Brown: New Alonso Indy deal a result of failed Andretti talks

McLaren CEO Zak Brown has admitted that Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet’s chance to sign up two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso for this year’s Indianapolis 500 came about when the superstar’s negotiations with Andretti Autosport-Honda broke down.

Brown: New Alonso Indy deal a result of failed Andretti talks

Alonso, who made his highly impressive Indy 500 debut with a McLaren-backed Andretti Autosport entry in 2017, failed to qualify for last year’s 500 in a purely McLaren-run car, and when he ditched his ambassadorial role for the famous Woking, UK-based brand in January, it freed him up to negotiate with Michael Andretti’s team.

However, that deal disappeared, allegedly as a result of Honda Japan (as opposed to California-based Honda Performance Development) spurning the opportunity to work with a driver who had publicly criticized the brand for its early efforts at a Formula 1 hybrid unit and had since scored two Le Mans 24 Hour wins and a World Endurance Championship for Honda’s fierce automotive rival Toyota. In addition, Alonso had driven a GM product – a Wayne Taylor Racing-run Cadillac – to defeat Honda’s luxury brand, Acura, in the 2019 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

Alonso’s nixed potential deal with AA-Honda regenerated his talks with Brown, who is now entering his seventh season working with the Spanish legend, and who could now offer him a potential race-winning ride due to McLaren joining forces fulltime with the team formerly known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and the rebranded Arrow McLaren SP squad now running Chevrolet engines.

However, the rather bigger element of surprise from today’s announcement that Brown and team co-owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson had indeed struck a deal with Alonso for Indy was that the #66 Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet’s primary sponsor will be Ruoff Mortgage – a longtime Andretti Autosport sponsor that found success at the Brickyard backing Takuma Sato’s 2017 Indy 500 winner.

In response to Motorsport.com’s enquiry as to how this deal came about, Brown explained: “Obviously [Ruoff] are a partner of Michael [Andretti] and Michael’s a friend of mine, and a partner in Australia [the Walkinshaw Andretti United Autosports team in Supercars], and as I guess he was having his conversations with Fernando, Ruoff was looking for something with big impact and exposure.

“When Fernando and Michael didn’t get a deal put together, Ruoff asked Michael if he would mind them going where Fernando goes because they know he’s going to draw a tremendous amount of attention. Because Michael has all of his title sponsor deals done, he couldn’t offer something as significant as the branding and title sponsorship that Fernando will generate.

“So he gave us his blessing and we have a deal with Ruoff and we’re excited to have them with us for the Month of May.”

No qualms over shortage of driver experience at Indy 500

Unless Arrow McLaren SP completes another deal similar to Arrow SPM’s technical partnership with Team Stange Racing and solid veteran driver Oriol Servia, Alonso’s solitary start in the Indy 500 will render him the most experienced of the team’s trio in the Memorial Day Weekend classic.

Of the squad’s full-season entries, 2018 Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward finished second in that series’ banner race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Freedom 100, but last year failed to qualify his Carlin-Chevy in the Indy 500 as an IndyCar Series rookie. His 2020 teammate, Oliver Askew, won the Freedom 100 on his way to the 2019 Lights crown, but will be a rookie this season.

However, Brown says that Alonso – who as an Andretti Autosport driver was able to share data with Indy 500 winners and veterans – has no qualms about now teaming up with newbies on the Arrow McLaren SP squad.

“Having spoken with Fernando, I think he’s now had one-and-a-half years of experience at Indianapolis,” he said, “and he likes having very competitive teammates.

“I think Pato and Oliver will be very fast, and he’s very confident in his own abilities and has enough experience in racing that he will be just fine.”

Schmidt pointed out that McLaren’s sporting director, 2003 Indy winner and two-time CART Indy car champion Gil de Ferran, would help cover any shortfall in experience at the Brickyard.

“I like the fact that we’ve got Gil de Ferran on our side as well,” said Schmidt. “I think Gil brings a wealth of knowledge and a little bit of experience in winning!”

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Series IndyCar
Event Indy 500
Drivers Fernando Alonso
Teams Arrow McLaren SP
Author David Malsher-Lopez
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