The Arrow McLaren SP team’s initial foray into IndyCar racing is going to be young, fast and full of promise.
RACER.com has learned that Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew are expected to be named this week as the team’s 2020 drivers in the NTT IndyCar series.
It gives the new partnership of Arrow, McLaren’s Zak Brown, Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson the last two Indy Lights champions, but it leaves fan favorite and veteran James Hinchcliffe out of a ride, as RACER has speculated for the past few months.
But it puts O’Ward back in IndyCar, where he turned in a dazzling debut in 2018 at Sonoma and was set for a full season with Harding/Steinbrenner in 2019 before financial concerns scuttled the deal and he was released from his contract. He then signed a part-time deal with Trevor Carlin and opened the season with an eighth place at COTA.
Brown took O’Ward to breakfast back in April at Long Beach to inquire about his future, but then Red Bull offered the 20-year-old Mexican driver a contract in hopes of leading him into Formula 1. But he couldn’t get a super license, and both parties agreed to terminate the deal earlier this month.
As reported for the past couple weeks by RACER, O’Ward became the No. 1 choice at McLaren immediately after severing his ties with Red Bull, and when contacted on October 18, all he could say was that “good things were coming.”
Askew is the good old American success story in that he doesn’t come from money or any racing heritage, but earned his way up the open-wheel ladder with results. He won a trip to the Formula Ford Festival in 2016 and immediately impressed Jeremy Shaw, the founder of the wildly-successful Team USA Scholarship program for American drivers over the past three decades.
“He was dicing for the lead in the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch when he pulled a tire off the rim running wide at Brands Hatch, but then came back to finish second at Silverstone. It was wet, and he’d never driven in the rain – it was seriously impressive,” said Shaw.
Askew then captured the shootout for the $200,000 Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Scholarship and parlayed it into the 2017 championship on the strength of nine wins in a row. He then took that money and moved up to Indy Pro in 2018, and came back to captured the 2019 Lights’ title for Andretti.
His test with Chip Ganassi Racing last summer at Portland impressed Mike Hull, and there was talk of trying to run Askew on a partial schedule for CGR until Marcus Ericsson was recently signed as the third driver.
“The only opportunity for me to become a professional race driver was the Road to Indy,” said the 22-year-old Floridian to RACER last month.
Hinchcliffe, the face of Honda of Canada and Honda’s American television commercials, was informed Sunday night he no longer had a job and couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday, but is expected to reach out to Honda teams even though there appear to be slim pickings at the moment.
The late timing of Hinchcliffe’s release has left the 32-year-old in a lurch among the Honda-powered teams, as an availability at Chip Ganassi Racing was filled by former teammate Ericsson, and the price tag to secure Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s third entry is said to be well out of range of the Canadian’s loyal sponsors. Dale Coyne Racing could have been a strong destination, where his former race engineer Craig Hampson works with Sebastien Bourdais, but Santino Ferrucci has indicated his intent to stay with the Illinois-based team for 2020. Andretti Autosport, the only Honda team left on the list, expanded to five cars with the signing of Colton Herta and is not looking to add a sixth.
The Mayor is one of IndyCar’s great comeback stories after nearly losing his life in a practice accident at Indianapolis in 2015. Among the most improbable scenarios to consider at the onset of 2019, Hinchcliffe could be missing from the grid unless something significant changes before St. Petersburg in March.