Last year, it was turning the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports organization upside down in an effort to spark a new wave of competitiveness in the IndyCar Series.
This year, it’s drilling deep, driving anchors into the ground that will form the long-term foundation of an organization on the rise.
The renamed ‘Arrow SPM’ team, announced today near the home base of its primary sponsor Arrow Electronics, holds aspirations of being mentioned with the same reverie of the sport’s most successful entrants — a ‘Target Chip Ganassi Racing’ or ‘Marlboro Team Penske’ — where the brand and team are received as one.
In the transition to ‘Arrow SPM,’ the team founded by Sam Schmidt, co-owned by Ric Peterson and presided over by Jon Flack, has evolved to a point where it’s reasonable to ask its employees to achieve the same standards of excellence that drive the Ganassis, Penskes, and Andrettis in IndyCar’s paddock.
Those heightened expectations stem from Arrow’s sizable increase in its partnership with SPM that spans funding — for the first time — of both full-time entries. It’s in the mobile Arrow SPM hospitality compound — one of cartoonish proportions — that will play host to thousands of guests. It’s in the plans for a massive new race shop, the sheer size of which speaks to the company’s investment in the team. It’s in the quality of staff hired to drive the matching Nos. 5 and 7 Arrow Hondas, and the crew members to support the program.
And, more than anything, it’s the new, long-term commitment between Arrow and SPM that allows the team to build upon its foundation for years to come, knowing it won’t need to focus most of its time pursuing major funding to survive.
Freed from the hand-to-mouth dynamic that often keeps a team from reaching its full potential, Arrow SPM, along with its associate sponsors, enters the upcoming championship run with a singular focus on winning races, and possibly a title, rather than the usual concerns of how budgetary shortfalls will be filled.
No team, even the wealthiest in the sport, would dare say they have all the money they need to compete. But for those like Arrow SPM, whose efforts to complete its funding for Robert Wickens’ entry in 2018 continued while the season was under way, it was an accepted norm.
Establishing new norms — the kind that have made IndyCar’s Big 3 all but unbeatable — is where the current challenge falls for Arrow SPM.
“It’s just absolutely massive for the long term in terms of where we are going and heading as a company, and putting us in a position to consistently fight for championships, fight for Indy 500s,” Flack told RACER. “We want to be in the conversation as one of the leading motorsports teams in the world, and Arrow being the title of our team is a big step towards where we are trying to go.
“What this does for us is, many of the decisions that the company have made tended to be a year at a time. Arrow stepping up to this level — and there’s many other partners that have made long-term commitments to us as well — it just brings a stability to the business. That impacts our decisions on drivers, impacts our decisions on all the investments and engineering and technical initiatives. It just gives us a much longer runway, and you find that it impacts pretty much every decision that we make as a result.”
SPM has been a championship contender as recently as 2018, when newcomer Wickens led the retooled team with top five performances throughout most of his injury-shortened campaign. Prior to the Canadian’s phenomenal efforts, former driver Simon Pagenaud delivered SPM’s greatest result with third overall in the 2013 championship, but the program’s structure bore no resemblance to what’s in place today.
One strong lead entry, countered by an underperforming second, had become routine during Pagenaud’s tenure, and when James Hinchcliffe arrived to lead the effort as his replacement in 2015, the same strong/weak dynamic continued until his countryman Wickens landed in 2018.
Despite having two formidable cars last season, they were funded through separate sponsorship streams. It was the only thing keeping SPM from realizing its dream of having one company commit its name to both cars and, in turn, elevate the operation to a new level. The road to becoming Arrow SPM, as Flack explains, was many years in the making.
“I give Sam a ton of credit, because he started the relationship with them calling him and had this idea of trying to reposition themselves,” he says of the relationship that began in 2013. “They historically have been the largest technology distribution company in the world, and sellers of components, and they’ve been really trying to diversify the company and demonstrate that they are a solutions company as well. And so that’s what really spawned our partnership back in the beginning.”
The initial project between Arrow and SPM involved building a Corvette. Dubbed the ’SAM Project,’ Arrow’s engineers integrated a variety of control systems in the car that allowed Schmidt, a quadriplegic since an Indy car crash in 2000, to drive by operating the throttle, brake, and steering wheel through custom head controls:
It remains the benchmark for collaborative success between the organizations; a need to surpass SAM’s marketing impact will push SPM to deliver greater returns on Arrow’s wide-scale investments going forward.
“By 2017, Arrow shared a desire to raise its at-track hospitality, which then spawned [the gigantic] ‘Club 5’ and they entertain in a very high level, premium way, but they made it very clear that in order to grow the relationship to an even bigger scale, they needed more SAM-like stories out of the race team,” Flack said.
“We have to align and integrate together to develop those stories out of the team. And they had to get more customers and suppliers out devouring IndyCar and get them out to the racetrack. So a big part of that leap to now get them to title sponsor of the team was the competitive steps we took in 2018, and with ‘Club 5’ where we entertained. It was a big success.
“Good business results then set the stage to say, alright, some of the most iconic motorsports teams in the history of the sport have had title sponsors over the entire company — Williams Martini Racing, Red Bull — and for us, in this day and age, to have a leading, global, $30 billion technology company that is wedged in the middle of the tech sector as our title partner… it’s really a dream come true.”