Arrow McLaren Racing SP team principal’s Zak Brown and Sam Schmidt announced the formation of their new team on Friday with the team switching from Honda to Chevrolet for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series.
The pair took part in teleconference on Monday afternoon where they confirmed that the team will be based in Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports current facility in Indianapolis and that since the announcement was made on Friday they have had calls from drivers regarding their 2020 line up.
ZAK BROWN: Thank you for having us.
ZAK BROWN: We’ve had overwhelmingly great support, first and foremost, from the fans. I think they are all quite excited to see McLaren back in IndyCar and in a full-time effort with Sam and Ric, our partners, which we knew would be very supportive going into this.Our race team, INDYCAR, and the industry itself, showed the response has been very, very positive.
SAM SCHMIDT: Yeah, I think the answer to the first question is no. We are obviously not in a position to win the championship, so our focus these last four races will be entirely on qualifying up front and trying to win the races.So we want to finish out on a high note, and then begin the process of getting ready for 2020.
SAM SCHMIDT: Obviously we’ve begun the discussions of a structure, and I’m super excited that McLaren has placed Gil de Ferran in sort of the head connect for us there, because with his championships in Indy car and Indy 500 victory, his long-term association with Roger Penske, his ownership of his own team that was successful, really excited to work with him as a major conduit in the McLaren situation.But then it’s just kind of we want to make sure we manage the opportunity. That’s probably our biggest challenge is the fact that we see a lot of opportunities, both on the technical side of the business and on the commercial side of the business, and I think we need to manage those opportunities carefully to not be overwhelmed. Just setting up the structure to do that and moving forward, very exciting for all of our partners.ZAK BROWN: I think from my point of view, this has been going on obviously behind the scenes for some time identifying areas in which we think McLaren can help support what we think is already a very good foundation at Sam’s team. We’ve had (ASPM General Manager) Taylor (Kiel) and (ASPM Preseident) Jon (Flack) over to McLaren to meet some of the people that will be working alongside them and to start identifying and understanding what some of McLaren’s capabilities are; where now you’ll see Gil and some other McLaren people at the remaining INDYCAR races and in Indianapolis.We have started the education process from SPM and looking into McLaren, and now we’ll have McLaren look into SPM, and then over those next few months, start to identify areas in which we think we can further support and amplify what SPM has sitting within their capabilities as of today.
ZAK BROWN: Everything will go into Sam’s shop. So we, post-Indy this year, in anticipation of having an ongoing effort; hence, a lot of purchase of equipment, from cars to everything you need to run an IndyCar team, that stuff will all now be housed in Sam’s shop.
ZAK BROWN: The phone has definitely been very active since we have announced with all sorts of individuals, but I’ll let Sam comment further on the driver situation.SAM SCHMIDT: Yeah, we looked at it as it’s a stakeholder decision. It’s a big decision. So between ourselves and Arrow and McLaren, there’s a lot of great minds there with years of experience.The first goal was to get past the announcement last week, and then as Zak said, see how the phones light up and then make that list, and then reconvene later this week and start making some of those decisions and offers and whatnot.So kind of like stay tuned, but it will be a few weeks before we make any announcements.
SAM SCHMIDT: Extremely difficult, you know, because there is that loyalty. There is that length of time and a lot of success, and at the end of the day, they are a great motorsports and OEM operator.When they aren’t winning, they do everything possible to win, so we wanted to stay in that camp. When you draw the line down the center of the paper and you put your pros and cons on each side, that was definitely a big negative to doing this deal.On the other side of the page, there was so many positives that it really was, you know, a no-brainer. At the end of the day, it’s just unfortunate, but it’s ultimately their decision.
ZAK BROWN: 100 percent. That was a big contributor to this decision on the automotive side. North America is one of the biggest markets for (the) automotive business, as is for (McLaren) Applied Technology. This works for McLaren Racing and our other entities, which was a big, big part of our decision here.
ZAK BROWN: Yeah, Arrow is obviously our title partner of our INDYCAR team. 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.
