McLaren is in discussions with drivers over a third full-time IndyCar entry for the 2022 season now it’s purchased a controlling stake in its Arrow McLaren SP team.
But McLaren CEO Zak Brown says it will only happen if it finds a driver capable of winning.
A third car has been long rumoured for Arrow McLaren SP, and now Brown says the team has the resource to make it happen.
Whether that’s in 2022 or 2023 depends on the drivers it is able to sign. It will not sign a driver just for the sake of having a third car on the grid.
Since McLaren’s arrival as a partner the team has only run a third entry at the Indianapolis 500, fielding Fernando Alonso in 2020 and Juan Pablo Montoya this year.
The third Arrow McLaren SP seat has been one of the big focuses of the IndyCar silly season, with former Haas Formula 1 team-mates Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean both linked to the car, and 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud – who won races for the team in its previous guises Schmidt Hamilton and Schmidt Peterson Hamilton (pictured below in 2013) before joining Penske – considered an outside contender.
With IndyCar being so competitive, almost as much emphasis is needed on finding the right engineer and crew to match the driver for a new team, and Brown says discussions are ongoing in both departments.
“We’re doing both in parallel, we do have conversations going on with drivers, while Taylor [Kiel, team president] is looking at what he needs to do to resource-up,” Brown told The Race and other select media.
“One of the nice things when we created the partnership two years ago, we had our whole Indy 500 set-up and ultimately we put that into the race shop so we have a lot of resources already in place to turn on a third car. Hence running the third car in the Indy 500 this year.
“So we’re doing both in parallel and it’s all coming together pretty quickly if we’re going to do it for ’22.”
Brown added that if McLaren can field the third car full-time, it would not add a fourth entry as an Indy 50o one-off.
Grosjean, Magnussen and Pagenaud will all be highly sought after if they reach the open market for 2022.
Grosjean is currently heavily linked with Andretti Autosport but could also choose to stay at Dale Coyne, while Pagenaud could also remain at Penske either purely in IndyCar or with a deal involving that team’s upcoming Porsche sportscar programme.
Even if Grosjean and Pagenaud don’t want to jump ship, the threat of them doing so will be providing them with leverage to get a better deal for 2022.
In Pagenaud’s case, Penske won’t want him joining a rival team that could seriously challenge it in the future, and with Grosjean McLaren interest may establish more favourable terms at Andretti or Coyne.
Magnussen has a Peugeot sportscar deal but raced for AMSP in IndyCar earlier this year in place of the injured Felix Rosenqvist at Road America, when team president Taylor Kiel told The Race the team would love to have him back.
Arrow McLaren SP has the benefit of having a car that is second in the championship with Pato O’Ward proving its pace, making it among the most lucrative of the seats available for 2022.
Asked what were the key determining factors for whether the team launches a third car in 2022 or 2023, Brown replied: “It’s just about getting the right package together.
“We’ve got resources, the economics are not a concern, but we want to run three cars that can win races and compete for the championship.
“I think this is very much a driver championship as much as it is a team, that’s what makes it so exciting.
“So we need to make sure we can get the right pilot as they say, in the race car.
“There’s not a lot of them on the market, we’ve got a very short list and if we can land someone that we think is capable of winning, we’ll go for it in ’22.
“If not, we’ll spend ’22 making sure we find the right driver for 2023.
“We definitely want to be there with three cars in 2023.”
Arrow McLaren SP is not the only team evaluating a third car, as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is also attempting a similar move.
It may sound obvious to add a third car purely on a numerical basis, and because it gives the team more data, but teams that have done so in the past have sometimes spread personnel too thin and the additional car has proved a distraction.
With Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske deemed the ‘big three’ in IndyCar for the majority of the 21st century so far, The Race asked Brown if adding a third car was seen as the next step in McLaren joining that group on a permanent basis.
“Definitely, we think having three competitive racing cars is the best formula,” said Brown.
“So we need to make sure when we put that third car out, it’s capable of winning races with the right people, the right equipment, the right driver. We think that is the magic number to be most successful.
“So we definitely want to head that direction.
“We very much look at the way Penske goes racing with all their cars capable of winning and that’s what we want to emulate so if we can get that put together for 22 we certainly will, but we’ll definitely get it put together for 2023.”