McLaren is planning a future that includes Pato O’Ward

LONG BEACH, California (AP) – Pato O’Ward controlled his career at the start of the IndyCar season. Win the championship, went thinking, and maybe get the license he needs to eventually move to Formula 1.

Instead, he went into the season-opening race upset over his contract with Arrow McLaren SP, and it showed on the field. He was 12th in St. Petersburg. He returned to Texas as the defending race winner and finished as number 15, while also hitting a crew member on the pit road.

He hit the wall in last week’s practice at Long Beach and extended an unwelcome streak of three errors in three race weekends that derailed his season before he even got a chance to get started. Realizing he needed to get out of his own head, O’Ward rallied to a fifth-place finish last weekend that seemed to make some sense into the personal and popular Mexican driver.

“I know it’s not a win, but we’ve had a very tough start to the year. We want to build on momentum,” said O’Ward. “There are 14 races left so there are plenty of races to go. . I think we will do some good things in the next few races. ”

Well, he better.

McLaren’s high hopes for this season, its first as the majority owner of the Arrow McLaren SP, hit an instant speed bump in both Formula 1 and IndyCar, just as the big organization is trying to position itself as “America’s open-wheeled racing team.”

The McLaren brand has been reinvented over the last few years behind engaging young drivers, aggressive use of marketing and social media and smart content that gives fans a deeper look at the team, its members and every race weekend.

Fan surveys in both F1 and IndyCar show that McLaren has managed to recapture the audience. McLaren was named the most popular F1 team, and Lando Norris won favorite driver among female fans, as well as all fans aged 25 or younger. In IndyCar, Arrow McLaren SP finished second with Andretti Autosport as the second most popular team; O’Ward is the most popular driver among female voters.

So there was hype around the team both at home and abroad at the beginning of the year, just so it could resolve itself quickly. The F1 cars fought until Norris and Daniel Ricciardo finished as number five and sixth last week in Australia, O’Ward had been a mess until last weekend and Felix Rosenqvist is still seeking coherence in his second IndyCar season with the team. Rosenqvist won pole in Texas and started as number four on Long Beach, but his best finish this season is 11th on Long Beach.

But it’s the O’Ward saga that hangs over the organization as McLaren boss Zak Brown plans the organization’s future. He acknowledged that O’Ward is on a team-friendly contract until 2024.

Brown offered O’Ward a revised deal, but the driver did not accept, and he also refused to sign a contract identical to the one Colton Herta signed to test McLaren’s F1 cars. O’Ward, who turns 23 next month, desperately wants to move to F1 and wants a marked pay rise that brings him in line with the best IndyCar drivers. If McLaren can not make that happen, then he wants to move to an IndyCar team that can guide him to a championship.

Even if he gets another offer, Brown will only have to match it with 75% to keep O’Ward in a McLaren. And this is where he wants his driver – to win races, fight for a championship and help build the McLaren brand in the United States and Mexico.

To do so, Brown said O’Ward should “help us become more consistent, and vice versa, the same as we’ve seen out of Lando in Formula One.

“Just keep maturing as a race car driver,” Brown said. “We all know he’s just as fast as everyone else on the web. So now it’s about us, him, Felix working together to raise our average finish. And it’s up to us to do as a collective team. . ”

McLaren before the 2020 season joined IndyCar as a marketing partner for Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson’s existing team, but as the majority owner starting this season, Brown wants McLaren’s hands across the organization.

He has planned a 100,000-square-foot store in Indianapolis that will move the team out of Schmidt’s building and into a state-of-the-art facility built heavily around sustainability and renewable energy that will resemble McLaren’s F1 factory.

Plans are underway for a third full-time entry into IndyCar next season with new cars and spare parts already ordered and the hiring of approximately 25 additional employees.

Alexander Rossi is rumored to have signed a contract to leave Andretti Autosport and become McLaren’s third driver next season despite conflicting responses from all parties involved. At McLaren, Rossi wanted a much-needed landscape change, and as a former Indianapolis 500 champion and seven-race winner, he wanted to help the organization get his cars where O’Ward and Rosenqvist need them.

Brown is committed to building a championship IndyCar team, and O’Ward is very much a part of that plan. The driver may be unhappy, but the team does not want to lose him.

“I did not want Pato to go to any racing team and have a void here, certainly would not be so excited to let him go to another team and leave a void here,” Brown said. “We think he’s a championship character, so let him run somewhere else … we have our guys, we invested in them, we took a chance on them, we are not about to hand them over for some really good reason. “I can not think of a good one.”


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