Arrow McLaren Racing SP has announced today that Patricio O’Ward and Oliver Askew will race for them in the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series. The two most recent Indy Lights champions are both set to contest their first full-time IndyCar Season with McLaren; who also join the championship full-time after merging with the former Arrow Schmidt Peterson team.
The news means that Schmidt Peterson’s former long-standing driver, fan-favourite James Hinchcliffe, has officially lost his seat with the team and will now be searching for a new ride to try and stay on the grid next season.
Today’s news completes a rollercoaster year for Patricio O’Ward, who began the year with a deal to race full-time in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series with Harding Steinbrenner Racing before budget issues forced the team to scale back to just one entry with Colton Herta.
O’Ward was picked up by Carlin at the last-minute for a part-time deal that saw the Mexican race seven times during the seventeen-race season. Patricio had also attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 but failed to qualify after a crash in practice forced him to a backup car.
Mid-season, O’Ward was signed to join the Red Bull driver programme and went on to make his debut in Formula 2 and Super Formula. However, O’Ward was let go by Red Bull after a few months, reportedly due to a misunderstanding with his eligibility for a Formula 1 super-license.
Following O’Ward’s departure from Red Bull, it is understood that talks with McLaren went from strength to strength; culminating in today’s announcement that he will race for the team full-time in 2020 NTT IndyCar Series.
“I couldn’t be happier to be with Arrow McLaren SP for my first full season in IndyCar,” said O’Ward today. “I’ve had some great opportunities over the last year, but this is by far the greatest thing that could possibly happen for my career. I had a taste of IndyCar earlier this year and cannot wait to represent Arrow McLaren SP in the best way possible for a full season in 2020.”
Joining O’Ward at Arrow McLaren Racing SP in 2020 will be fellow Indy Lights champion, Oliver Askew. The American driver took the title in the Indy Lights championship this year and put himself firmly on the radar for an IndyCar seat after successful tests with Chip Ganassi Racing.
Askew’s rise to IndyCar has been somewhat meteoric. He stepped up to the USF2000 championship in 2017 and duly won the title after winning seven of the fourteen races. 2018 saw the American advance to Pro Mazda, where he would finish third in the standings.
Finally, he stepped up to Indy Lights for 2019 with Andretti Autosport, where he would win seven races with fifteen podium finishes out of the eighteen rounds. He would also take victory in the biggest race of the season, the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Commenting today on the completion of his journey through the ranks to IndyCar, Askew said that he couldn’t wait to get started in a few months time.
“It’s a dream come true to be joining Arrow McLaren SP for my first year in IndyCar,” said Askew. “The new team brings together three great partners and it’s an honour to be representing them in this new chapter for the team and for my career. This is an exciting new challenge for me and the next natural step after winning the Indy Lights title this year. I can’t wait to get started.”
Gil De Ferran, the sporting director of McLaren Racing, also commented on his excitement for 2020. He stated today that the signing of O’Ward and Askew is “in the best long-term interests” of the team, despite the pair’s lack of experience in the championship.
“As we look to establish Arrow McLaren SP and re-establish McLaren in the world of IndyCar, I’m delighted to be welcoming these two young, homegrown talents to the team,” said De Ferran, “Oliver and Pato represent the new generation of IndyCar drivers. Proven winners and exciting prospects, I have no doubt that they will form an excellent pairing as we take on the 2020 season.
“Both drivers were super-impressive in Indy Lights, racking up sixteen wins between them over the last two seasons. We have taken time and care to make a driver selection that we believe is in the best long-term interests of Arrow McLaren SP.”
The news of O’Ward and Askew’s signing to McLaren comes at a cost, however. After the merger between Arrow Schmidt Peterson and McLaren was announced earlier this year, it seemed as though Schmidt Peterson’s long-term driver, James Hinchcliffe, was set to continue on with them into 2020. This was backed up by McLaren commenting numerous times that they wished to have an experienced driver at the helm.
However, the last few weeks have seen reports coming out of the Arrow McLaren Racing SP camp that Hinchcliffe could be on his way out. Today, those rumours were confirmed. The team published a statement confirming Hinchcliffe’s departure shortly before they announced Askew and O’Ward, with Sam Schmidt offering his gratitude to James for his hard work over the last few years.
“James has been a great ambassador for our team, and for the sport, over the last five years,” said Schmidt. “Our history dates back to his early days in Indy Lights and we’ve been on a tremendous journey together. Most impressive was James’s determination to come back after his accident in 2015. I have the utmost respect for James and would like to thank him for his hard work and accomplishments during that period and wish him well in his future endeavours
“We recognize that James is a fiercely motivated and determined competitor, and we won’t hesitate to release him unconditionally to secure another drive, whether in IndyCar or another series.”
It is thought that Hinchcliffe is looking to remain as a Honda driver, as the Canadian has had a long-standing role with the manufacturer that has seen him not only represent the manufacturer out on the race track but also as a spokesperson in advertisements; particularly in Canada.
However, full-time seats for next year that have a Honda engine attached to them are few and far between, with both Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing already having announced their line-ups. Other options are still potentially on the table, with both Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Dale Coyne Racing having already publically expressed an interest in having conversations with James. However, both have also stated that they would need support from partners and sponsors to expand to a three-car entry.
As of the time of writing, James Hinchcliffe has yet to comment on his departure from Arrow McLaren Racing SP or his hopes of competing in the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series.
The 2020 NTT IndyCar Series will kick-off with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 15.