This year, McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown believes the organization he leads has its best chance to win the Indianapolis 500 in decades.
Better, he believes, than the chances it had in 2017 when McLaren returned to INDYCAR and partnered with Andretti Autosport to field a car for two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso. Alonso started fifth and led 27 laps before mechanical failure on Lap 179 of 200. He finished 24th and was named the race’s Rookie of the Year.
Certainly, better than when it returned in 2019 with Alonso and failed to make the field of 33 for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
And even better than when it fielded three cars last August with Pato O’Ward, Oliver Askew and Alonso in the newly formed Arrow McLaren SP. O’Ward had a solid day, finishing sixth and being named Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, while Alonso finished 21st and Askew was involved in an incident, finishing 30th.
“Yes, I think we have three cars capable of winning the race,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, I think there's about 15 other cars capable of winning the race. I think our drivers are ready for it. Taylor (Kiel, team president) and his team are ready for it. I think we have a good shot.”
O’Ward rolls off the grid 12th in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday (11 a.m. ET, live on NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network), while Rosenqvist starts 14th in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet and two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya starts 24th in the No. 86 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.
There are multiple reasons for Brown’s confidence. A big reason: The partnership with Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson’s INDYCAR effort is in its second year and yielding big results. Namely, O’Ward found victory lane for the first time in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career earlier this month at Texas Motor Speedway after several close calls in 2020. He’s fourth in the points standings.
But another is the addition of Montoya to the team for the Month of May, including the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course to kick off the month, in which Montoya finished 21st.
The Colombian brings with him a wealth of success and experience at Indianapolis. In five starts, Montoya has two Indianapolis 500 wins, a fifth place, sixth place and 33rd place. He clearly knows his way around the historic 2.5-mile oval, and Brown and Kiel are excited for the tips and tricks the team’s two full-time drivers have learned from him to come to fruition this weekend.
Additionally, O’Ward and Rosenqvist are young and still relatively new to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, while Montoya has years of experience in INDYCAR, Formula One (including a stint with McLaren), NASCAR and IMSA. Brown and Kiel agreed Montoya’s influence will reverberate well beyond the Racing Capital of the World and carry Arrow McLaren SP toward even more future success.
“I've known Juan for quite some time, as we all have,” Brown said. “I think he's brought a lot of experience and a really good vibe inside the team. He's been very strong with his feedback. I think he's contributed a lot to the Month of May. I’m looking forward to watching him race.”
It’s clear Brown is confident in Arrow McLaren SP’s abilities on track as it is joining the group of elite teams traditionally occupied by the “big three” of Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES as organizations that can win any weekend and contend for the Astor Challenge Cup.
Also clear is that Brown and McLaren Racing are committed to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES long term.
Under Brown’s leadership, McLaren has put a lot of time and resources into INDYCAR. Kiel was promoted to team president after serving as managing director last season and runs the team’s United States operation.
Meanwhile, McLaren has increased the technical support for the organization with a dedicated team of engineers from the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, England. There, a full-time crew is focused solely on INDYCAR, where it runs simulation and other software during the week and even on race weekends.
Brown has built leadership in its Indianapolis-based race shop and at McLaren Racing headquarters in England that gives him the opportunity to split time between McLaren’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES effort and the McLaren Formula One team, which fields cars for Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.
But Brown made it clear that the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is of the utmost importance to McLaren, which won two Indianapolis 500s with Johnny Rutherford, in 1974 and ’76.
“Yes, (McLaren is) definitely (committed),” Brown said. “INDYCAR is extremely important to McLaren. Fortunately, much like Taylor runs the team here in America, Andreas (Seidl) runs the team over in Formula One, which means I can float around and pick which weekends I participate in and how I can contribute. That allows me to pick and choose between both racing. Never want to miss the Indy 500. We’re happy this year it doesn't conflict with Monaco.”