McLaren-Indy: all about alliances
McLaren's path into IndyCar is deeply affected by Honda and the multitude of hurdles it stands for. Will it overcome them and find a suitable technical ally for the Indy 500?
Back at it. Last Saturday Fernando Alonso and McLaren broke the internet once again when they announced their participation in the 2019 Indy 500, although it was in the air and it had previously been called for by reliable sources.
Next year’s Indy assault is going to be different in many ways, but the whole project is still clouded in uncertainty, as McLaren’s technical partner is yet to be announced. Zak Brown confirmed the Woking-based team will set up a whole separate team for its IndyCar commitment, which will include personnel from McLaren Racing’s department without causing any resource shortage on the F1 crew.
Former Force India man Bob Fernley has been appointed as President of McLaren’s IndyCar project, aiming to “build and lead a technical team entirely focused on the 2019 Indy 500, while helping to evaluate the feasibility of a longer-term McLaren involvement in IndyCar” as the press release reads.
In fact, McLaren has been working towards his for over two years, as talks were held with both Chip Ganassi and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and reached an advanced state before falling off the cliff. However, the intention to make it to the American series is there and the expectations on its one-off 2019 are high, despite a bunch of pesky hurdles along the way.
Due to their premature break-up last year, McLaren and Honda can no longer be partners at the Indy 500 again and the main issue would eventually be a conflict of interest with McLaren in the first place, not with Alonso, as many happen to think. Therefore, McLaren’s engine supplier is going to be Chevrolet, but which team will establish a technical alliance with the newborn outfit?
Harding Racing used Chevy units last year, but Honda is set to put its banner on the team and on all Andretti-related cars, as Honda PD’s COO Steve Eriksen confirmed, which makes any collaboration between Michael Andretti’s team and McLaren fairly impossible. It also feels highly unlikely for Chevrolet-powered outfit Team Penske to dilute its victory chances and share resources with McLaren, whose aim is to win and draw all mediatic attention on itself.
Among all Chevy teams, Ed Carpenter would turn out to be the most alluring and concrete chance, as AJ Foyt, Carlin and Meyer Shank Racing cannot offer the star-quality McLaren is seeking. Meyer Shank Racing itself is a very young team that leaned on Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’s technical support, despite having its own chassis and engineers; but in order to fill the gap, it is fundamental for a newbie to be taken under a giant’s wing and guidance.
As for the line-up, it is in McLaren’s best interest to field at least one or two drivers next to Alonso, making sure to build a credible campaign and work on more cars. As Racer’s Marshall Pruett mentioned in its podcast, there are many experienced drivers who could be picked for this one-off participation, both from overseas or European-based racing series.
Moreover, I would dare throw the dart towards Nicholas Latifi, who had previously been linked to a McLaren IndyCar drive (if the project was set to sail on), since his father made a major investment in the McLaren Group. The Canadian driver shares his commitments between Force India as a reserve driver and F2 with Dams.
Since the timing is tight and there will not be Andretti doing 75% of the work, McLaren will have to sharpen its tools to get the most out of the one shot is has. There is some speculation going on concerning the chance to run extra testing sessions or freely compete in an additional event, in order for the outfit to practice and adequately prepare for May 26th.