Motor racing teams loathe inconsistency. The Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar team can attest to this notion after putting on an amazing display of speed and potential at Round 1 in Alabama, then wandering the streets of disappointment at Round 2 in Florida.
The NTT IndyCar Series season is barely two weeks old, yet AMSP’s fortunes have covered every imaginable high and low as its pairing of Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist look to fulfill the immense potential seen at times in Barber and St. Petersburg.
O’Ward’s pole and mercurial recovery drive in the No.5 Chevy to claim fourth to start the year was something to behold, but it didn’t carry over to the same degree at the next event. Meanwhile, good fortune and clean start-to-finish performances have proven elusive for Rosenqvist in the No. 7 entry. O’Ward heads into this weekend’s doubleheader in Texas holding 11th in the standings while his teammate sits in 18th.
Starting with O’Ward’s early season progress, AMSP president Taylor Kiel says ironing out a few wrinkles is all that’s needed to get the 2018 Indy Lights champion into victory lane and maximize the 15 remaining races on the calendar.
“I think that what we saw last year is a supremely talented driver taking advantage of every opportunity that came his way,” Kiel told RACER. “I think we don’t want to stand in the way of that, and we certainly are trying to continually refine the product. What we’re seeing this year is a strong field and a strong competitive top half and midfield, and ultimately, if we make a different decision on strategy at Barber, you’re talking about a race winner and somebody that’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing. He had a great car at Barber and we were just on the wrong side of strategy there.
“At St. Pete, we just didn’t have a good enough car, and we couldn’t manage our tires as well as the people we were racing against, and made a couple of mistakes on track and a couple of mistakes with setup decisions. You couple the two of those with the type of field that the IndyCar Series has right now, and you’re P19, and it’s not easy.
“It’s really unfortunate, because our aspirations haven’t changed. We’re trying to compete at the front with the big dogs and trying to be there at the end for the championship, and you historically don’t get very many mulligans. And it’s to our disadvantage that we’ve decided to use our mulligans this early in the season.”
As a team undergoing a massive reboot with McLaren’s technical and commercial expertise added into the infrastructure of Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson’s team, the desire to compete among IndyCar’s best and break through to earn AMSP’s first championship has become an all-encompassing quest. It’s a familiar story where angst and frustration can set in when lofty expectations aren’t met at every race.
AMSP newcomer Juan Pablo Montoya, a veteran of the sport’s biggest and most successful teams – Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske, Williams Grand Prix, and McLaren F1 – who will drive the No. 66 Chevy in May, lent some wisdom to his young teammates during his first test with the outfit in February to help keep the duo on the right path.
“Juan said something to Pato and Felix, both in a debrief at Laguna, that I thought was poignant,” Kiel noted. “He said ‘It doesn’t have to be this hard, right?’ Pato can do it. Felix can do it as well. But it doesn’t need to be that hard. So we’re working really hard as a group to keep chipping away at it, and try to keep refining the product day in and day out. Ultimately, we know that we’ve got two very good drivers and two drivers that can drive a very on-edge car very quickly. We know we have pace. It’s shown already this season. It’s just a matter of capitalizing that in a strong race result.
“That’s another thing, too, (we) as a group we need to be better about, is just maximizing the day. If you’ve got an eighth-place car, you finish eighth, and you move on, and you take your lumps, and get ready for the next event. This past weekend, I feel like we probably had a seventh-, eighth-, ninth-place car, and we finished 19th, and that just didn’t cut the mustard. So that’s what we’re working on, and we’ve got to make the product and the setup on the car better to exploit what Pato and Felix are so damn good at.”
Kiel remains bullish on what’s to come from Rosenqvist in the No. 7 Chevy. The first two rounds have been a bumpy ride for the 29-year-old open-wheel veteran as he’s transitioned from Honda to Chevy power, a new engineering group, and different approaches to racing than his former Chip Ganassi Racing squad.
With more time to settle into his new racing home and find chassis setups that fully compliment his arsenal of talents, Rosenqvist is expected to join O’Ward in the fight for podiums and wins.
“The work that he’s done to be here and be present, and get to know everybody and integrate himself, has been really good,” Kiel said. “Felix is part of the team in every respect, and I’m confident in speaking for him, and that he loves it here, and we love having him. He complements what we’re trying to do very well, and we couldn’t be happier with that.
“The results, on the other hand, are what they are. It is a different car than what he’s used to driving in, and we’ve developed a setup that is based around a driver in Pato that is just different. He’s a different person, he’s a different driver, they got different styles. So what it’s about for us is being patient and taking our time, and working towards a solution that works for Felix. He knows that, and we’re in this together. There’s no preconceived notions there.”
Having made three driver changes since the conclusion of the 2019 season, Kiel says all of AMSP’s efforts are concentrated on making O’Ward and Rosenqvist the foundation of their future success.
“We’re trying to make it right, because this is a long-term thing for us,” he continued. “This isn’t just trying to get through the season with Felix and moving on. We’ve got our eyes very far down the road and focused totally on the prize of winning championships here. So we got to make sure that the solution that we provide for him is long-lasting and something that he’s integrated in and very comfortable with. That doesn’t happen overnight, and we will get there.
“We took a big step towards that in St. Pete, which is good, but it’s a departure from what Pato likes, and that’s OK. It’s going to take us a minute to get there, which I think we all know, we all understand, and we’re working towards it.”