CHEVROLET RACING NTT INDYCAR SERIES INDIANAPOLIS 500 INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEEDWAY INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA TEAM CHEVY TEAM ZOOM CONFERENCE DRIVERS AND LEADERSHIP TRANSCRIPTS ARROW MCLAREN SP DRIVER AND LEADERSHIP TRANSCRIPT AUGUST 12, 2020
ARROW MCLAREN SP CHEVROLET DRIVERS FERNANDO ALONSO, PATO O’WARD AND OLIVER ASKEW JOINED ORGANIZATION LEADERSHIP ZAK BROWN, SAM SCHMIDT, TAYLOR KIEL AND GIL DE FERRAN ON ZOOM MEDIA CALLS IN PREPARATION FOR THE INDIANAPOLIS 500. FULL TRANSCRIPT:
THE MODERATOR: Fernando, back at Indianapolis, lots of preparation leading into this, then obviously was delayed because of the pandemic. How excited are you to be back in Indianapolis, a track you have a really special connection with?FERNANDO ALONSO: Definitely very excited. I think it’s going to be a little bit different without fans. Yeah, for me it’s going to be the first race with empty grandstands. I know the guys have been racing lately with no fans. It’s going to be a shock I’m sure on race day.But, yeah, looking forward. I think we did a nice preparations with the circumstances, we didn’t have any test day, any simulator or anything like that, compare other 500s.At the same time I saw a very well-prepared, organized team, very hungry of success, doing something good this month. Looking forward. Yeah, tomorrow first day on the car.
THE MODERATOR: Oliver, this is an oval track you’ve had some success at, winning the Freedom 100 last year. How does the Road to Indy prepare you for racing in your first Indianapolis 500? How excited are you to get out for your first practice tomorrow?OLIVER ASKEW: Yeah, the Road to Indy has been tremendous for my career and many others in this paddock racing at the 500 this year. My experience last year at the Freedom 100 is enabling me to go into this next couple weeks having somewhat of an understanding of the track. Obviously we’re going to be going a lot quicker. It seems to have helped me so far this year at a lot of the tracks, having experience at these circuits we go to in INDYCAR.Like Fernando said, Arrow McLaren SP has been putting in so much work for this race. I think we’re going to have three really fast cars this weekend and next weekend. Really looking forward to the experience.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll go ahead and open it up to questions.Q. Fernando, how dramatic of a difference does, say, 13 months make? Last year everything that could have gone wrong did. Now you’re on a team that’s among the top teams in the INDYCAR Series, a teammate fourth in the standings. You probably have three cars that are capable of winning the Indianapolis 500. How big a difference is that for you to be able to compare and contrast this year opposed to last year?FERNANDO ALONSO: Well, hopefully you’re right and we are fast enough that we can compete for the win. At the moment one day before the practice, we have optimistic feeling last year and we have optimistic feeling this year as well.I think we need to wait and see where we are on the speed of the pace of the car. But, yeah, it makes a difference the team itself, how Arrow SP is well-prepared, the experience in the series. Is going to be a big difference compared to last year that we were not prepared enough for the challenge.I’m with reasonable confidence that there’s going to be a good event for us. But we take it step by step. We know there are a lot of things to do from our side. We will miss some experience. All three drivers, we’re rookies for the 500. We need to rely and we need to work very close to the team and learn every day, make it step by step, concentrate a little bit more on the race this year.Qualifying, we are already 53 cars. Maybe that eases the pressure and stress on the first couple of days, and we can concentrate on race day.
Q. How impressed have you been with the season that Oliver and Pato have had so far?FERNANDO ALONSO: I was very impressed definitely. I think I was watching all the races from TV with attention because I knew that the test day we had in April was canceled. The simulator days that we had programmed were canceled. I knew it was very limited time for me on the car before the 500. I wanted to know how the team was performing every weekend.I mean, was very impressive what both did. I remember the Indy GP, Oliver was super fast, on pole. Then Pato with the points he achieved every Sunday. Probably even more that skip away in some unlucky moments. I knew that they are very talented, very brave.Is going to be a huge boost for the team to have these two young drivers, talented drivers, bringing fresh ideas, fresh in terms of car performance, and I’m looking forward to work with everybody.
Q. Who is your engineer? Are you working with Craig Hansen? He’s been a bit of a wizard in his career with Sebastien Bourdais.FERNANDO ALONSO: Yeah, he’s the man.
