As decisions by racing teams go, this one was seismic. It rattled manufacturers, teams, drivers and changed the balance of power in the NTT IndyCar Series. Its dynamic carried both good news and bad news for those involved.
Talk of the merger between Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and McLaren Racing began to emerge in early August, when unsubstantiated reports surfaced that Arrow SPM, the longtime series regular, and McLaren, the legendary Formula One team and past IndyCar regular, would join forces in 2020.
Days later, a press release confirmed the merger, followed a few days later by a teleconference with two of the new team’s principals, Sam Schmidt and Zak Brown. There, they introduced the newly christened Arrow McLaren SP, which would team with Chevrolet in 2020, ending Schmidt Peterson’s 24-year run with Honda.
“There is that loyalty,” Schmidt said. “There is that length of time and a lot of success, and at the end of the day, (Honda is) a great motorsports and (original equipment manufacturer) 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 a no-brainer.”
With McLaren sporting director Gil de Ferran overseeing the program and Schmidt and Ric Peterson retaining their roles as co-owners, Arrow McLaren SP began its search to fill the team’s two full-time seats for 2020.
When they’d made their decision more than two months later, it came with another good news/bad news dilemma. The good news was the hiring of two talented young drivers -- Patricio O’Ward and Oliver Askew, the two most recent Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. The bad news was parting ways with James Hinchcliffe, the popular driver who had been with the team since 2015.
“This is one of the toughest decisions we have had to make since we have been team owners,” Schmidt said when O’Ward and Askew were intrroduced. “I personally have known James, (his father) Jeremy, (his mother) Arlene, his brother Chris for 11 years and love him. And I really appreciate what he's done for the team -- tremendous, tremendous investor in the sport and our brand and everything else.
“So it's a gut-wrenching decision, but we were faced with an opportunity to pick up these two young guns coming out of Indy Lights that already have 13, 14, 15 years worth of experience, and it was just an opportunity that we couldn't pass up.
“Everything's amicable, I have all the faith in the world that James is going to wind up in a full-time ride, and Ric and I are fully supportive of that.”