Full-Time McLaren Program Pending Summer Decision

Fernando Alonso's McLaren Indy car on 2017 Indy 500 race grid

McLaren Racing chose to enter just one NTT IndyCar Series race in 2019 but has far from ruled out a full-time entrance into North America’s premier open-wheel championship.

While his Formula One operation prepared for the Chinese Grand Prix, Zak Brown addressed the IndyCar media during the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend and, before racing a 1985 Roush Ford Mustang in the Historic IMSA GTO Challenge, fielded questions about the brand’s motor sports future in North America.

Praising INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and the remainder of the sanctioning body, Brown declared that McLaren may still become a permanent fixture in IndyCar.

“It’s a place that McLaren would like to race,” Brown said of the series. “We’ve been very focused on Formula One — and we remain very focused on Formula One — but I’ve now completed the hiring of the balance of the leadership for the Formula One team now that James Key has started as technical director and Andreas Seidl is the managing director of the Formula One team. He’ll join next month, and so we really needed to get that completed.”

Fernando Alonso in McLaren F1 car during 2018 Italian Grand Prix
Fernando Alonso may return to open-wheel racing in a full-time capacity as early as next year. | Photo: Sergey Savrasov / Spacesuit Media

McLaren is seventh in the World Constructors’ Championship with its pilots placed eighth and 18th in the World Drivers’ Championship, but progress in F1 is good news for fans wishing to cheer the brand on from beside an IndyCar racetrack.

“Going ahead and getting the equipment, making the investment in doing Indianapolis this year in the way we are is another step in that direction,” Brown continued.

“There is no doubt that the shareholders at McLaren would like to be in IndyCar. I think it’s more of a when than an if, and if we were to do it for 2020, I think you’d need to make that decision in the summer in order to be properly prepared. So it’s nothing that we’ve ruled out for 2020, and that decision will come sometime in the summer, and, if not then, then we’ll look towards 2021.”

To keep things simple in its first Indianapolis 500 attempt as an independent entrant, Brown stated that McLaren never considered bringing two cars to the 103rd edition of the race and instead paired Alonso with teammates by partnering with Carlin. The team’s approach to a full-season IndyCar program would be different, however.

“I think if we come into Indy car racing, it would definitely be a two-car team, that’s for sure,” Brown said.”

Brown Aware of IndyCar Intensity

As the leader of a historic team in the often-criticized contemporary F1 championship and a close follower of North American motor sports, Brown is tuned into the current state of IndyCar.

Though passing was down severely during this year’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach relative to last year’s 44th running, a win for Alexander Rossi and Andretti Autosport meant four different drivers and four different teams have won the first four races of 2019.

On the contrary, two drivers and one team have found success in F1 through three races this season.

“I think what’s great about Indy car racing is you show up at a race like this and there’s probably 10 people that can win, and I hope Formula One can be as competitive and have as deep a field as IndyCar has,” Brown said.

“But it’s great teams and great drivers. The Scott Dixons and the Josef Newgardens are awesome — I think very worthy of being in a Formula One car — and then you look at people like Colton Herta and O’Ward, these guys are the new up-and-comers that seem equally as fast and impressive, so I’m looking forward to watching the race on Sunday.”

After the team ran Alonso in a test at Texas Motor Speedway last week, McLaren will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a full-field Open Test, set for April 24. Alonso will make his second Indy 500 start May 26.

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