Q. He’s going to be the guy you work with the whole month?FERNANDO ALONSO: Yeah.
Q. Fernando, you mentioned how impressed you’ve been with the start of Pato and Oliver’s seasons so far. How important, given the fact you mentioned you haven’t maybe had a whole lot of seat or simulator time, lost a day of practice, how important was it for you being able to get up to speed and them having as much success as they have had so far this year for the engineers and the team, the data, to make sure the cars are ready when you unload?FERNANDO ALONSO: Well, as you mentioned now, it is a huge challenge. I’m aware of that. I’m aware of maybe not being among the favorites because we lacking the experience of the 500. The team is not new, but this collaboration is only a few months in the way.I think it’s going to be things that we need to learn within days, in the practice, into qualifying, and next week. Personally, yeah, I was following the races, tried to learn as much as I could from home, tried to ask the engineers what may surprise me watching television and I didn’t understand completely on Mondays, they were trying to help me with understanding. I was making questions why we did that, why we didn’t stop here, there. It was a constant communication.At the same time I was training at the simulator at home. I think these couple of months of pandemic, of the virus, make huge step on eSports, things that I was very active, like the Le Mans Virtual that has been the biggest racing sporting event to date. Not only I have been busy preparing the race, because I joined the team with Barrichello and some other friends, but stakeholder of motorsport games who put on these great event with many technical challenges. At the end more than 14 million viewers, which is an amazing thing for the E gaming.Right now, talking to you, even in INDYCAR, why not in the future to have this great event with motorsport games to have also individual 500 with another 14 or 20 million viewers because this race is something unique.
Q. Oliver and Pato, we haven’t gotten on track yet, but do you have a sense yet of specifically how adding Fernando to the engineering, all the other aspects of the infrastructure that you have already thrived under so far, how that will make a difference and improve things for you over the next couple weeks?PATO O’WARD: Yeah, I think it just raises the game for everybody. One, having a driver with Fernando’s caliber is huge, not just for the team but for Oliver and I that we’re learning. He’s got so much experience with so many different cars. Even though we’re all rookies, the experience that we’ve had in the past definitely will help in many different ways.I think there’s lots of experience behind the team. We know that we’re going to have very good cars. Like Fernando said, we have to wait and see exactly where we’re going to fall. But I think we all have faith in what the team is going to give us. We know that they’re going to give their best to give us the tools to ultimately try and win the Indy 500. That’s all the work that has been going into it the past lots of months. In us drivers, as well, we’re looking forward to it.I think it’s a really cool thing to have him here, but as well as just someone that knows what he’s doing, having an extra car out there to test different things definitely helps us use our time more efficiently.OLIVER ASKEW: It continues to amaze me the amount of knowledge and the personnel that we have on this team right now, especially this weekend with three cars now. There’s some new people, people who have been more involved than they have been in the past.Yeah, as Pato said, it’s going to be really fun to have Fernando on the team. We both looked up to him for a long time. We look forward to experiencing how he works, his work ethic around the engineers and throughout these next couple weeks. It’s going to be interesting for us. I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot from him.
Q. Fernando, apart from Dakar, our best opportunity to see you compete this season has been in eSports events. How important has the whole sim racing become, especially in a year like this when the fans can’t get to these events like Le Mans and Indy?FERNANDO ALONSO: Well, as I said before, I think this virus shows how important is sim racing and how important became the eSport world. I think not only drivers, but fans, promoters, sponsors, different series, they’ve been enjoying a growth of maybe three or four years, even 10 years, only in two or three months. That shows many people it was a good timing to open the eyes of an unlimited possibility that we have with the eSports and the gaming.I’m happy that many people discover this direction. As I said before, especially in the iconic races, the Le Mans 24 hour, when I saw that 14 million people watched the race, 55 country, 200 top drivers from the real world were competing, I think that opens the door for many, many possibilities.The Indy 500, as I said before, should be one of those embracing this thing because I think the fans love the show. You see things, teammates, there are another atmosphere inside the virtual world that I think the fans love that.
