Sam Schmidt, Zak Brown talk McLaren IndyCar Team on Teleconference

McLaren
James Hinchcliffe drives his Arrow Schmidt Peterson car around a corner at Mid Ohio. Photo by Chris Owens / IndyCar.

The newest dogs to the fight in the NTT Data IndyCar Series are here. On Friday afternoon, McLaren announced it would be figuratively joining forces with the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team.

IndyCar hosted a teleconference on Monday with CEO of McLaren Racing Zak Brown and Schmidt Peterson co-owner Sam Schmidt detailing the move as well as some important details for 2020.

Sam Schmidt, Zak Brown talk McLaren IndyCar Team on Teleconference

At the forefront of the conversation is the move from Honda for Schmidt Peterson.

The team is ending its contract with Honda a year early in order to work with McLaren.

“[It was] extremely difficult [to leave Honda], you know, because there is that loyalty,” Schmidt said. “When they aren’t winning, they do everything possible to win, so we wanted to stay in that camp. On the other side of the page, there was so many positives that it really was, you know, a no-brainer.”

McLaren brings a lot to the table on the technological side of things as well, prompting the early exit with Honda.

Arrow’s support aided in the move, as well.

“Arrow is obviously our title partner of our INDYCAR team,” Brown said. “They joined us this year in Formula One, and Arrow, they have — their automotive business has taken off in the last five years, and they currently are in business with our automotive group, our racing group, our IT infrastructure and applied technologies. While they are a sponsor partner on our race cars, they are a much more integrated technology partner across all of our businesses.”

Something else that the pair touched on, on Monday, is what the team’s situation will be concerning the number of cars and drivers they put on the track.

In the teleconference, Schmidt said the team is likely to stay at two cars for the 2020 season.

As was with this season, both will sport the Arrow colors, but now it will be with a McLaren touch to it.

“We got to where it was Arrow Schmidt Peterson with two identically branded entries, and that was sort of my ultimate goal for a long time as an INDYCAR team owner,” Schmidt said. “You’ll see that transition with the McLaren Orange influence to where we have that same theme going next year.”

As for adding a third car to the team in the future, Schmidt kept the options open and also confirmed a third car for the 2020 Indianapolis 500.

“I wouldn’t rule out ever running a third car,” Schmidt said. “There certainly will be a third car in Indy, but I think our priority first and foremost is to position the two cars with identical liveries and every opportunity that those two cars have to win, win races, win the Indy 500, win a championship. A third full-time entry is not really on the radar now, but wouldn’t rule it out for sure.”

The team plans for one of those cars, at least for 2020 in the last year of his contract, to be filled by James Hinchcliffe.

Hinchcliffe has driven for the team since 2015 and gathered three wins for them since then.

The Canadian driver’s relationship with Honda will seemingly come to an end, however, at least for the time being.

“It’s one of those unfortunate things, when you do what’s best for the team, but the relationship with Honda Canada and American Honda was direct between James and them, and so we don’t even know — we don’t even know what those details were, what those obligations were,” Schmidt said. “We don’t anticipate it having an effect on the final year of his contract as far as we’re concerned, but yeah, we’re excited to have him on our team.”

The door for other drivers remains open, though, and there are a lot of possibilities.

The team first wanted to announce the McLaren deal before putting together a list of drivers, but since the announcement they have said to be busy on the phones.

When the team reconvenes later this week, they’ll start discussing offers and potential candidates.

That begs the Fernando Alonso question.

“I don’t think his desire to win the Indy 500 has diminished at all,” Brown said. “He has not shown an interest, yet, I should say, in a full season of INDYCAR. He’s coming off of 20 years of lots of racing and I think he wanted to take the second half of this year off to see what he wants to do in the future.”

“I think he would be an outstanding talent in INDYCAR,” Brown continued. “I personally think, knowing him as well as I do, and his driving style, he’d be immensely successful and welcomed and would enjoy it. But Fernando is the type of individual that you put the opportunity in front of him and let him make his decision. So, I’ll be picking that up with him in about a month’s time, but I would not anticipate in 2020 him having a desire to do a full season.”

The team will also be attractive to those drivers that have dreams of competing in Formula One.

They plan to use that leverage during their search.

“We currently have a rookie driver who is under obligation of some rookie tests in Formula One, and certainly if we feel that one of our INDYCAR drivers has a credible chance in Formula One, then for sure, we would look to put that driver in for some rookie testing,” Brown said. “I think that’s one of the exciting things about a combined Formula One and IndyCar effort is it will create opportunities for drivers, engineers, especially as we look into the budget cap and Formula One will start to change. There will be different ways to deploy our resources.”

The move will also end the alliance the team currently has with Meyer Shank Racing. There’s no ill will towards either team, it’s all about the engine difference.

The NTT Data IndyCar Series will return to the track with more potential news on the 2020 schedule coming on Sunday at Pocono.

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