McLaren Racing is joining the NTT IndyCar Series full-time in 2020 with a partnership with the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team. The two-car team will be called Arrow McLaren Racing SP and will utilize Chevrolet engines.
While the rumors of McLaren and Sam Schmidt’s team have been circulating for weeks, the news rocked the racing world on Friday morning. While there were many questions surrounding the announcement, perhaps none were bigger than what the future looks like for James Hinchcliffe. The popular Canadian driver is under contract with SPM through the 2020 season, but also has many personal relationships and contracts with Honda-affiliated programs.
There are several ways that this could go for James, and the team. If James would like to stay with the team, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown has publicly stated that he envisions Hinchcliffe racing for the team next season. That could just be smoke, but it all depends on what James wants to do. The Arrow McLaren Racing SP team did not announce their driver lineup for next season, and there are several suitors that will surely be lined up for a seat.
Should Hinchcliffe decide to stay with Honda, there are a number of destinations that make sense. The first would be a return under the Andretti umbrella, possibly taking over the No. 88 car with Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Should Colton Herta leave, the door would be wide open for Hinchcliffe, who would have seemingly plenty of sponsorship to help fund the operation. A third car at RLL Racing is also known to be in the works, where he would be a very nice fit alongside Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato. Another option would be the 2nd seat at Dale Coyne Racing, providing Santino Ferrucci doesn’t return. Hinchcliffe has worked with engineer Craig Hampson at Newman/Haas Racing and Andretti.
The other current driver at Arrow SPM is Marcus Ericsson, who is a free agent after this season. The Swedish driver has publicly stated that he would like to return to the series next year, but could also be looking for a ride with a different team. Zach Brown said the team will work as one to select the two drivers for next season, and have heavy interest in Herta as well as Felipe Nasr. Patricio O’Ward is another name the team will look at. Another name to keep an eye on is Nicholas Latifi, who is the son of McLaren investor Michael Latifi, currently racing in the Formula 2 series.
One other nugget of information stemming from today’s announcement revolved around the situation of Robert Wickens. The Canadian had been promised a seat to return to Arrow SPM once he was ready following his rehab.
Another major question following today’s announcement is related to the Meyer Shank Racing team. Arrow SPM currently provides technical and engineering support for the No. 60 machine driven by Jack Harvey. MSR has been vying to launch their own full-time IndyCar team in the near future, and rumors have been swirling lately that next year is the year. Their journey began in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport, and they have been with Honda every step of the way. Mike Shank and Jim Meyer are prepared to announce their plans soon, but this may or may not have played a part in their decision. Should they opt not to go at it alone as a single-car team next season, they do have an option of partnering with another team, such as Chip Ganassi, so long as it is beneficial for both sides.
Lost in all of the driver and team movement, is the balance of power between Honda and Chevrolet. All 23 of Chevrolet’s IndyCar wins since the 2017 season have come from Team Penske. While Chevrolet has had the dominant team, Honda has always had more depth. Depending on what happens with the newly shaped Arrow McLaren SP team, that could soon change. In a recent interview with RACER’s Marshall Pruett, Zach Brown let it be known that Chevrolet has been wanting to partner with McLaren in IndyCar for a couple of years.
Gil de Ferran will be leading the IndyCar effort for Arrow McLaren Racing SP. The two-time CART champion and 2003 Indy 500 winner has a great approach. “Keep an open mind, be humble, and be respectful,” he told RACER. Everyone involved with the team understands what happened this past year at Indianapolis, and where the focus will be entering the 2020 season. Whether Fernando Alonso will be a part of that, will be determined at a later time.
The Silly Season was supposedly going to be quiet after Alexander Rossi decided to stay at Andretti Autosport. It turns out that was just the beginning of what will surely be a wild off-season.