The name on the outside of the building may have changed during the offseason for race-winning, former INDYCAR driver Sam Schmidt, but the goal is the same as his previous 18 years of team ownership: win races and compete for championships.
“You want to have high expectations, but at the same time, be realistic and not set the bar too high,” explained Schmidt. “I think everybody has a lot of self-motivation here, including the drivers. So, we have high expectations.”
With a pair of wins, rookie Colton Herta set the bar high for Arrow McLaren SP drivers, and fellow recent Indy Lights graduates, Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew.
“I think these two kids are outstanding talents,” Schmidt said. “Pato went head-to-head with Colton and won the championship. So, you’re hoping that he can have similar success as Colton did last year. Similarly, Oliver faced very stiff competition in Indy Lights. He has had to keep winning to advance his entire career.”
During a busy off-season, Arrow McLaren SP hired an exciting young driver lineup, added a partner with a long and successful legacy in motorsports, and added championship-winning engineers to their already stout technical staff. Schmidt understands that melding all of those changes is challenging, but he is pleased with the progress so far.
“In bringing on McLaren and merging that whole situation, we have to bring their technical support up to speed. I think it’s probably going to take six months to start seeing any benefit from that,” said Schmidt.
“When you throw Craig Hampson (R & D Engineer) in the mix, there is a lot of processes to be set up.
“So far, communication, effort, and willingness to work together has been very positive.
I think when you put it all together, you can’t be ignorant of the fact that there are some outstanding teams and some really good drivers that we’ll be facing. There will be 25 or 26 cars at every event with at least a dozen drivers that can win.”
To get up to speed quickly, O’Ward and Askew will need to master in-laps, out-laps, pit stops, tire save, and fuel save, something that is relatively foreign to both of them.
“All that being said, I’d be disappointed if the team didn’t take down at least one win this year, and at least one of these guys in the top ten in points, if not both of them,” said Schmidt.
Fortunately, O’Ward and Askew won’t be alone in their quest for growth. They will not only have each other, but also 2018 INDYCAR Rookie of the Year Robert Wickens and two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso pushing them to get better.
Robert Wickens, who made a splash with the team in 2018, winning pole position in his first race, claimed five podiums, and consistently ran in the top five is Arrow McLaren SP’s driver consultant.
“Having Robert there day-in and day-out is pretty critical to our success,” explained Schmidt. “Robert, with six years of DTM, where they turned over every rock and screw to make those cars and drivers faster. Him coming in and being there for the test days and for the race weekends is invaluable to those drivers.”
When the Month of May rolls around, O’Ward and Askew will experience first-hand, the renowned work ethic and attention to detail that the addition of Alonso and his 32 Formula One Grand Prix wins brings to the team.
“That’s one of the reasons, among many others, that we are so excited to bring in Fernando (Alonso) because his reputation is of total preparation,” said Schmidt. “No rock unturned. He wants to make the car fast, he wants to make the team better and he wants to win. Being around him for the Indianapolis 500 will also have a positive impact on them. You aren’t a two-time world champion if you are just relying on talent.”
Taylor Kiel, Arrow McLaren SP Managing Director, explained the differences between the two-drivers, and his team-owner believes those differences can be harnessed to make them better drivers.
‘They are living in the same apartment building, they are eating together, they are spending a lot of time together, but their personalities and driving styles are diametrically opposed,” articulated Schmidt. “One is very calculated and very measured as a student of the sport. The other one gets up on the wheel and gets it done.”
“We’ve seen them work together in testing. It’s been positive. Pato goes out and sets a lap immediately and then when they get to dig into where that comes from, and how to do it, Oliver gets to where he needs to be by the end of the day.’
“They will be able to feed off each other. They definitely have the right attitude going in of helping each other.”
The Indianapolis based squad recently completed a successful day of testing at Sebring International Raceway, and are now preparing the No. 5 and No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolets for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The 2020 season opener in the Sunshine State takes place March 13-15.