Did we just witness the expansion of IndyCar’s longstanding Big 3 of Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, and Team Penske, to a Big 4 that includes Arrow McLaren SP?
Coming off an unexpected run to fourth in the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series championship with Pato O’Ward, and the 22-year-old phenom’s pair of poles and wins this season, it would be hard to argue against AMSP’s ascension to a new level of threat to the established heavyweight teams.
In just 22 races since the union was formed, the combination of Arrow SPM and McLaren Racing has taken one of IndyCar’s longstanding operations and transformed it from occasional contender to an organization that’s leading the championship at the halfway point of the 2021 season.
This year’s title is far from settled, so there’s no coronation for AMSP in the offering at this stage of the season, but there was an important development over the weekend that speaks to the team’s newfound place among IndyCar’s giants.
“The biggest thing about Detroit is, it’s a second win,” AMSP president Taylor Kiel tells RACER. “The first one at Texas, we earned it, and we were the class of the field, and we won. And that’s great. And that was relieving. But this one is validating. This one says we’re doing the right things.
“To win twice in the series, where in eight races, we’re the first ones to repeat as winners in an ultra-competitive series… it’s extremely hard. Our goal is to is to be championship material. And that’s what we’re working towards.”
Although the team owned by Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson earned the respect of their peers in IndyCar, it’s fair to say it had been a while since the outfit was one that the Big 3 and other leading teams feared from round to round.
In a span of 42 days, O’Ward and AMSP have won as many races as they did from 2017-2020, and with the recent burst of results, Kiel says the team has undergone a culture change to expect more from themselves at every event.
“We’ve been an underdog for a long time,” he says. “And we used to think it was it was cool to say that we punch above our weight, and those types of things, but with the partner base that we have, and the drivers that we have, and the amazing people that we’ve got throughout our organization, that’s our expectation now. This is what I want to do every time we show up at the racetrack.
“So, a second win is great for us. And it’s the opportunity for us to go, ‘Alright, we’re doing the right things here, but are we at our final destination yet? Hell no. It might appear that we’re close to we’re there, but in my view, we’ve still got a long way to go. But we’re headed in the right direction. Our GPS is telling us we’re on the right path.”
If O’Ward’s mesmerizing drive from 16th to victory lane on Sunday was the weekend’s high, the big crash that sent Felix Rosenqvist and the subsequent rally to prepare a new chassis for Oliver Askew to use on Sunday was both the counter to that high, and the thing that made O’Ward’s win feel so special.
“On the emotion side, that’s motorsport,” Kiel says. “What we do isn’t safe. We try to make it as safe as we can, but we’re still racing high-horsepower cars around a racetrack for victory. Danger is part of the part of the fabric of what we’re doing. So any given moment, you can have is the highest or the lowest of lows and us as a team, we’ve experienced the full gamut of emotions.
“So while you never like to be in that situation, we are always prepared for any situation. From the moment that we recovered the car, the full focus was totally on Felix and his health. And once we were notified of good news there, we went straight into recovery mode trying to figure out how to get the No. 7 entry back on track and trying to collect as many points as we can.”
Exhausted by the time the checkered flag waved, getting through the ordeal from Rosenqvist’s crash and having a chance to go for a swim in the fountain behind Belle Isle’s victory lane capped a busy 24 hours for AMSP’s crew.
“After the crash, Billy Vincent and his [No. 7 Chevy] group went straight to work on the backup car; we keep all of our backup cars prepped and race ready,” Kiel says. “The tough part was finding a driver and making sure that the licensing and insurance requirements and all those things are met; there’s so much that goes into it. But luckily, we knew Oliver was on-site, we’re familiar with him, we know what he is as a driver and as a teammate, and he ticked all the boxes for us, and in an extremely difficult situation. So that decision was very easy, and made the whole process less stressful than it already was.
“But anytime something like that happens, man, your stomach’s in your throat, and you’re operating on adrenaline. So it’s a huge credit to the to the men and women of our team and the work that goes in pre- and post-events to make sure that all those assemblies and cars and procedures are in place. And you just default to that when the **** hits the fan.
“Our group was here till we turned the lights off at 2:30 in the morning, and we had to be back at the circuit at 6am. So it was a hell of a turnaround for everybody involved. IndyCar was gracious enough to give us all the time that we needed, and we got a lot of support from our vendors and partners like Chevy. It made it a bad situation palatable.”
It’s easy to get lost in the celebrations of the winning driver and the emergence of a perennial underdog on its journey to becoming a heavy hitter. Kiel hailed the men and women whose names aren’t in the headlines, but are responsible for AMSP’s increasing success.
“Street races are always anxiety-ridden, and then you throw something like Felix’s accident into it and it turns everything on its head,” he says. “I guess ‘tenacity’ is a good word for our team, and just being able to grind through it even when you’re absolutely dog tired, and to do it at a high level. It takes a special type of person, but that’s who we try to recruit here. And that’s the type of people that we have. So those situations are what they are, and the cream rises to the top, and I’m just fortunate enough to be surrounded by a lot of special people.”