McLaren boss explains increased IndyCar investment
By Mat Coch
Tuesday 14th September, 2021 - 12:50pm
McLaren’s decision to increase its involvement in IndyCar next season comes following something of a rent-to-own plan for the brand in the US series.
Company CEO Zak Brown returned McLaren to the States, joining forces with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to form McLaren SP for 2020.
In August it was announced that McLaren would step up its shareholding in the organisation, taking up a majority stake as it increased its investment to 75 percent.
While a show of support for the blossoming IndyCar Series, it’s also a pragmatic business decision for the British team, for whom the US market is critical.
“We’re in the business of racing,” Brown told Speedcafe.com.
“There’s two ways to deliver value to our shareholders; to obviously be a profitable business, but the bigger win is building the franchise value, the value of the entire operation.”
The IndyCar operation is intrinsically linked to the Formula 1 team and is designed to support McLaren’s European racing endeavours.
It is, in its most simplistic form, a commercial vehicle through which Brown hopes to attract further investment to F1.
“By having an IndyCar programme, we’ve got something – a broader, deeper offering for our commercial partners who say North America is really important,” he explained.
“Formula 1 is growing there, but having an IndyCar team turbocharges that.
“We’ve had some partners join us because we had a bigger North American presence and footprint than Formula 1 alone,” he added.
“And then you’ve had Arrow Electronics, who are our title sponsor in IndyCar, who have joined our Formula 1 team.
“So, while IndyCar is a profitable business, it’s great for our brand, we’re [fighting for] the championship, I can also point to [the fact that] it’s helped bring more partners into Formula 1.”
While that was always the end goal, Brown was reluctant to dive headfirst into the US-market.
Instead, by partnering with Schmidt Peterson Racing in the first instance it afforded the organisation the opportunity to test its business model.
Having proven successful, it’s now looking to develop the model further.
“When I got involved in McLaren, I felt McLaren was, in time, best served being in multiple forms of motorsport, like we have been historically,” the American reasoned.
“That was always my vision when I came in, but it’s all about timing and making sure we’re in a good place.
“When I joined, I joined at the height of our bottom, so that was not the right time because it’s all about Formula 1, that is the centre of gravity for us.
“IndyCar now is working,” he continued.
“We’re technically involved, we’re commercially involved, and we felt it was something of a strategic alliance.
“It was kind of renting before buying – is this going to work?
“It clearly is working for us and working for the racing team.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as we stepped up our involvement, we’re [fighting for] the championship.
“I don’t want to take more credit than we deserve, it’s a team effort and Taylor Kiel’s running the team with the existing infrastructure, but I think we helped accelerate some of the performance.”
Having experienced an upturn in on-track performance Stateside, and the commercial benefits Brown hoped the model would offer, McLaren is now poised to further throw itself into the project.
“We decided we wanted to make a bigger commitment, because in that way, we could have total control,” Brown said.
“That’s not meant to be a ‘I’m a control freak statement’, but when you’re renting a house, you may not put your best furniture in it because you don’t know if you’re moving out.
“And so acquiring the team, now we can put all of our resources behind it knowing that’s where we’re going to be on a permanent basis.”
Pato O’Ward is second in the 2021 drivers’ championship with two rounds remaining.
McLaren’s Formula 1 team recorded its first one-two in more than a decade last weekend at Monza.