Q. Fernando, we know how meticulous you are in your preparation. The big change this weekend is likely to be the Aeroscreen. What have you been able to learn from the team and the data you’ve gathered so far? What can you say about the Aeroscreen, how it will affect the racing next weekend?FERNANDO ALONSO: On the personal side, I only try last weekend on the seat of the factory, they put it on the car. I had a first look at it. It seem okay on the driving visibility and things like that.My teammates, I think the overall comment of INDYCAR, it gets quite warm in the car, quite hot. The ventilation is not the same. They are trying to figure out the ways to improve that. Hopefully we see some improvements and updates for this weekend.Then, yeah, on the car itself, there are some downsides in terms of the aerodynamics, in terms of drag. But is the same for everyone. We just need to adapt to that.In a way it’s a challenge for the engineers as well, this 500. Even if the car starts the same as last year, I think they still need to find and balance this Aeroscreen implementation. We are ready to work on that. We all start from zero in a way. Let’s see if we can find the best direction as soon as possible.
Q. How are you approaching the event mentally this year? You signed the deal with Renault to go back to Formula 1. Are you approaching this as the last chance for a little while to try to win the race? Do you think it’s possible in the future you can keep coming back?FERNANDO ALONSO: It’s a good question. I think I approach the race, as you said, knowing the next two years is going to be impossible to come. I will have to miss qualifying weekend if I wanted to do so. I will not be any more with McLaren next year in F1. That will not work either. I know at least for two years I will not be here.Look, this is the way it is at the moment. I’m here ready to enjoy the event, ready to give my best, and help the team as much as I can. Let’s see in the future what are the possibilities. If you eventually win one day the race, maybe that opens the possibility for different things.
Q. Fernando, with everything going on because of COVID-19, it’s no secret that INDYCAR does give its fans generous access to the drivers in the pit area, paddock, which can be a shock to those not native to the series. Do you think having a quieter track, empty track, will make it easier to focus on getting the job done, maybe lift some pressure off your back?FERNANDO ALONSO: No, I don’t think so. I think it was the magic part of the 500, the fans, around the garages, the interaction you have with them. I will miss a lot that part. Especially the race is here in the U.S., they are all very special. Racing at Daytona, Sebring, there is always this close contact with the fans. That will be really missed.It’s not releasing the pressure. Probably my life outside the car will be a little bit easier so I don’t need to run away. Sometimes I can go to the bathroom with no tight phone cameras pointed at me. Apart of that, I think when you close the visor and you are racing, it will be the same pressure.As I said, being in this huge place with these huge grandstands, not having a full, packed grandstand on Sunday is going to be a little bit difficult. But we will put a good show on television where we will make somehow big thanks to the fans and celebrate with them even on a distance.
Q. Regardless of what happens come August 24th, let’s fast forward to the day after the 500, what’s next for you? Is it as simple as putting on the Renault suit and carrying on?FERNANDO ALONSO: Look, last year when I stopped F1 in 2018, then 2019, last year, it was too much. It was too active. I was racing from January, the 24 Hour of Daytona, then Sebring, then was testing, then Spa, 24 Hours of Le Mans, Indy, the preparation of the car. I had the full attack season.This 2020 I wanted to relax a little bit. Doing the Dakar in January, then full focus on the Indy 500. The second part of the season just relax, charge the batteries. 2021, coming back to F1, I knew it could be very demanding.Arrive the virus, then we have a quiet season more than we wanted, everybody. But in my case I just planned to do the Indy 500. Is what I’m doing. But from Monday, 24th, is going to be again quiet season preparing myself physically, mentally, couple of simulator days with Renault, maybe attending two or three Grand Prix just to see how they work on track. But, yeah, quite easy second part of the year.
Q. Fernando, seven months without competing. How are you fit and mental? With this seven months, the challenge is more difficult than the Dakar?FERNANDO ALONSO: Has been long time, yes, without sitting in a racecar. But I think everybody is struggling with that. We were missing our racecars even if you are on a normal drive or just one event driver. I don’t think that I have a huge disadvantage there.Physically I’ve been training a lot. I’ve been a little bit sick March, April. Yeah, I used that time to get recover well and have a lot of bicycle and gym, try to do things on the lockdown.Then on the preparation, on the challenge, I don’t think that is more difficult than Dakar because that was a completely unknown territory for me. Every kilometer is new. You have to adapt to different things that obviously I was completely rookie. Here I have disadvantage, yes, compared to the others. I’m not as experienced as some others. I know that. But this race is so special that sometimes the place choose who is going to win that Sunday.I’m confident that we do things well, maybe luck goes to our side this time. There are many factors here, many yellows, many things that may happen in the race that are out of your control. So you have to be there.I think the Indy 500 is such a special race that you have to keep trying because eventually one day you will get everything right.
