Get to know Arrow McLaren SP: Brendon Cleave, Damper Engineer
Brendon Cleave came to the United States in 1992 from New Zealand to follow his dream of working in motorsport. He started in the Formula Atlantic series with a team called Dean Racing, then won his first championship in 1995 in the same series with Della Penna Motorsports.
Shortly after that, his focused turned toward the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, where he eventually started racing with Arrow McLaren SP in 2010, where he now works as the damper engineer and crew member on the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet:
Q: Walk us through your story of your career in motorsports and how you got to where you are today at Arrow McLaren SP.
Brendon Cleave: I probably started in the mid-1980s where I was racing motocross. I raced until the early 90s, where I then got into an open-wheel car called a Formula Ford. I raced that for a season and then got offered a job to come to the U.S. to try racing over here. At that point, I had kind of switched over to being a mechanic and working on the cars versus actually racing them.
Since 2010, I’ve been with Arrow McLaren SP in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Q: Not only are you an engineer for the race team, but you also go over the wall on the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP as a tire changer. How do you balance doing both jobs during a race weekend?
BC: One of the key roles I have is the Damper Engineer. On any given weekend, my main purpose is to help the engineers come up with the best package for the cars and help the drivers to effectively qualify as best we can and get the best performance out of the car.
Come race day morning, my role changes quite significantly in that my main job is to change a tire on the No. 7 car. My mindset needs to completely change by focusing on how I can help the team do the best possible pit stops that we can. We have to try to make up as many positions as possible during the race. So, the mindset has to change from one day to the next, changing your goals on what you are trying to achieve for that day.
Q: How important is your fitness to you and how do you keep up on a weekly basis while also preparing the cars?
BC: Fitness is a large part of our weekly time spent while at the shop. It is super important for us, not only for the pit stop performance standpoint to change the tire quickly or whatever the role might be, but to be able to endure the schedule that we might be on. That could be back-to-back race weekends, seven days a week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, long days, lots of travel and making sure you’re getting consistent sleep. Typically, during a week, four days are spent at the gym doing specific training drills while doing four to five days of pit stop work in the shop. All of this is done in preparation before we even go to the racetrack. This is all very important as it will seed what we are able to do on the race weekend and be able to maintain that through the entire season.
For me, I do a lot of extra training on my own. I cycle, swim and do additional weight work in the gym because I enjoy it and the fitness side of it all comes pretty easy to me.
Q: What interested you in motorsports and what made you want to turn it into a career?
BC: In the mid-80s, I got involved with motor bikes, motocross and the overall competitive side of sports. The more I got involved with that, the more I enjoyed it and I could see other people were doing that as a job rather than just a hobby. That lit the fire, I guess, to say ‘Hey, maybe I can do that.’ Since then, that’s what I’ve done all my life. Really since the early 90s, I’ve been full time in motorsports and have been lucky enough to make a living out of it.
Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
BC: My favorite part is definitely competing every day. I love competition, I hate to lose and, as most people do, I love to win. But the competitive nature is in everything that we do. Everything is monitored, measured and inspected. Having that mindset of everything is pretty much performance-oriented is something I enjoy on that side of the sport.
On the competition side, I get up in the morning to do better than I did the day before, trying to repeat that the next day, the next day and so on. That could be a pit stop or a weight rep in the gym or the performance of the car on the track. Everything I do, even in my personal life, I just want to compete, even if that means just against myself. It is my nature and make up, I guess, and I enjoy that motorsports is everything about that. Like I say, we are under a microscope, measured by a stopwatch and video. Everything is scrutinized very, very closely and that is something I enjoy.
Q: What should people know about you outside of motorsport? What activities do you enjoy doing?
BC: I’m just really competitive and it doesn’t matter what I’m involved with. Whether that is in sports, walking down the street with the dog, or anything I do I make it a competition because that’s who I am. Most people that know me know that quite well. I enjoy swimming, biking, cycling, and being outside in nature. I’m not much a person to sit inside and be indoors, because I’d rather be outdoors experiencing the nature side of things. I’m not afraid to experience something new or very different than something I’ve ever done before.
Q: What is your proudest career achievement?
BC: My proudest career achievement is difficult to pinpoint. Coming to America at a young age; I’d have to say I’m quite proud of making a career out of motorsport because it was quite tough to do in the early 90s. Having never been to this country before, coming over here by myself and not knowing anybody, I had to forge my way through and make a career out of this.
I’m very proud of winning the Formula Atlantic championship in 1995 as it was a very tough and a competitive season. Another I can’t leave off the list are the two pole positions at the Indianapolis 500 as those are high up on the ladder.
As I’ve said before, I’m very competitive so the race wins will always be included. I hate finishing second, so anytime you finish first is a good day.
Q: With 2022 around the corner, what are you working on this offseason to be prepared for St. Pete in February?
BC: The 2022 season is just four months away till the first race at St. Petersburg at the end of February. This offseason, we’ve already been out testing on track, and rebuilding and preparing everything in the shop. Everything is gearing up for next year.
Now we will review races from this year, both ones that went well and those that didn’t. We will learn from things that went well and other moments that didn’t go so well to learn why and how we make those better moving forward. Also, we will learn how to improve ourselves as a team and how I can improve individually to do my job better than I did in 2021.
Then we will spend a lot of time training in the gym, doing pit stop practice and making sure we can better our fitness to endure the next season coming up. There’s a little bit of downtime to recharge our batteries before we get back out there and we are looking forward to 2022 and what it can bring from both Felix and Pato.