Zak Brown states that McLaren “didn’t deserve” Indy 500 spot after a catalogue of errors

by Jordan Groves

McLaren Racing CEO, Zak Brown, has stated that he was left furious after a catalogue of errors led to the team failing to qualify for the 2019 Indianapolis 500 with Fernando Alonso. Fernando was one of three drivers who failed to qualify for the race, with Brown admitting that a host of issues throughout the week of practice contributed to the team’s downfall.

After missing out on a spot in the top thirty on the first day of qualifying by just one-hundredth of a second, Fernando was forced to take part in the Last-Row shootout on Sunday to try and secure himself a spot in the Indianapolis 500. Ultimately, Alonso would miss out once again, with Juncos Racing‘s Kyle Kaiser out-qualifying Alonso and McLaren by 0.008-mph. This meant that Alonso would be thirty-fourth out of the thirty-six entrants and that he would not make the thirty-three car field for this Sunday’s race.

After the team’s shocking failure to qualify, Zak Brown went into great detail about the numerous issues that had plagued the team in an interview with Jenna Fryer of The Associated Press.

“I don’t think we came into this arrogant, I think we were unprepared,” Brown told Fryer. “We didn’t deserve to be in the race and it’s our own fault. It’s not like we showed up and gave our best. We defeated ourselves.”

Brown admitted that the team’s difficulties started all the way back in April when Alonso tested at Texas Motor Speedway. The first issue came when the team did not have a steering wheel ready for the car, with Brown himself having to source one from Cosworth.

“We didn’t get out until midday, our steering wheel was not done on time, that’s just lack of preparation and project management organizational skills,” Brown said. “That’s where this whole thing fell down, in the project management. Zak Brown should not be digging around for steering wheels.”

The car that Alonso tested at Texas was actually prepared by Carlin, full-time NTT IndyCar Series entrants who were working with McLaren for the Indy 500 as a technical partner. It turned out that the Carin-prepared #66 Chevrolet was the incorrect shade of McLaren’s racing colour “Papaya Orange”. This meant that the car had to be repainted prior to the Indy 500, where it would serve as a backup to the McLaren-prepared primary car.

Fernando Alonso (ESP), McLaren, 2019 NTT IndyCar Series, Texas Motor Speedway

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

When Alonso crashed his primary car last Wednesday in practice, the backup car was still at the paint shop after McLaren’s colour complaint. The ensuing delay in getting the car ready would cost McLaren and Alonso almost two days of track time, with Alonso not returning to the track until Friday. By comparison, other drivers were able to get back out onto the track in backup cars on the same day that they had crashed.

In the Associated Press interview, Brown would also go on to talk about the difficulties that Carlin seemed to have trying to juggle their three cars as well as the McLaren entry. Of the four cars that Carlin was involved with, only Charlie Kimball successfully qualified, with Alonso, Patricio O’Ward and Max Chilton being eliminated after Sunday’s qualifying session.

“It was clear they weren’t capable of running three cars and serving us,” Brown said of Carlin.

Even once Alonso was back out on the track in his backup car, the issues were far from over. On the first day of qualifying on Saturday, Alonso’s initial qualifying run was curtailed by a puncture, which Brown stated had not been detected due to the team using the wrong tyre sensors.

After being forced into the Last-Row shootout on Sunday, McLaren began to search around the paddock for any advantage that they could find that would help them make the race. The team made a deal with Team Penske to put one of their setups on Alonso’s car, whilst another deal from Andretti Autosport saw the #66 Chevrolet fitted with Andretti dampers.

During the rebuild of Alonso’s car, however, another mistake was made. The team neglected to correctly convert the measurements given to them from other teams, meaning that the car would head out in morning practice with a totally incorrect setup. The car was visibly running way too close to the ground as it sparked its way around the speedway.

After fixing those issues, the car appeared to be running faster than it had been the previous day. However, in the crucial Last-Row shootout later in the day, the car was off the pace once again. This time, the lack of pace was due to incorrect gear ratios.

“We actually had a 229-mph car but we had 227.5-mph gearing, so we beat ourselves again while we almost made it,” Brown told the AP. “We really did put it all on the line and you could feel the anxiety. There was some real heroism in that. I don’t want the world to think McLaren is a bunch of idiots because while we did have a few, we had some real stars.”

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

With such an extraordinary list of errors, some of which very basic errors that should not even be possible at a team as experienced as McLaren, Brown went on to say that there would be “repercussions” for some members of the IndyCar team. It was announced shortly after the team’s failure to qualify that Bob Fernley, the man who had been in charge of the IndyCar entry, had been fired as a result of all the issues.

“I feel an obligation to the fans and sponsors, we let them down. We didn’t fulfil our promise and I think they need more than just an apology,” Brown said. “There will be repercussions for those who don’t deserve to work for a great team like McLaren. We will look at what we learned here and the list is a mile long. I hope people appreciate that we go for it, we are racers, and Fernando is a star and we are not quitters. We want to come back.”

For now, Alonso has yet to make comment about his potential future with McLaren heading forward. After all of the frustrations during his tenure with the team in Formula 1, Alonso could well choose to leave the team and seek a future Indy 500 entry with another group.

Additionally, McLaren Racing is continuing to evaluate an extended IndyCar entry in the future, with the team stating previously that they were interested in racing full-time in the championship at some point. As of now, it is not yet known how the team’s Indy 500 failure has affected the possibility of a full-time entry.

Rest assured, should the team return to IndyCar and the Indy 500, Zak Brown will try to be much more involved. Zak told the AP that he had wanted to spend more time helping out with the Indy 500 effort, but that he had to prioritize the team’s Formula 1 entry.

“I should have been closer to Indy but I could never compromise Formula One,” Brown added. “At 9:01 in the morning when we weren’t on track at the first test, that’s when we failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. We didn’t ring the fire alarm quick enough because we could have recovered after the first test.

“I am angry at myself because I was uncomfortable all the way up to the first test and I should have followed my instinct to get more involved.”

The 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place this weekend on Sunday, May 26.

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