Don’t Take Everything at Face Value

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Normally, I don’t buy into conspiracy theories. I pretty much take things at face value. I believe that man landed on the moon in July of 1969; I’ve always thought that there was only one shooter in the JFK assassination and I think that the twin-towers were taken down by terrorists flying commercial airliners into buildings – and not some inside job by the US Government. Heck, I never once even questioned the existence of Santa Claus until some kid from down the street set me straight when I was seven years old. Even then, I didn’t believe him until we ran into the kitchen and confronted my mother about it. But when I saw the glare she gave him, I knew the truth. OK…so I was proven wrong on St. Nick, but most of the time I don’t try to read between the lines.

But there has been a recent major development within the NTT IndyCar Series that makes me question practically everything we have been told on this topic. It’s not like I’m going out on a limb when I say that McLaren is going to be more than just a sponsor of Sam Schmidt’s team. On August 9th, the announcement came that McLaren would be forging an alliance with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (ASPM). This was on the heels of news that Alexander Rossi and, more importantly in this case, Honda would be returning to Andretti Autosport for the foreseeable future.

With Honda refusing to ever work with McLaren again, after the Japanese engine manufacturer was publicly ripped by McLaren in Formula One – the possibility of McLaren working with Michael Andretti was gone. Successful business entities should always have a Plan B lined up. McLaren’s was Sam Schmidt, who was more than willing to end his partnership with Honda and become a Chevy team in order to accommodate McLaren.

The announcement proclaimed the new name of the team would be Arrow McLaren Racing SP. The fact that the two leading partners were reduced to two initials at the end of a long name was telling. Later on, it was decided that the name was simply too long, so the word “Racing” was removed and the new name (for now) is to be Arrow McLaren Racing SP.

The new relationship was immediately referred to by fans as a merger or a buyout. Sam Schmidt quickly went on the defensive to stress that this was still going to be his team going forward, and that McLaren was nothing more than a sponsor, much like Arrow. He said that like any sponsor they will have input, but the ultimate decision-making will still go to him or partner Ric Peterson. Well, Arrow bought into the team last offseason; so it stands to reason that if you’re following that comparison, McLaren has bought into the team as well.

I was already skeptical of this new arrangement as soon as it was announced. At the time I wrote that within five years, this team will simply be known as McLaren or possibly Arrow McLaren and that Schmidt and Peterson will have gone another direction.

Being a lowly IndyCar blogger, I am usually on the outside looking in and I never do any reporting or digging. There are lots of professional journalists who are paid to do that. I’m not a journalist. I just write my opinions on things that happen within the series. But whenever I read or hear some pseudo-journalist citing unnamed or anonymous sources, I usually write it off as some baseless rumor.

However, I am going to cite the dreaded anonymous source right now. When we were at Pocono last month, I was having a conversation in the pits during a Saturday practice session with someone who would be considered a very credible source who is very much on the inside of the IndyCar world. But I can’t name him for two reasons. First, he was speaking very candidly in an off-the-record manner and secondly, I didn’t get his permission to divulge his name and I’m sure he wouldn’t want to be tied to this quote whatsoever, given his position within the series. But trust me when I say that this person would know what he was talking about.

While we were chatting, the alliance between McLaren and ASPM came up. He emphatically said that anyone who believes that this is nothing more than alliance is kidding themselves. He said that McLaren isn’t doing this simply to have a presence in IndyCar, but that they are in it for keeps. He went on to say that he fully expects Gil de Ferran and Zak Brown to come in and completely clean house at ASPM in the offseason. The team we see on the grid at St. Petersburg next March may feature gold and black Arrow cars, but that will be the only similarity to the team that raced last weekend at Laguna Seca.

In keeping with my tendency to believe everything I’m told, I usually trust everything I hear on Trackside every week. Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee are usually correct whenever they speculate – partly because they know more than they are able to let on and partly because they have good judgment and experience regarding the IndyCar paddock. Usually, what they predict will happen does happen.

But contrary to what they say on Trackside about James Hinchcliffe most likely staying with Arrow McLaren SP, I think Hinchcliffe has driven his last race with that team. I think Honda will do whatever it takes to keep their spokesperson in the US and Canada from ever driving for Chevy and McLaren. Those that don’t think so underestimate the pride in the Japanese culture. Honda has already been embarrassed by the comments made about them by Zak Brown and McLaren in Formula One. They were further embarrassed by McLaren convincing one of their longtime teams to ditch them in favor of Chevy. I think Honda will move mountains to keep Hinchcliffe from going with McLaren. Their pride is on the line.

The changes at ASPM started before the season ended last weekend. On September 16th, Marshall Pruett reported in an article on Racer.com that ASPM had parted ways with team president Jon Flack, as well as its PR person Veronica Knowlton. These moves followed the departure of technical director Todd Malloy. I think it would be very naïve to think that the changes at the team will stop there. This is probably just the beginning.

After seeing these changes take place and the conversation I had at Pocono, I’m even more convinced that there is about to be an offseason house-cleaning. The only difference between what I originally wrote in August and what I now think, is that Schmidt and Peterson will probably be out in two years (or less) instead of five, as I originally predicted. When Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman merged their team with Ed Carpenter, how long did it take for CFH Racing to morph back into Ed Carpenter Racing? One year is the answer. It will probably take two years for the “SP” to formally drop off of the name.

So even though I am not the world’s biggest cynic, and I tend to take things (and press-releases) at face value – I’m going against my own grain on this one. I fully expect James Hinchcliffe to be in a Honda-powered car when the cars are gridded next spring at St. Petersburg. And when the green flag flies to start the 2022 season, Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson will not be associated with McLaren in any shape, form or fashion. If I’m wrong on this, I’ll be very surprised.

George Phillips

5 Responses to “Don’t Take Everything at Face Value”

  1. Dave from Mukwonago Says:

    I’ve thought from the beginning that this was in part or primarily an exit plan for Sam Schmidt. An amazing man but he can’t do this forever. (I seem to recall Curt saying as much a few years ago on Trackside.) I don’t think its a fire sale but a transition.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Some of the departures at ASPM were allegedly because Arrow was furious that Hinch (and their logo) appeared in the “body issue” of ESPN: The Magazine (the final issue of it, no less!), which is quite an interesting tale.

    Well, at least Arrow didn’t go full Citicorp, when their president angrily announced he was ending their title sponsorship deal with USAC a year early because AJ Foyt flipped off the main grandstand at Pocono when some (many) fans booed him after he won pole in 1977. While they did not renew after 1978, Citicorp did fulfill their final year with USAC… and, interestingly, were an associate sponsor (listed in every entry list with Gilmore) of Foyt that entire ’78 season.

  3. In explaining your thought process, I tend to think you will be correct on this George! ……now concerning the other conspiracies….. 😳😉

  4. Marshall Pruett said that McLaren hasn’t paid one penny for team ownership and thus Schmidt and Peterson own it.

  5. “Their pride is on the line.”
    well, it is called saving face.
    and, it is super-serious.

    “So even though I am not the world’s biggest cynic, and I tend to take things (and press-releases) at face value – I’m going against my own grain on this one”

    No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.
    Lily Tomlin

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