Offseason Overhaul Builds Confidence, Enthusiasm for Managing Director, Kiel
The Arrow McLaren SP team has had a busy offseason with many highly visible changes. Managing Director, Taylor Kiel sat down to discuss the changes that the team has experienced since the 2019 INDYCAR season came to a close. But first, we’ll review the changes and the items that remain consistent with the Indianapolis-based team.
The first change came in August when McLaren Racing joined the team as a technical partner, and the name of the team changed to Arrow McLaren SP. An equally big move from Honda to Chevrolet power plants came at the same time.
The next significant change occurred in October when the team announced that 2018 Indy Lights champion Pato O’Ward and 2019 Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew would be joining the team.
The last considerable change for the team came with some notable additions to the technical staff in December.
Despite all these adjustments, the core of the team has remained constant, providing consistency. Continuing in their same positions are co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson, Managing Director Taylor Kiel, Performance Director Nick Snyder, and Competition Director Billy Vincent.
Schmidt started the team in 2001 and brought in Peterson as a co-owner in 2013. Kiel began with the team’s successful Indy Lights squad in 2008. Snyder has been a part of the operation since 2011. After serving as Chief Mechanic for Simon Pagenuad during his 2016 championship-winning season, Billy Vincent joined Arrow McLaren SP ahead of the 2017 season.
Also remaining constant for the 2020 season are the race engineer and crew chiefs on the No. 5 and No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolets. Race Engineer, Will Anderson along with Crew Chief, Dave Higuera will be working together on the No. 5, driven by O’Ward. The No. 7, piloted by Askew, will be under the guidance of Race Engineer, Blair Perschbacher and Crew Chief, Bob Jansen.
Added to the technical staff for this season are newcomers Craig Hampson, Kate Gundlach, and Mike Reggio. Hampson, who won four IndyCar championships with driver Sebastien Bourdais, will join the research and development group. Gundlach, who came over from Chip Ganassi Racing and Reggio, who worked at Juncos Racing last year, will serve as the performance engineers on No. 5 and No. 7 cars, respectively.
Q&A with Managing Director Taylor Kiel.
Do you think the changes in the off-season will allow you to fight with the ‘big three’ teams throughout an entire season?
“I think so. As a much, much smaller team with Simon Pagenaud, we finished in the top five (5th in 2012, 3rd in 2013 and 5th in 2014) three times and won four races. Our processes have only become more refined and more focused—everything from the way we prepare our cars, to the processes and the procedures. Even how we show up at the racetrack and our presentation, we’ve elevated the team on just about every level from commercial to the competition. I’m confident that the foundation is there; we just need to execute.’
‘It boils down to execution as a team – from the drivers – from the team – from the pit stops – from the strategies – all of those things need to come together on a more consistent basis. And, that’s what we’re really trying to find is this top-level consistency.”
Craig Hampson, with all his championships and wins, is an exciting addition to the team. What role will he be playing?
“Craig is working alongside our Performance Director, Nick Snyder on research and development initiatives in a general pursuit of performance and speed. He’s got a wealth of experience in that area. We brought him in with the intention of allowing him to push that experience to the rest of our group, as well as advance our R&D initiatives.’
‘Another function of his is as the engineering group liaison with the McLaren Racing technical group in the United Kingdom. He acts as the middle-man. They’ve got a lot of resources, and they’ve got a lot of ideas. He’s the one that cuts it off before it gets too far down the path or says, ‘Hey, that works for what we do, let’s pursue further.” He’s working with those guys really closely.”
Your partner Arrow works in the technical and engineering space, have they helped propel the team forward?
“Absolutely. We’ve done a lot of collaborative projects together. The biggest one obviously is the SAM car project. We helped a bit with that but that was a lot of their heavy lifting. They turned that from concept to reality very quickly as they do with anything that they set out to do.’
‘We’ve got a few projects in the works that I won’t speak to directly.’
‘It is THE definition of a collaborative partnership with Arrow. We’ve been through a lot with them obviously. The highs and lows of the racing space, but also personally with what they’ve been able to accomplish with Sam. Part of their mission is to use technology to better people’s lives, and I’ve seen that with my own two eyes.’
‘I couldn’t be more proud to have them as a partner, and they continue to work very well and very closely with us technically.”
How has the transition to Chevrolet gone so far?
“Excellent. There is a lot of changes – A LOT of changes. The one thing that they did early on that, really, helped us out was that they were open and they were honest. They opened up lines of communication immediately and said, ‘Hey, whatever you guys need, pick up the phone and give us a call. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the morning or the evening, our goal is to get you up to speed so that you can compete.’
‘Selfishly, they want to see us compete right away. They feel like we’ve got a really good team, and they want to see us do well. They want to do well as a brand, and so do we. Our goals are all very aligned.’
‘We’ve been brought up to speed very quickly. It’s good for them and our people. Our people had to onboard a lot. It was like drinking from a fire hose there for a while. But, I think we’ve got our feet under us now, and we’re humming along, and the Chevy folks had a huge part in that and continue to do so. In terms of grading the partnership to this point, it’s been more than I could ask for. That’s a huge credit to them.”
Has the addition of two young Indy Lights champions re-energized the team?
“It has. They keep you on your toes. They bring a tremendous level of enthusiasm. Pato is a firecracker in that respect. Oliver’s bit more measured and reserved. But, outside of the tangible enthusiasm that they bring when they walk in the door, it’s that belief as a team that we now have a higher ceiling. We’ve got some excitement because we see the potential.’
‘Now, it’s down to us to maximize that, make sure that they have the tools that they need to succeed, and to continue to support them as they grow into top-flight professionals. The excitement lies in the unknown, but knowing the potential is there.”
Can you give us a better idea of the role McLaren Racing will play with the team?
“It’s resources; It’s the staff. It’s multi-faceted technical support. They’ve assembled a team of plus or minus ten people, that are just thinking, eating, sleeping, and breathing INDYCAR racing over in Woking (United Kingdom). We’re working really hard to get those folks up to speed.’
‘We are trying to leverage any and all resources that they have to our benefit. A big part of that is making sure that there are people that know the McLaren systems and functions and to be able to use those efficiently. ‘
‘Gil de Ferran is leading that side of the program. He’s my contact in the U.K. He’ll lead their group here in the U.S. when they come to the races. So, you’ll see him at every race this year.’
‘The partnership doesn’t stop technically either; they have the ability to help us in sales, marketing, and commercial partnerships.”
Taylor Kiel and the Arrow McLaren SP team will look to put all of their offseason progress to the test during the first race of the 2020 season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg March 13-15.