Brown open to idea of third full-time Arrow McLaren SP entry

Zak Brown, McLaren CEO, says the Arrow McLaren SP team would welcome the chance to add a third full-time car but says it would need to be for a “championship-caliber” driver rather than a "rent-a-driver".

Brown open to idea of third full-time Arrow McLaren SP entry

This year, the team has taken on Felix Rosenqvist to partner incumbent ace Pato O’Ward full-time, and will run a third car in the Indianapolis 500 for two-time winner Juan Pablo Montoya.

Brown says that this is the sort of template he and team co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson intend to follow whenever the team decides to go to three full-time cars. Schmidt has been seeking such an opportunity for two years “but only if it adds value.”

This year Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske each have four cars contending in the 17-race season. Asked directly if adding more full-time entries was still in the long-term plans, Brown replied: “Third driver yes, fourth driver… I’m not so sure. I think three is better than two.

“It’s got to be a driver of Pato’s and Felix’s caliber. We will not do a rent-a-ride scenario. If you look at Roger [Penske] – that’s probably the best way to do it, three drivers and a fourth at Indy and they’re all championship caliber. Even Chip [Ganassi] has had to go to some rent-a-drivers to round out his program. I think Roger’s done it the best.”

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Brown said a similar philosophy prompted the team to sign Montoya for Indy.

“It’s always going to have to be someone we believe is capable of winning the race, so someone like Helio Castroneves was very exciting. We put him in at the end of last year [Harvest Grand Prix] when we had Oliver [Askew] out of a race. We always want it to be someone who can win [although] you’re not always going to be able to find a Fernando [Alonso], a Juan Pablo or a Helio.”

Choosing Montoya for the extra Indy 500 entry – and as a ‘warm-up’, the GP of Indy – this year made sense for several reasons, says Brown.

“He’s clearly got McLaren history, he’s got a pretty awesome track record at Indy [two wins in five starts], he’s a big personality, a big brand, which is important to the team, and he’s got a lot of experience.

“Pato had a superstrong run at Indy last year but the year before his Indy was like our Indy [both DNQ]. And Felix, on the ovals I think he’s still getting there. He was obviously super-strong in Texas [last year] but then had his shunt chasing down Scott [Dixon]. So I think Juan’s experience – because Indy is all about experience – [makes him] a nice blend of experience, speed and brand.”

Brown also observed that Montoya and his race engineer Craig Hampson – the team’s R&D engineer – have also clicked.

“Craig likes Juan’s approach which is very direct,” said Brown. “He knows what he wants, no B.S., and that’s how Craig is, so they have a tremendous amount of respect for each other. Watching them work together has been very good.”

Asked if Rosenqvist had been employed to help push O’Ward – who finished fourth in last year’s championship and started last weekend’s season-opener from pole – to ever greater heights, Brown said: “I think the name of the game is to get the two best drivers you can, and we just feel Felix is as good as anyone in pitlane and Pato is as good as anyone in pitlane. So it was less about we want one guy to push another.

“It’s same thing in Formula 1; it was ‘Let’s get the two best guys we can.’ I think we’ve got a great line-up in Formula 1, and they’ll naturally push each other, but it was more a conscious decision to get the two best guys, as opposed to getting one to motivate the other.

“I think the two guys are going to give it all they got every lap. From a mindset standpoint, I think they’re of the same age. Felix has a lot more experience because of the different series he’s been in, but they’re both in their [early] years of IndyCar, so they’re both youthful in that sense, and they’re going to push each other hard, but I think they get along well and they’ve got a ton of respect for one another. I think Road America was good for their relationship because that was pretty damn tough but they were fair with each other.”

Much preseason talk was devoted to whether Arrow McLaren SP will turn – or already has turned – IndyCar’s top echelon into a ‘Big Four’, along with Ganassi, Penske and Andretti. O’Ward led three offseason tests, and started from pole in last Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama before finishing fourth on the less favored strategy. Asked if McLaren’s late-2019 joining of forces with what was previously Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had been paying off, Brown responded, “I think we’re seeing the benefit of that. If you look at winter testing and how competitive we’ve been, I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

“But that said, I think Taylor [Kiel, team president] and the team have been doing an awesome job, the drivers are doing an awesome job, so like all things in racing, it’s the package. I wouldn’t want McLaren to take more credit than it deserves [but] for sure it’s playing its role. Last year, we had all these COVID restrictions, so we were much more limited. We still have COVID restrictions but we’ve worked through them.

“So I feel last year was about learning, to understand what McLaren could bring to the table; this year, we’ve brought stuff to the table. There are things that are different about this racing team and racing car because of McLaren’s involvement that weren’t there 12 months ago.”

Brown didn’t rule out the idea of McLaren’s Formula 1 stars Lando Norris – who scored his second career podium last Sunday at Imola – and Daniel Ricciardo trying out an Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet IndyCar.

“A lot of drivers on the Formula 1 grid would like to drive a road course – nNot so many the ovals. But I think Daniel and Lando… yeah. They’re laser-focused on F1, they’re in a different part of their career than Fernando was at, but I would say there’s a possibility in the future depending on how everything plays out.”

But he has pledged to give O’Ward a run in the F1 McLaren-Mercedes during the end-of-season Abu Dhabi test, as revealed on social media:

 

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