Q. What is your reaction to no fans in the stands at the 500? How have you been mentally and emotionally preparing for the 500 without that energy from the fans this year?PATO O’WARD: I think in a way we’ve had a chance to see fans in Road America. I don’t think we’ve had like a full blackout season. But in Road America I was telling the team, my family and everything, whenever you get there, the energy of having fans is so much better. You see the people are, like, super happy to be there. You feel the energy. You feel everything. Whenever it’s closed doors, it’s so different.So I think for the guys that have seen the Indy 500 or I guess raced in it for many years before this year, I’m not going to be able to really compare, but I know that the 500, it is the event to be at in terms of amount of people, the energy, just everything.I know once race day comes, everything is empty, we’re definitely going to miss it, for sure.OLIVER ASKEW: I feel pretty calm about this next couple weeks. We have way more preparation now than we’ve had over the past couple races where we pretty much show up and roll out of the trailer and go racing.This is going to be more of a traditional approach, more of what I’m used to. We can take our time a little bit. I’m just looking forward to seeing how these next couple weeks come to us and learning as much as possible.Like I said earlier, I’ve had some experience here in Indy Lights in the Freedom 100. For the fans, the fans made that day and that event complete. I think that’s what made that day probably the best racing day and experience I’ve ever had in my life.Having fans here this year would definitely have topped that for the Indy 500. We know that everyone is watching at home. We’re looking forward to putting on such a great show for them.
Q. Pato, first time at Indy 500, how does it feel to be the first Mexican driver in so many years?PATO O’WARD: It’s very humbling, to be honest. I think it’s a really cool opportunity to be able to try and do the best for my country, for my people, as I’ve always tried in every single race that I compete in.It’s going to be really nice to be representing Mexico. Hopefully we give a good race and a good show for everybody back at home and to all the fans watching.Q. Being a rookie at the 500 can be intimidating. How does it feel to be a rookie, being teammates with someone like Fernando Alonso? What would be his role with you during these two weeks?OLIVER ASKEW: Being a rookie here can definitely be daunting. With the extra boost this year, I think it’s an extra 50 horsepower, so we’re going to be quite a lot quicker than the past. We’re expecting the corners to be a little bit more difficult. I’m sure we’re going to have to run a little more downforce in qualifying than years past.But, yeah, I’m glad that this year we’re able to run a couple more ovals before the Indy 500. Traditionally the Indy 500 would be the first oval of the year. I think that’s definitely helped the rookies. Texas and Iowa in their own ways are a little more difficult than this track. This track brings its own challenges.For Fernando, like I said before, it’s an absolute honor to have him on the team. I know we’re all really looking forward to working with him. Just, yeah, really glad he’s able to race here with us. I’m sure he’s going to lead the team and teach us a lot, Pato and I, quite a bit. Yeah, looking forward to the next couple weeks with him.
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to the Arrow McLaren SP pre-event press conference. We have the leadership of the team here. We have Sam Schmidt, co-owner of Arrow McLaren SP. We have Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing. We have Taylor Kiel, managing director of Arrow McLaren SP. Gil de Ferran, sporting director of McLaren Racing and working with INDYCAR program.Why don’t we go ahead and start off with Sam. We’re a few months later than usual getting ready for the Indy 500, but what does it mean to you after the year we’ve had to finally be ready to race at Indianapolis?SAM SCHMIDT: What a relief. Very disappointing that we can’t (indiscernible) heartbeat of Indy 500. This is an epic 104-year history. We have to have it. It’s part of our blood. It’s what makes it breathe. This race is the reason I’m here as a team owner, period.We’re looking forward to doing it. Yes, our guys are pretty much meeting (indiscernible) at this point especially without having the ability to have on-track testing.The team is amped up. We’ve had an extra three months to prepare these cars. Yeah, can’t wait to get to the track tomorrow and be fully immersed in the process. I wish fans could see what Roger has done because he’s done a phenomenal job around here.
