McLaren to join IndyCar full-time in 2020 after merger with Arrow SPM

by Jordan Groves

McLaren Racing and Arrow Schmidt Peterson have announced today that they will join forces for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series, thus becoming Arrow McLaren Racing SP. The team will run with Chevrolet power-units from 2020, ending a long-standing partnership between Arrow Schmidt Peterson and former suppliers, Honda.

The announcement today has left various parties up and down the grid searching for new options for next season. The driver market, for one, has been shaken up, whilst part-time entry Meyer Shank Racing – who have been involved in a technical alliance with Arrow Schmidt Peterson for the last two seasons – are now also looking elsewhere.

McLaren has long spoken of their desire to enter the NTT IndyCar Series full-time. This began when the team made their shock return to the Indianapolis 500 in 2017 with Fernando Alonso and continued when they returned for their ill-fated second attempt earlier this year; where Alonso failed to qualify after a string of issues within the team’s entry with Carlin.

Over the last few weeks, rumours emerged of a potential alliance between McLaren and Arrow SPM. However, today’s news goes one step further. Instead of being in a traditional technical alliance where the two teams work alongside eachother, McLaren and Arrow SPM have now merged into one entity.

The newly renamed Arrow McLaren Racing SP will continue to field two cars in next year’s championship. Furthermore, the cars will be powered by Chevrolet engines instead of Honda, who have worked with Arrow Schmidt Peterson since 2006.

In today’s announcement, Zak Brown, the CEO of McLaren Racing, expressed his excitement at bringing McLaren back to full-time IndyCar competition for the first time in forty years. Additionally, after the troubles of the team’s ill-fated Indy 500 entry earlier this year, Brown commented that the team enter IndyCar full-time “in full respect of the sport, out competitors, the fans and the task ahead.”

“IndyCar has been part of McLaren since our early years of racing, and the series today provides not only a commercial platform to continue to grow our brand in North America, but competition with some of the best teams in international motorsport,” Brown said today.

Zak Brown - 2018 British Grand Prix
Credit: Octane Photographic Ltd.

“This team provides McLaren with the right synergy as a strategic partner for our return to the sport. We believe together we can help each other achieve our mutual ambitions. Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson have built a solid foundation and we look forward to working together to take the team to the next level.

“I’m absolutely delighted that we will expand our relationship with Arrow Electronics across both F1 and IndyCar, while renewing our long affinity with Chevrolet as our engine partner. McLaren and Chevrolet have a special history together in North America and it is fitting they are part of our full-time return to IndyCar.

“We come to IndyCar in full respect of the sport, our competitors, the fans and the task ahead. At our core, we at McLaren are racers and where there’s competition that puts us to the test, we will race. The NTT IndyCar Series provides such a challenge.”

The co-owners of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsport, Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson, also spoke of how happy they were with today’s announcement

“I’m extremely proud of the team that Ric and I have built and that a legendary brand like McLaren Racing has decided to partner with us to form Arrow McLaren Racing SP to continue our march to the top of IndyCar,” Schmidt said in today’s announcement, “Arrow is a tremendous partner which has been integral to our growth as a team since 2015 and to the creation of this new partnership. The combined technical resources and commercial opportunities both McLaren and Arrow bring to the table provide a winning combination.”

“I’m really excited that we could pull together our long-term partner Arrow and forge a new partnership with McLaren to become a unified force,” Peterson added, “I’m equally thrilled that Sam and I are able to continue on in our long-standing relationship together and maintain our ownership position in the company. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

Credit: Chris Owens

No driver announcements have officially been made by the team as of yet, but all signs are pointing toward James Hinchcliffe remaining with the squad when McLaren come onboard next season. There had been questions asked due to Hinchcliffe’s strong relationship with former engine suppliers, Honda, with some pointing to a potential move for Hinchcliffe to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to remain with the Japanese manufacturer. However, in a statement made on Twitter, Hinchcliffe appeared to confirm that he will be staying with Arrow McLaren Racing SP and that he would be saying goodbye to Honda.

