Arrow McLaren SP's off-season overhaul runs deep

Image by Cantrell/Motorsport Images

Arrow McLaren SP's off-season overhaul runs deep

IndyCar

Arrow McLaren SP's off-season overhaul runs deep

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The most detailed changes to the team formerly known as Arrow SPM won’t be found on the race track. In the blended houses of the outfit founded by Sam Schmidt, co-owned by Ric Peterson, and co-entered by McLaren Racing, the truly significant changes have nothing to do with new drivers, new colors, and a different engine partner.

Well clear of the spotlight, it’s the onboarding of new team members, and tinkering with organizational charts that will be responsible for Arrow McLaren SP’s big year-to-year turnaround, provided that the Nos. 5 and 7 Chevys piloted by Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew deliver as anticipated.

Led by managing director Taylor Kiel, the structural modifications within AMSP represent the second big swing of its kind since 2019. The first attempt at gaining ground on its more accomplished rivals fell well shy of expectations, but with the help and experience of McLaren Racing factored in this time, there’s a firm sense of optimism something special awaits the team in 2020.

“Obviously the drivers have changed, but it’s the same race engineers where Will Anderson will be with Pato, and Blair Perschbacher will be with Oliver,” Kiel told RACER. “The one thing that we have done this year is quietly restructured how we go about engineering. In years past, we’ve combined the assistant engineer and the data engineer into one role. That was to try to increase efficiency and decrease the amount of people we take to the track. And it wasn’t a budget thing, it was more just trying to become more efficient in how we do business.

“But ultimately what we found with, certainly, onboarding McLaren and some of the projects that will be coming down the pipeline because of what we’re able to do together now, we needed to break that back out into the more traditional form of having an assistant engineer and a data engineer. We’ve called those performance engineer and systems engineer. So that’s two new roles. In a way, they served the same functions, but we’ve also tried to restructure to align more similarly with how McLaren Formula 1 is structured that way, just so that our lines of communication and our ways of thinking overlap more.”

AMSP hired three familiar faces from the IndyCar paddock in former Juncos Racing engineer Mike Reggio, Kate Gundlach, who moved over from Scott Dixon’s timing stand at Chip Ganassi Racing, and championship-winning race engineer Craig Hampson from Dale Coyne Racing.

“Basically, our new structure is, we’ve got race engineers, performance engineers that focus totally on the car and the driver, and systems engineers that focus totally on the car – so, failure modes, sensors, shift systems, lights, steering wheels, all of that stuff,” Kiel said. “Also, the show-stoppers, the stuff that’ll keep the car off the race track. So, that’s been good. It’s working really well.

“We’ve brought a couple of new faces in Mike and Kate to fill those performance engineer roles. And then we filled the systems spots with the guys that we had last year, in-house. And above them, we hired Craig in a more widespread engineering and R&D capacity. So, we’ve sprinkled new people in all over. We’ve added close to 15 people this year, just in an effort to grow, and to be able to support our technical initiatives with McLaren.”

Gundlach will work with Anderson on O’Ward’s car, and Reggio will partner with Perschbacher on Askew’s entry. Hampson, now the most experienced engineer on the team with multiple championships to his credit, is tasked with helping the staff on both timing stands, and looking after big picture engineering projects behind the scenes. Along with performance director Nick Snyder and other proven members of the engineering corps, integrating new personalities into the race operations side has been among Kiel’s priorities.

“And it’s not all engineering growth; out of the 15, a few of those people are on the commercial side, because this partnership with McLaren is bigger than just the engineering of the car,” he said. “We needed to be able to ensure that we could support it. It’s one thing to say we’re partners, and that we’re going to do all this great stuff together, but it’s another to not support it, and then bury your existing people in more work. They’re already busy enough as it is.

“So it’s been a period of growth. A quick one for sure, for us, but by and large, the race operations are fairly unchanged. One thing you’ll start to see is McLaren folks that you probably haven’t seen before. They’re building a small team in the U.K. at the McLaren Technical Center that is dedicated to our program, and those individuals, based on our needs, will join us trackside.”

Make no mistake about O’Ward and Askew and all the resources McLaren have brought; collectively, they will have a huge influence. But coming out of a 2019 season where two podium finishes served as Arrow SPM’s highlights, the addition of Hampson has been spoken of by his peers as the most potentially transformative acquisition for AMSP.

Arrow McLaren SP’s off-season makeover has required a juggling act between integrating new staff and process while keeping existing car crews tight. Image by LePage/Motorsport Images

“The beauty of what Craig’s got going on right now is that he’s able to float, and understand how we do things without a gun to his head and without a car to run,” Kiel said. “So it’s a really good time for him to absorb, but also to be able to spread his knowledge across both cars. So without a responsibility of running a car right now, he’s able to float between Will and Blair, and understand what they’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

Kiel has also tasked Hampson with being the link to the engineering team’s counterparts at McLaren.

“We’ve pulled him closer to the McLaren side,” he said. “He’s that liaison person between their technical group and our technical group, in an effort to try to mitigate the work losses incurred by onboarding a program like that. We have cars to get ready and build sheets to produce and tracks to get to, plus, we’re trying to onboard this huge technical program on the McLaren side. Craig’s been able to come in and provide some air cover to our group so we can focus on going racing, but [also] keep an eye on the future, and how we’re going to improve long-term.”

Among the many new players on pit lane for AMSP, Kiel says the processes and key players involved with calling the race from those timing stands remain the same. After all the year-to-year changes, this might be one of the only areas left untouched in the Arrow SPM and McLaren Racing collaboration.

“It will remain as-is from last year,” Kiel said. “I’ll be doing strategy on the 5 car, [competition director] Billy Vincent will be on the 7, and the way we operate in our strategy roles is very much a collaborative effort. So, our smart people are giving us input, and all of that stuff is unchanged as well. Nick Snyder’s on my stand, and Chris Lawrence is on Billy’s stand. Those are the guys that operate the software, and look at the trends, and do all the prep work just to be able to make quick decisions. They’re the ones that put the real work in.

“We wanted to keep those groups tight in an effort to make those tough decision moments seamless when you’ve got to make a call quickly. The continuity’s there. We’re happy with that, and we’re going to roll into race day the same as we were last year.”

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