndyCar had much to offer and remains that way today.

“The racing has always been outstanding,” Brown said. “Then you have the Indy 500, one of the biggest events in the world. It’s a huge brand. While not everyone follows IndyCar racing, when you say the Indianapolis 500, I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘What is that?’

“It has huge brand recognition with great, diverse racing. Great grids. Great personalities. It has always been extremely competitive with great driers. It had its bump in the road with the split, but it has long since recovered from that.”

Brown lived northwest of Indianapolis in Zionsville, Indiana, for 20 years before he set his sights on bigger goals that ultimately led to becoming the CEO of McLaren Racing.

“I feel very welcome and very at home when I return to Indianapolis,” he said. “I’m a lifer in motorsports, and I had some opportunities internationally, and I got involved in various opportunities in Formula One.”

Brown is even helping rival driver Colton Herta of Andretti Autosport get his FIA super license to prepare him for a potential Formula One career. It’s a deal he has worked out with friend and rival team owner Michael Andretti.

“It’s confusing to explain a super license,” Brown said. “How can you have a driver that has won seven races in a top level of motorsport and then have a handful of drivers in Formula One that don’t have anywhere near the pedigree of Colton is confusing. It’s a points systems that needs to be looked at.

“Colton Herta is a more accomplished racing driver than some of the drivers on the Formula One grid. It’s a points system where he hasn’t accumulated enough points yet. He will achieve that this year in testing with us. That is the extent of the game plan at the moment.”

Brown is a tremendous supporter of Michael Andretti’s efforts to get a Formula One team but realizes it’s going to be difficult.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Brown cautioned. “I would like to see him in the sport. I have a long history with Michael and his investment group. Unfortunately, you have a handful of teams in Formula One that are short-sighted in their decisions.

“I hope Michael sticks with it, and I hope it happens. I’m not sure it will or won’t, but I recognize the value he brings to the sport. I’m not sure all of my fellow teams feel that way.”

O’Ward also has aspirations to race in F1, and Brown said Friday that his new deal would include some test sessions similar to Herta’s arrangement.

“He’s a future champion, for sure and that championship can come as early as this year,” Brown said. “He is only going to get better with more experience. He is a huge fan favorite. He is a great personality. Fans love him. He is very engaging.

“I think he is one of the biggest IndyCar stars and he will grow in popularity even further.”

O’Ward would like to see IndyCar schedule a race in Mexico to capitalize on his popularity, but so far IndyCar wants to grow the series in the United States.

“Mexico has a huge following for motorsports and IndyCar has been there before,” Brown said. “I’m a fan of IndyCar racing in the Americas. We race in Canada and have raced in Brazil, but I’m not one that things we should race internationally.

“Mexico would be a great addition to the calendar, but I trust Roger Penske and Mark Miles to put together what they feel is the best schedule for IndyCar. Mexico has been successful in the past and it will be again. Broadening the reach in the Americas would be a good expansion, but I don’t think with corporate sponsor’s budgets, to sprinkle in races in Germany and England, it would be hard to create enough traction to make those races successful and that is what happened.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500

IndyCar Detroit GP starting lineup: Alex Palou wins first pole position on a street course


DETROIT — Alex Palou won the pole position for the second consecutive NTT IndyCar Series race and will lead the Detroit Grand Prix starting lineup to green on a new downtown layout.

The 2021 series champion, who finished fourth in the 107th Indy 500 after qualifying first, earned his third career pole position as the first of three Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in the top four (Scott Dixon qualified fourth, and Marcus Ericsson sixth).

Scott McLaughlin will start second, followed by Romain Grosjean. Coming off his first Indianapolis 500 victory, Josef Newgarden qualified fifth.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

It’s the third career pole position for Palou and his first on a street course — a big advantage on a nine-turn, 1.645-mile track that is expected to be calamitous over 100 laps Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

“It’s going to be a tough day for sure,” Palou told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “It feels good we’ve had a great car since the beginning, and it was just about maximizing. They did a great strategy on tires and everything. We need to finish it (Sunday).

“I got off a lot in practice. We wanted to see where the limit was, and we found it. It’s a crazy track. I think it’s too tight for Indy cars and too short as well, but we’ll make it happen.”

QUALIFYING RESULTSClick here for Detroit GP qualifying speeds | Round 1, Group 1 | Round 1, Group 2 | Round 2 l Round 3

The narrow quarters (originally listed as a 1.7-mile track, its distance shrunk by a couple hundred feet when measured Friday) already were causing problems in qualifying.