THE MODERATOR: Zak, this is almost a year in the making, Arrow McLaren SP getting to the Indy 500. What does it mean to McLaren to be back at the track and have another shot ate the this year with Fernando?ZAK BROWN: We’re very excited, extremely excited to be back. The combination of Arrow McLaren SP, it’s great to be back for a variety of reasons. Obviously last year didn’t go according to plan. We did that with Fernando. It’s good to be back with him. I think we’re coming back in a much more competitive environment, teaming up with SP. Equally as excited about Pato and Oliver, our collective three-driver lineup is exciting as any driver lineup out there.I think everyone in Indianapolis, we got a bunch of people out from England, a lot of great partners, new partners. As Sam said, disappointed we’re not able to do it in front of live fans, but very happy we’re able to do it. I know there will be millions of people watching around the world.I’m looking forward to getting out next week. I think Gil is there with a fresh haircut (laughter). Let’s go racing.
THE MODERATOR: Taylor, obviously not been a normal season by any means. The team has worked hard to adapt to the circumstances. Once again we have another thing to adapt to with a slightly condensed schedule. What is the team doing to prepare and get ready to be on track tomorrow?TAYLOR KIEL: Yeah, we’ve obviously been working very hard under the ever-changing conditions. It seems like things change day-to-day. Kudos to the team. They’ve been very flexible throughout the entire process. We’ve had to adapt our ways of working down to the bare basics.We’re certainly putting the time in, are prepared and ready to go. Indy 500 in August is certainly unique, but what isn’t here in 2020? We’re just excited to be here. We feel good. We feel ready to go. We’re ready to race.
THE MODERATOR: Gil, you’ve kind of overseen on the technical side the strategic partnership between arrow SP and McLaren, forming Arrow McLaren SP. How has that led us to where we are today getting ready for the Indy 500?GIL de FERRAN: I think, like Taylor touched on, also Zak, this has been a huge amount of effort from people on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s nice to be here now. You can’t see me smile with the mask, but it’s nice to be here now with all the uncertainty behind us, getting ready to go.Certainly putting two very diverse groups of people together, there is a lot. I think we need to learn about each other. We knew that from the beginning. This is certainly a role that we working together. So far if I was to assess how things are going and looking back at the results this season, I would say things are going fairly well.We got to be humble. We got to realize that we got a lot of very strong competitors here. Just keep our heads down, our feet to the ground, tackle these next few days here in practice one by one.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up to questions.Q. Zak and Gil, in a lot of ways what a difference a year and three months makes. Last May we were here, the McLaren effort wasn’t able to get into the race. Now the Arrow McLaren SP finally has a driver in fourth place in the INDYCAR standings. You probably have three drivers capable of winning the Indianapolis 500. Contrast and talk about how different it is to be on a team this year that has the kind of tools that you have.ZAK BROWN: As the guys said, it’s extremely competitive, so we’re very excited. I think we do have three cars that should be capable of winning the race. That being said, it’s so competitive I think you can broaden that to 15 cars, maybe even as much as half the field.That being said, we got bit pretty hard last year. Let’s make sure we have good practice, good qualifying. We do have two rookies in addition to a guy who hasn’t done it a lot, as great as he is.I think we do need to kind of keep our head down. I think if we do the right things and everyone executes, we can have three cars there at the end. For that basis, it’s super exciting.GIL de FERRAN: Yeah, to me it’s clear when we started talking even last year to the guys here in Indianapolis, the depth of the talent here and the experience was very apparent to me. There’s no question that it’s been a positive thing for us to be in this partnership. It’s been all good.As you said, we have two rookies that are doing fairly well. We have a few podiums already this year. One of the guys is in fourth place. This is not about counting or chickens, it’s about the road that we’re on together. There’s still a long way to go here.
Q. Zak, the effort from Alonso’s perspective, to be able to come over here at a highly unusual time, continent to continent. What is he able to do to keep himself in race shape?ZAK BROWN: Yeah, Fernando, as we all know, is an immense talent. I’ve not seen someone more prepared to go motor racing as far as how they go racing. Talked to Fernando earlier. He knows he needs to be there at the end. I think he’ll take quite a methodical approach as he does to the race, be well-prepared. I don’t have any concerns over Fernando’s ability to step in and get with the program.GIL de FERRAN: If I might add, I think Zak touched on it, but Fernando is all about preparation. He has been that way ever since I met him. He send me a text the other day: I just spent eight hours on a bicycle (laughter). He’s fully prepared I think physically and mentally.
