McLaren has chosen the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team as its partner for a full-time IndyCar entry for 2020, and launched Arrow McLaren Racing SP.
After its humiliating failure to qualify for the 2019 Indianapolis 500 with Fernando Alonso, when it was operating largely independently bar a logistical alliance with Carlin, McLaren prioritised finding an established IndyCar team to partner with for its long-mooted full entry.
The deal means Schmidt’s team will end its long relationship with Honda to run Chevrolet power in its two-car attack. SPM co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson will remain involved, but McLaren is drafting in its current sporting director Gil de Ferran – a double CART Champ Car champion and the 2003 Indy 500 winner – to lead the project. He will “helm a dedicated group from McLaren Racing, independent of the F1 team”, read a team statement.
McLaren CEO Zak Brown described the Schmidt tie-up as giving “the right synergy as a strategic partner” and added “we come to IndyCar in full respect of the sport, our competitors, the fans and the task ahead”.
Schmidt established his team for what was then the Indy Racing League in 2001, a year after his driving career was ended by a crash that left him as a paraplegic. It initially specialised in the junior categories, taking seven drivers to titles during a period of dominating what became Indy Lights, before acquiring the FAZZT team and launching a full IndyCar effort for 2011.
Now co-owned by Peterson and with sponsor Arrow Electronics – which backs McLaren in F1 – having stepped up to become a full partner, SPM won seven IndyCar races with its initial lead driver Simon Pagenaud and his successor James Hinchcliff e across the 2012-2018 seasons.
The McLaren SP driver line-up remains unclear. Brown recently underlined that while Alonso was “top of the list” for any IndyCar entry, the double Formula 1 world champion was reluctant to commit to a full season – though he would be favourite for a third McLaren seat at Indy.
Hinchcliff e’s strong Honda ties appeared to clash with the McLaren-induced switch to Chevrolet, prompting other Honda teams to begin pursuing him, but he has intimated a willingness to prioritise the McLaren opportunity over his Honda backing. He has an existing contract for 2020.
IMSA SportsCar champion Felipe Nasr recently tested SPM’s IndyCar and has been mooted as a McLaren contender, as has F2 frontrunner Nicholas Latifi – who is also in the mix for a 2020 Williams F1 drive. Hinchcliff e’s team-mate Marcus Ericsson is thought unlikely to be retained.