“It’s an exciting day for all of us with Arrow McLaren SP and the culmination of a lot of hard work put in by all,” Hinchcliffe wrote, “My love for motorsports started on those weekends watching F1 races with my dad and McLaren was a huge part of that. To be able to drive for that name is a dream come true.”

“It is rather unfortunate what this means for our relationship with Honda,” James went on to add, “They are another company that has done so much for me and when the time is right a discussion to what that means for my partnership with them and Honda Canada will need to occur but that is secondary right now to this exciting news. I’ve worked with General Motors [Chevrolet] in the past and look forward to rekindling that relationship in 2020.”

With Hinchcliffe seemingly all but confirmed for one of Arrow McLaren Racing SP’s seats for next season, attention now turns to the identity of the team’s second driver. As perhaps expected, many have already put Fernando Alonso’s name into the mix, with Alonso having driven with McLaren in two Indianapolis 500 attempts in 2017 and 2019.

However, Alonso has spoken of how he does not wish to compete full-time in the IndyCar season, with the two-time Formula 1 champion instead wishing to focus entirely on getting his elusive Indianapolis 500 win that would see him complete the famous triple crown of motorsports.

When asked today, McLaren CEO Zak Brown commented that he would be more than willing to field an extra entry in the Indianapolis 500 to allow Fernando to continue his quest for the victory. Brown seemingly didn’t rule out a full-time ride for Alonso should the Spaniard be interested.

“The door’s always open for Fernando,” Brown told RACER. “He’s part of the family, he’s a contracted McLaren driver and for the first time in a long time he doesn’t have a full racing calendar ahead of him.

“He’s obviously well aware of what we’re doing here, and I’ll be seeing him later in the year and we’ll be discussing our plans and his plans, and see if those converge at any point.”

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

With Alonso looking unlikely to take the second seat, other candidates include the likes of current IndyCar drivers, Marcus Ericsson and Colton Herta. Ericsson currently races for Arrow SPM and has taken a second-place finish during his rookie season so far. Marcus has already spoken of his desire to remain with the team for 2020, but he does not have a contract as of yet.

Herta, on the other hand, has been heavily rumoured to be under consideration by McLaren for the last few weeks. Like Ericsson, Colton is also currently in the middle of his rookie season in IndyCar. The Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver made history in March by becoming the youngest ever IndyCar race winner at the Circuit of the Americas.

After Alexander Rossi‘s new contract was announced with Andretti Autosport last month, Colton Herta has now arguably become the hottest free agent on the driver market. McLaren could well snap up Herta, but the American may also be being targeted for a move up to Andretti Autosport due to the links between the team and Harding Steinbrenner.

Speaking of potential drivers after today’s announcement, Zak Brown commented that he would be working “hand in hand” with Sam Schmidt in the decision making process.

“No decisions have been made yet,” Brown told RACER today, “Experience is very important. And having a long runway.”

“If you look at what we did in Formula 1, we have two young drivers, one rookie, one quite experienced, and that’s working really well with Lando [Norris] and Carlos [Sainz[. So, I’m not saying that’s exactly the same approach we’ll take, but I think it gives you a sense of the type of thinking that we think makes sense.

“And we’re going to do this very hand in hand with Sam. Drivers are something he knows a lot about. Moving forward, our decisions are not McLaren decisions or SPM decisions, they’re group decisions. We’re now one team.”

One driver that will remain a part of the Arrow McLaren Racing SP team in the future is Robert Wickens. Robert, who remains in recovery following his paralysis as a result of a heavy crash at Pocono Raceway twelve months ago, raced for Schmidt Peterson and had been promised by the team that they would have his car waiting for him whenever he is fit enough to race again.

When asked earlier today whether Wickens’ car will still be waiting for him following the McLaren merger with Arrow SPM, Zak Brown responded simply: “Yes, definitely,”

Following today’s exciting news, a lot of questions still remain. One such question remains regarding Meyer Shank Racing, who have spoken today that their 2020 plans still look good despite today’s news potentially putting an end to their partnership with Arrow SPM. It will certainly be interesting to see further driver market developments and team announcements for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series in the next few weeks and months.

The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series will continue on Sunday, August 18, with the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

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