Q. Zak, how beneficial is it for you as a team and personally having Fernando back in Indy, given that you have two relative rookies in the series?ZAK BROWN: Yeah, I think it’s great to have him back. While he doesn’t have a tremendous amount of experience around Indianapolis, he has a tremendous amount of experience, as we’ve been speaking about, his approach to a race weekend.I think what Oliver and Pato will learn from Fernando is how he approaches a race. I’m sure they’ll learn something about Indianapolis itself, but it will be more of his experience of what a two-time world champion and all the things he’s accomplished, how he approaches a race weekend.Our rookies are rookies. The more experience they can get, the better. So I think the combination of the driver lineup, plus their speed and competitiveness, should make it exciting. Looking forward to Taylor and Gil and the whole team putting these three cars out there this week.
Q. Taylor, how has McLaren helped in the preparations for the race this year? Obviously Schmidt Peterson Motorsport is the side of the operation that has the oval experience. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s not blatantly obvious what McLaren are actually bringing to the equation. What has been going on behind the scenes between the two? I’m sure the engineering prowess.TAYLOR KIEL: Gil, you take that and I can expand on it.GIL de FERRAN: I can. However, I got to be careful with what I say because we don’t want to give away our secrets.I think to your point, what we bring mostly to the table is depth of engineering. Ultimately we have a lot of systems and technologies that have been developed over many decades across in the UK. I think a lot of these technologies are also applicable to frankly any form of motorsports, but particularly here in INDYCAR. We are walking, as I said, on a long road together trying to lift the tide here.TAYLOR KIEL: I think we’ve touched on it before, but I think I’m a huge proponent of new thoughts, new ideas, different ways of looking at solving a problem. I think our two organizations have come together and meshed really well to solve problems that we face every day but with a new outlook and some fresh perspective. I think that in itself has been a huge help for us here in 2020.
Q. Zak, what have you seen through the start of this INDYCAR season that has either most encouraged or most satisfied you as far as the results that you guys have gotten from this partnership with McLaren from a year ago to now?ZAK BROWN: Yeah, I think there’s a lot that we’re pleased with how it’s going. It’s ultimately producing results on the track. As the guys were just speaking about, COVID, when we started integrating our know-how and technologies to Taylor and the team, we were also finishing a season getting ready to test and trying to do that on the fly. It’s not that easy.I think when COVID put the brakes on things, one of the things that it did benefit us is I think it gave an opportunity for our two teams to get to know each other and collaborate in a slower environment, if I want to I guess call it that. I’m very pleased with that.The relationship that I have with Sam and Ric, the owners of Arrow McLaren SP, is great. Ashleigh, who runs the commercial side, working alongside Phil, our partners are happy. We’ve brought quite a few partners to the table. It’s quite a nice effort that’s come together really well at the start of the year which is not an easy thing to do.To have almost won a race, podiums with both drivers, more good weekends than bad weekends, here we are at Indy, couldn’t be more pleased with where we are from when we got started.
Q. Taylor and Gil, how important has it been to have so much success both in the qualifying process and in actual race, from both Pato and Oliver heading into this weekend being able to provide Fernando with data, the added plus of having so much early season success from those two guys?TAYLOR KIEL: I mean, our pace out of the box so far this year has been good. There’s still room for improvement there. But I think kudos to Oliver and Pato for being able to get on the horse and ride right away under extremely difficult circumstances.They’ve certainly been impressive, but also likewise it takes a great team behind you to make that happen. Our engineering staff, our mechanics, everybody that gets these cars to the racetrack, have done a phenomenal job. Likewise operationally pulling in the McLaren group, being able to work out the kinks very early so we could hit the ground running has been a massive help.Yes, it is hugely important for us to be able to unload the cars and hit the track quick, especially with the way the schedules are. I expect no different here at Indianapolis. I think that Fernando is going to bring a level of expertise and being able to close that feedback loop that we haven’t had in quite some time.I’m excited to see all of that work together here in about 24 hours.GIL de FERRAN: Yeah, I was thinking about it when everybody was talking. Look, I’m pleasantly surprised with our performance. I don’t know if you recall, but when this whole thing started, I was very aware of the fact that we’re on a long journey here. We signed two rookie drivers with very little experience in INDYCAR, but they’ve clearly shown a lot of potential and a lot of talent. Certainly my expectations personally were quite a bit lower than where we’re at today.I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Both guys have shown a great deal of speed. As Taylor said, our integration has been getting certainly from my perspective very high marks.Also, as usual, we see it, we talk a lot about opportunities for improvement. There’s still plenty of them. In time hopefully we will tackle. There’s still a long road ahead of us. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the performance of the drivers and the results that we’ve been getting so far.
