McLaren will make a full-time return to IndyCar from 2020 via a new partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, opening the door for Fernando Alonso to go for gold again at the Indy 500 next May. The newly formed Arrow McLaren Racing SP will use a pair of Chevrolet-engined cars for next season’s calendar, which will be the first to fully feature McLaren-branded cars since 1979 and the penultimate year before IndyCar switches to hybrid power.
McLaren’s input to the partnership will centre around providing technical support, but it will also boost the Arrow squad’s commercial and marketing efforts in a bid to attract more backers. Since IndyCar regulations are closely controlled, McLaren Racing won’t be able to transfer any technology over from Formula 1, but the team’s recent improvements since switching to Renault engines will no doubt have helped convince the board the motorsport arm warrants further investment.
Part of the draw to IndyCar will of course be the championship’s coveted Indy 500 race. Alonso, who’s still under contract with McLaren, just missed out on qualifying for this year’s Indy 500 by 0.019mph after a troubled week of testing and handling issues. Although McLaren wouldn’t budge on the prospect of the Spaniard returning in 2020 with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, it seems highly likely given that he essentially quit F1 to focus on achieving The Triple Crown of Motorsport, which will need him to add the Indy 500 to his Monaco GP and 24 Hours of Le Mans wins. His last go there in 2017 saw him lead for 27 laps before suffering an engine failure.
“IndyCar has been part of McLaren since our early years of racing, and the series today provides not only a commercial platform to continue to grow our brand in North America, but competition with some of the best teams in international motorsport,” said McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown. “[Arrow SPM co-founders] Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson have built a solid foundation and we look forward to working together to take the team to the next level.”
Gil de Ferran, McLaren Racing’s sporting director and the man that’ll head up the IndyCar programme, added: “IndyCar is a natural fit for McLaren, given our legacy and determination to succeed at the top levels of international motorsport. Our ambition, over time, is to consistently compete for wins and championships. We acknowledge the challenge ahead of us but McLaren is committed to this partnership and to supporting the team as a whole.”
Arrow SPM’s current drivers include fast-charging Indy star James Hinchcliffe and former F1 racer Marcus Ericsson, as well as 26-year-old Brit star Jack Harvey. It’s not yet known who’ll be chosen for the two confirmed seats at Arrow McLaren Racing SP in the 2020 season; if Alonso were to join at the 500 race, it’s likely the squad would be grown rather than him elbowing in to take the place of another driver.