Colton Herta, who has four career poles on street courses, qualified 24th after failing to advance from the first round because of damage to his No. 26 Dallara-Honda. It’s the worst starting spot in an IndyCar street course race for Herta (and the second-worst of his career on the heels of qualifying 25th for the GMR Grand Prix three weeks ago).

Andretti Autosport teammate Kyle Kirkwood also found misfortune in the second round, damaging the left front of his No. 27 Dallara-Honda despite light wall contact.

“I’m disappointed for the crew because that was a pole-winning car,” Kirkwood told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. “Man, I barely touched the wall. I touched it way harder in all the practices, and it’s just like the angle at which the wall was right there, it caught the point and just ripped the front off the car.

“If the wall was rounded, that wouldn’t have happened. That’s just unfortunate for the guys, but it’s my mistake. It’s hard enough to get around this place let alone race around it. We’ll see how it goes.”

Many IndyCar drivers are expecting it to go badly, which isn’t uncommon for a new street layout. The inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee, was the biggest crashfest of the 2021 season with 33 of 80 laps run under caution plus two red flags.

It could be worse at Detroit, which is the shortest track on the IndyCar circuit. It also features the series’ only split pit lane (with cars pitting on opposite sides and blending into a single-lane exit), a 0.9-mile straightaway and a hairpin third turn that is considered the best passing zone.

“If there’s one day you need to be lucky in the year, it’s tomorrow,” Grosjean told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “A lot is going to happen, and it’s being in the right time at the right place.”

Said Dixon: “Expect probably a lot of unexpected things to happen. We’ll try and get through it. I think it’ll be similar to Nashville and maybe the last man standing is the one who gets the victory.”

With the field at 27 cars, Palou estimated the length of the course leaves a gap of about 2.4 seconds between each car, which he preferred would be double. During practice Friday, there were six red flags and 19 local yellows as teams tried to sort out the tricky and tight layout.

“I don’t know what the perfect distance is, but I would say adding 30 seconds to a track or 20 seconds would help a lot,” said Palou, one of many drivers who also said the streets were too bumpy despite work to grind down some surfaces. “We have a lot of cars. It’s crazy. It’s really good for the series, for the racing. But when it comes to practice, and we have 10 red flags, 25 yellows, it’s traffic all the time.”

It seems certain to be a memorable reimagining of the Detroit GP, which was moved downtown by IndyCar owner Roger Penske after a 30-year run at the Belle Isle course a few miles north.

McLaughlin, who drives for Team Penske, believes the race will be very similar to Nashville, but “it’s just going to be up to us with the etiquette of the drivers to figure it out along the way. I think there’s going to be a lot of passes, opportunities.

“With the track, there’s been a lot of noise I’ve seen on Twitter, from other drivers and stuff,” McLaughlin said. “At the end of the day, this is a new track, new complex. I think what everyone has done to get this going, the vibe is awesome. Belle Isle was getting old. We had to do it.

“First-year problems, it’s always going to happen. It’s just going to get better from here. The racetrack for the drivers is a blast. We don’t even know how it races yet. Everyone is making conclusions already. They probably just need to relax and wait for (Sunday).”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Sunday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


1. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 1 minute, 1.8592 seconds (95.734 mph)
2. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 1:02.1592 (95.271)


3. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 1:02.2896 (95.072)
4. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:02.4272 (94.862)


5. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:02.5223 (94.718)
6. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 1:02.6184 (94.573)


7. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 1:02.1817 (95.237)
8. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 1:02.1860 (95.230)


9. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 1:02.1937 (95.219)
10. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 1:02.2564 (95.123)


11. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 1:02.2958 (95.063)
12. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 1:04.6075 (91.661)


13. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 1:02.5714 (94.644)
14. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 1:02.1911 (95.223)


15. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 1:02.9522 (94.071)
16. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 1:02.2644 (95.111)


17. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 1:03.0017 (93.997)
18. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 1:02.6495 (94.526)

ROW 10

19. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 1:03.1599 (93.762)
20. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 1:02.9071 (94.139)

ROW 11

21. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 1:03.2126 (93.684)
22. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 1:02.9589 (94.061)

ROW 12

23. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 1:03.3879 (93.425)
24. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 1:03.4165 (93.383)

ROW 13

25. (30) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:03.7728 (92.861)
26. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 1:03.7496 (92.895)

ROW 14

27. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:03.8663 (92.725)