If you weren’t quite fully engaged with your day this morning -- if that second cup of coffee wasn’t yet empty -- when the news dropped at 8:04 a.m. ET, you probably noticed how quickly you reached full engagement. Unexpected INDYCAR news has a way of doing that.
It came across rather matter-of-factly. “McLaren Racing announced today it will return to full-time IndyCar competition from 2020 in a strategic partnership with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (Arrow SPM) and Chevrolet,” the release from McLaren said. “McLaren last competed full-time in IndyCar in 1979.”
It was a morning bombshell. A positive step for the NTT IndyCar Series, no doubt, but a move that fundamentally changes the balance of power in the series and -- a few hours into the news breaking, anyway -- leaves still plenty of questions to be answered.
The announcement came with the carefully planned quotes that are expected with news this big. McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown, SPM’s Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson, McLaren’s Gil de Ferran all praised the merger and restructuring that brings a Formula One team to INDYCAR for a full-season effort in 2020.
“This team provides McLaren with the right synergy as a strategic partner for our return to the sport,” Brown said. “We believe together we can help each other achieve our mutual ambitions. 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.
“I’m absolutely delighted that we will expand our relationship with Arrow Electronics across both F1 and IndyCar, while renewing our long affinity with Chevrolet as our engine partner. McLaren and Chevrolet have a special history together in North America and it is fitting they are part of our full-time return to IndyCar.”
The core fact beneath the news, though, is that it isn’t an expansion. It’s a merger and a rebrand. The number of available seats won’t increase on this news alone, but most likely will increase in response to the news. It is, quite plainly, a move by one of Honda’s top teams to Chevrolet, which evens the full-time seat count at Honda 11, Chevy 11.
While certainly a setback for Honda Performance Development, the loss of Arrow SPM could be met by HPD-assisted expansion within its other teams -- Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and Harding Steinbrenner Racing.
“Although we regret that this partnership will be coming to an end in advance of the 2020 season, HPD has the utmost confidence in the strength and commitment of its remaining partner teams, all of whom have won at least one NTT IndyCar Series race in each of the past two seasons,” HPD said in a statement. “We look forward to demonstrating that same type of depth across our entire lineup for many years to come.”
Even before the press releases had been delivered and absorbed, online speculation about the team’s drivers, both current and future, was rampant. Will Fernando Alonso be part of the merger? Will Honda create room for James Hinchcliffe at RLL? What will happen to Marcus Ericsson, one of the best of a group of talented rookies in 2019?
What role would Arrow, an invaluable resource to the team and the series in general, play in the rebranded team? Schmidt seemed to hint at an increased role in his statement:
“I’m extremely proud of the team that Ric and I have built and that a legendary brand like McLaren Racing has decided to partner with us to form Arrow McLaren Racing SP to continue our march to the top of IndyCar. Arrow is a tremendous partner which has been integral to our growth as a team since 2015 and to the creation of this new partnership. The combined technical resources and commercial opportunities both McLaren and Arrow bring to the table provide a winning combination.”
Questions aside -- and those questions presumably will be resolved in short order -- this is a positive step for INDYCAR, McLaren, Schmidt Peterson and Chevy. At first blush it might not appear to be good for HPD, Hinchcliffe or Ericsson, wait for the response. The ongoing competition between INDYCAR’s two manufacturers is the basis of the series’ surge in quality and popularity. This news and its response can only make it stronger.
Pay attention to the next few hours, days and weeks. What hasn’t been answered immediately will be answered soon enough. Change isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing, not always black or white. The reaction to it is what matters most.