ZAK BROWN: I’ll let Sam take that.SAM SCHMIDT: I mean, our first and foremost priority is to — you saw this year, 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. You’ll see that transition with the McLaren Orange influence to where we have that same theme going next year.I wouldn’t rule out ever running a third car. 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.
SAM SCHMIDT: Yeah, I mean, I’ve just had a fantastic long-term relationship with Michael Shank. I think he’s a quality individual. We had that alliance the last two years. Had an option on the third year, but I mean, most, most likely scenario is that he’ll have to go a different way, simply because the engine situation.And he’s got a much bigger situation going on, you know, in the IMSA race with Honda and that relationship. That most likely will not carry on, but I’m sure he’ll have people burning up his phone to align with him because just a really quality individual, and Jim Meyer, as well, has invested heavily in the program.So I think you’ll see that continue on probably full-time for the next couple years for sure.
ZAK BROWN: So hybrid technology is definitely something that we are very familiar with. We have not yet reviewed what the technical specifications are going to be, so I would like to think that there’s some hybrid knowledge that we have, but like you said, with it being spec, it might mean we can’t really use that expertise we might have.So we haven’t looked into it yet, though, in detail?
ZAK BROWN: Yeah, hybrid is certainly here and now and in the future, so I think IndyCar going hybrid is a good story for all manufacturers, so that is important, but at the same time, we are also a racing team that races.So we think our know-how will also contribute to maximizing what’s effectively a spec series with two different engines, and then there’s also different ways to benefit our automotive business with dealer engagement and customer entertainment.So it doesn’t have to be a direct layover of a technology story to still benefit our automotive dealers and customers who are racing fans who want to further engage with the McLaren brand.
But to have two sort of monumental announcements in one year is really a dream come true, and I think this alliance really gets us to that level where we can compete week-in and week-out with the other guys they talk about.When I came in in 2011, I mean, that’s where I said we needed to be, or else, you know, why do it? We are not here just to sit around in the middle of the back of the pack. We want to be a regular force week-in and week-out, qualifying the Fast Six and racing for race wins; that’s the goal every week.
SAM SCHMIDT: Well, that’s in the plans, for sure. The Indy 500 is so important on many levels, whether it be commercial or otherwise and the global footprint.As Zak said many times, we’re racers, and that’s the biggest race in the world and that’s the one we want to win the most. If a third car can help us have a better chance of winning it, then so be it, but that’s the goal.We want to be the force in IndyCar that we were in Indy Lights and I think this alliance really gives us the opportunity to do that on so many levels. We’re excited. Can’t wait to get started.
ZAK BROWN: Yeah, I’ll definitely be in Long Beach. I don’t know what the historic schedule looks like, but if there is one, I’ve got one in my stable, I’ll be there.
ZAK BROWN: Yeah, that’s a good one.
ZAK BROWN: Yeah, 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.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.But specifically on drivers, the answer is yes for the right one.
ZAK BROWN: Yeah, you’ll see Gil de Ferran at all the remaining races, as well as a couple of engineers and data analysts. Towards the very end of the year, you’ll see people from communications and marketing as we look to review things from a branding and activation standpoint. So I think you’ll probably see a half a dozen people from McLaren at each race moving forward.
SAM SCHMIDT: No, I mean, we really don’t. James has been a great asset to the team for the last five years. He’s a brilliant ambassador for all of our partners.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.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.
