McLaren trying to replicate 2017 Indy 500 experience for Alonso

Image courtesy McLaren

McLaren trying to replicate 2017 Indy 500 experience for Alonso

IndyCar

McLaren trying to replicate 2017 Indy 500 experience for Alonso

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The McLaren Racing Indy 500 effort is coming into focus with the addition of a race engineer, crew chief, and a technical alliance in support of two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso.

Veteran IndyCar engineer Andy Brown, whose tenure at Chip Ganassi Racing, in particular, led to multiple championships and Indy 500 victories, has been hired to lead Alonso’s Chevy-powered engineering team. In recent years, Brown, who was present at the recent Spring Training test at Circuit of The Americas along with other McLaren personnel, has engineered rookies Matthew Brabham and Zach Veach at the Indy 500.

Brown’s signing, which took place in the latter stages of 2018, secures one of the stronger freelance aerodynamic and engineering experts on the Indy-only market.

The McLaren Racing effort has also procured the services of Anton Julian, brother of Scott Dixon’s crew chief Blair Julian, to handle the mechanical aspects of the Spaniard’s Dallara DW12-Chevy. Julian has served as crew chief for numerous IndyCar teams, and like Brown, brings immense experience to the startup program. To accommodate the McLaren project, Julian has stepped away from his role preparing and restoring vintage cars, where he’s expected to return once the Indy 500 is over.

An alignment with sophomore NTT IndyCar Series team Carlin Racing is the latest development for McLaren. The technical alliance with the U.S.-based outfit has been forged, according to McLaren CEO Zak Brown, to emulate the working relationship Alonso had on his Indy debut in 2017 with Andretti Autosport’s multi-car program.

“It can be dangerous for a one-car team at Indianapolis, and even with someone of Fernando’s talents, every team and every driver can get lost on setup at Indianapolis,” Brown told RACER. “We were fortunate to be given a great race car by Andretti, and we’re going there on our own this time, trying to mitigate against that with Andy Brown, who has four rings, and Anton Julian, who’s as good as they come. But we also have tremendous respect for Indianapolis.

Image by Geoffrey Miller/LAT

“I’ve seen Roger Penske fail to qualify. I’ve seen Bobby Rahal fail to qualify. I’ve seen James Hinchcliffe fail to qualify, so it can happen to anyone. So, working with Carlin is a great two-way street we’ve developed to give us the feedback loop like we had with Andretti’s drivers, and they get Fernando’s feedback. And we can work in both directions on chassis setup, if it’s needed to help them, or to help us.”

The concept of a partnership between McLaren and Carlin Racing started with a conversation between Brown and Carlin team principal Grahame ‘Chily’ Chilton, father of IndyCar driver Max Chilton. Ties between Brown, Chilton, and Carlin have been in place across a number of programs, including new McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris, who drove for Trevor Carlin’s junior open-wheel outfit.

“We have a good history with Carlin, and I’ve known ‘Chily’ a long time,” Brown added. “They are a good team, and have more experience than we do in IndyCar. We have great people on our team, but this is the first time McLaren Racing is going racing at the Indy 500 in 30 years. I want to give McLaren and Fernando the maximum chance at success. Data is king, and having another data point with Carlin, and other reference points to use against our own, is the wisest call.

“We’re going to benefit from working with Carlin, and Carlin will benefit from working with us. We are not going to Indianapolis underestimating the task at hand. We’ve seen the benefit of being part of a multi-car team, and working with Carlin to have a teammate will make us smarter.”

Although Brown wouldn’t be drawn on the subject, provided the relationship is a success, it’s believed the Indy 500 association with Carlin Racing could lead to bigger things in IndyCar.

At present, McLaren’s staffing for the project does not extend past the Indy 500 program, meaning that if Alonso, or any other McLaren-affiliated driver is going to race its Indy car after May, it might be easier to call on Carlin to provide the infrastructure needed to field a McLaren entry.

“I wouldn’t rule out us dusting off the car later in the year,” Brown added, before ruling out a run at the Indy Grand Prix road course race days before the 500 practice starts to give the McLaren team a chance to work out any kinks prior to the big event on May 26. “We wouldn’t look to run the Indy Grand Prix because Fernando has some other commitments that conflict with it.”

Once the McLaren team gets ready to ship its car to the U.S. for testing, it will be based out of Carlin’s shop in Florida.

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