Schmidt Reflects on Successful INDYCAR Season, Looks Ahead to 2021
The 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES brought about many challenges with limited testing time, practice opportunities and a compacted schedule. Despite the constant changes brought forth from the COVID-19 pandemic, Arrow McLaren SP remained focused on the task at hand as they welcomed new resources to the team, along with an all-new young driver lineup.
The resources from strategic partner McLaren brought high expectations and a sense of anticipation for team co-owner Sam Schmidt. Overall, he was satisfied with the 2020 season.
“I think in a lot of ways we definitely met or exceeded all of our goals, especially when you look back to pre-COVID,” said Schmidt. “Everybody behind the scenes, our engineering department, all did a great job. Looking at our pit stops, we ended up fifth on the charts. We were hoping for a top-three there, but other than that, we have been excellent in that department. So overall, I think that the team did its job and adapted very well to the situation.”
Another talking point for the team throughout the 2020 season was the decision to embrace a young driver lineup, with the addition of the two previous Indy Lights Champions, Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew. Being the most successful team owner in the history of the Indy Lights series, Schmidt has an eye for talent, and he felt the investment in youth played an integral role in driving the team forward.
“On the Pato side, no doubt, he exceeded expectations on-and-off the track,” enthused Schmidt. “He could have had three or four wins. I think that little bit of experience will help him big time next year. You can watch a guy like Scott Dixon hold off Felix Rosenqvist for 3 or 4 laps with destroyed tires at Mid-Ohio last year. I think now, Pato can possibly hold off drivers based on the experience he has.”
Away from the track, the pandemic brought about a number of challenges commercially for Arrow McLaren SP. Schmidt has long prided himself on long-term relationships with his partners and being able to count on such partnerships in the team’s progression.
“Arrow, McLaren, VUSE, Mission, Lucas Oil, frankly all of them, have been amazingly flexible and supportive of us this year. It’s been a lot of two-way communication in ‘what can we do for you?’, and at the same time they also come back with ‘what can we do for you?’ We’re working within the same scenarios, and it’s been great to have those large organizations that are helping us survive this.”
With the 2020 season now in the team’s rear-view mirror, the sport never sits still and the focus for the 2021 campaign is in full effect. Arrow McLaren SP recently announced that the highly-rated Swedish driver, Felix Rosenqvist, would be joining the team and Schmidt is already relishing the prospect of seeing what his driver pairing can achieve next season.
“With Pato, we knew that was going to be good, but he exceeded our expectations big time. Felix is obviously one of the most experienced drivers in the paddock having driven a variety of cars, and everybody wanted him as he has won championships in everything he’s competed in. We already saw at the recent Barber test his level of preparation and feedback is really top-drawer.”
So, do such changes bring a certain amount of pressure and expectation with them? Schmidt certainly seems to think so, but it’s a challenge he embraces.
“We have some very high expectations but also there’s no excuse now. We’ve got the best engineering team that we could accumulate over the last five years, we have great equipment, we have a great partnership with Chevrolet and Firestone. With the partner support we have and the drivers we have, it’s time to be top-3 in pit stops, it’s time to be top 3 in the championship. it’s time to win races as a team and be very competitive. We are really amped up for next year.”
The 2021 season set to begin where this 2020 campaign ended, on the streets of St. Petersburg, FL. Arrow McLaren SP will now take what they have learned and apply it during the offseason.