ZAK BROWN: Yeah, there isn’t a McLaren seat and a Sam seat. If there was, I would put myself in the car — since it’s a group discussion, Sam won’t go there that. So we’ll make driver decisions together.I’ll be seeing Fernando at the Italian Grand Prix. He’s well aware of everything that’s going on with our IndyCar activities and has been for some time. I don’t think his desire to win the Indy 500 has diminished at all. 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. 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.Q. First off, congratulations. I have two questions for Zak first. I came in a touch late so I apologize if somebody already touched on this. Knowing that this year’s month of May didn’t exactly go how you guys envisioned it by any stretch, how much or was that a motivating factor behind trying to find a partnership like this?ZAK BROWN: We certainly made a lot of mistakes in Indianapolis this year, and as I told everyone on the racing team, mistakes are okay as long as you learn from them and you don’t make the same one twice. We always had a desire to compete on a full-time basis, and the way we did it in 2019 was kind of the start of ramping up. However, it’s very obvious that that’s not the right way to do it.So what we are able to put in place for Sam will give us that full-time presence; will give us that platform to ensure that we’re competitive and don’t repeat the mistakes we made, which really was showing up with a part-time effort and a part-time crew that worked extremely hard.But Indianapolis is a tough place to show up for anybody on a part-time basis, and so what we structured here with Sam we think ticks a lot of the boxes of the technical aspects and the commercial aspects that enabled us to go ahead and commit.I think the view of my board was either let’s be all-in or all-out, and all the reasons we have wanted to do IndyCar the last couple years, have remained, regardless of our defeat at Indianapolis. We’re racers, so you’re going to hit the wall every once in a while. You have to dust yourself off and go back at it.
ZAK BROWN: Super exciting. I think when I started at McLaren, obviously things had been very tough for us, so we needed to make sure we got our Formula One team back on track. We still have a long way to go. We’re pointed in the right direction now.We have a long history, whether it was Can Am or whether it was IndyCar in the past or whether it was sports car racing; I think McLaren Racing, its DNA is racing, and racing in multiple series whether it makes sense. So we are quite excited to go back to IndyCar, especially given our history there and the importance of the market.
SAM SCHMIDT: Yes, I mean, it’s the ultimate and now we have to perform. It’s a be-careful-what-you-wish-for situation, because now, Arrow is a partner.Ric and I, together — again, this is all about winning, and winning the Indy 500 and being a realistic competitor for the championship, and we couldn’t do it without these resources and without these technical capabilities.On a person level, I’ve been a fan all my life of Formula One and IndyCar.My dad was a team owner at Indy in ’78, ’79 using a five-year-old McLaren chassis and a lot of little things that I don’t think even Donald Davidson would know. But it goes into the background here, so first and foremost, be clear that we’ve done this to win races and try and compete for a championship.But on a personal level, this is what I want to be doing full-time and these partnerships with both Arrow — there’s 32 other ones behind them, Cypress and Lucas Oil of 15 years and on and on and on. So for all of those combined, the added global exposure and opportunity is just a fantastic way to go. Arrow obviously raised the bar two years ago with Club Five, and we intend to keep doing that on every aspect of the business. So just can’t wait to get started.
ZAK BROWN: Most of that is still very much a work-in-progress. You know, what we have resource wise, both in technical equipment as you can imagine in Formula One is quite sophisticated and vast; and then we have a lot of know-how in our people. With the race car being spec, it’s not like we can go in and help design a better front wing because that’s not allowed.So those are areas that — Taylor was over the last couple weeks to see areas in which he thinks he can tap into our resources, both in people, know-how and equipment. We’re now, as I mentioned earlier, going over to SPM to do a deeper dive, and I think we’ve identified a variety of areas that I’d rather not disclose for competitive reasons, but sufficient to say, we definitely found some areas we think we can help.And there are areas that probably, if you want to call them the big teams, the Penske Racings are doing; as Sam mentioned, for the team to be championship-calibre, has a great foundation of people and resources, but not the same level as the Penske Racings of the world. I think that’s going to be an area in which we can help grow their resources.
ZAK BROWN: Yeah, I told him Christmas isn’t till December, but he’s got his list ready.
Yes, all of our equipment that we had, a couple cars, enough to effectively be a one-car IndyCar team, and that was all brand new equipment, so that will now migrate over to Sam’s shop, and then we’ll continue to work to identify resources that we have that we think will benefit the IndyCar team.
ZAK BROWN: His primary responsibility is IndyCar. That was always part of the plan when I brought him in last year was to help me transition the Formula One team into new leadership, so we brought in James Key and Pat Fry and Andreas Seidl now in principal. So now his role as supporting director of McLaren will be — definitely his primary focus will be IndyCar but also because he has very good knowledge of our Formula One team, he’ll see where there are areas in which the two racing programs can benefit from each other. But his primary focus will definitely be IndyCar.