Q. Sam, your impressions about Fernando? You have the chance to know him in previous years. Now your relationship with him is different as one of your drivers. How do you describe him, his way of working and approaching the race?SAM SCHMIDT: (Indiscernible) engineering staff, pit stop winners last year, we’ve been building for this moment for quite some time. Somebody you know is a true professional, two-time world champion. That says it all. It’s a great opportunity for these two young guys to be able to ride on his coattail for about 10 days.I’m happy to be here for this time period in every way, whether we’re running it without fans, the way we’re running the program, et cetera. We had a conversation, a couple conversations, in 2017 in passing. I don’t know him that well. What we’ve seen in just a few days is (indiscernible) approaching this race like he wants to win. I can’t wait to see him in action.
Q. Gil, do you feel with Fernando’s vast experience, also two years of attempting to race at Indy, your role as adviser for him is still crucial or do you feel your work this year will be more focused towards getting Pato and Oliver comfortable?GIL de FERRAN: Well, I guess I established the relationship with Fernando, now your point goes back to 2017. There’s no way that will go away because once you establish a good relationship, the guy is your friend and that’s it, end of story.I think from a professional perspective, I’m planning to be on his radio. The relationship there, it’s a little bit different. But if I step back for a second, to be quite honest with you, I’ll be equally happy if any of our three drivers did well this race.Certainly within the team there’s no favorite. I think Taylor can attest to that. Very open environment. We discuss everything. Every lesson, every piece of information, wherever it comes from, to make sure we lift the team.Taylor is on Pato’s radio, I’ll be on Fernando’s radio. We’re a team here. If one or three of our three drivers do well, we’ll all be happy.
Q. Zak, the point about how much it’s changed the infrastructure of McLaren to have you guys increasing your participation in this race, how many people actually are dedicated to the INDYCAR side of the things back at the MTC?ZAK BROWN: As Gil has said, I think we want to be a little bit careful with giving too much detail. What I would say is it’s a good, strong handful of fully dedicated, 100% INDYCAR, that have their own space at the MTC, then they have a variety of tools and additional people they can pull on.At the end of the day what we’ve provided is additive to Arrow SP before it became Arrow McLaren SP, which is exciting. When we first came in in ’17, we teamed up with Michael. Other than a little bit of influence from the team, primarily from Gil from a relationship, Michael ran that effort. We feel like we’re definitely much more hands on in this effort, which is great.We’re racers. We want to go racing. Have a lot of people over there with a variety of accents, primarily British. It will be good. I’m looking forward to seeing it all, as I’ve not been to an INDYCAR race yet. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it live myself.
Q. Zak, looking at obviously what transpired the last two years, now coming into this season, can you take me through some of the lessons that were learned from what happened last year, what you’re going to be doing with those lessons learned for this season?ZAK BROWN: Yeah. Obviously I think I’ve spoken quite a bit about it. I think the biggest lesson we learned is don’t do what we did last year. I don’t want to rehash, but there were a lot of obviously mistakes that you make when you don’t qualify for a race. You’ve got to get it pretty wrong for a team like McLaren and a driver like Fernando Alonso to not make the show.Really it was a lot of little mistakes, predictable. Saw a lot of them, unfortunately didn’t kind of react fast enough, that ultimately compound.If I look at the end result, it really started with our first test, which we have a variety of issues at that we should have had enough time to be well-prepared for. Then when we had these issues, we didn’t respond to them quickly enough, urgently enough.When you don’t solve those issues, you continue to have them, a car gets crashed, you don’t have your spare ready for a variety of reasons, all of which has been documented in some silly headlines, unfortunately. They’re not quite as silly. There’s an explanation behind each one went wrong, but we got it wrong.I think teaming up with Sam and Ric and the team, a lot of these rookie mistakes we made, they’re as well-prepared, as you said, especially oval experience, INDYCAR team.I think that’s the biggest mistakes we made, is we came collectively almost as a bunch of rookies, and that didn’t work well. I think we’ve come in in a much better way, long-term view to the sport. That’s what we’re doing differently, without getting into the finer details of each item.
Q. Gil, the team obviously extremely strong this season in INDYCAR. You spoke about being on the radio with Fernando. Bringing a guy like Fernando Alonso into a team like this with two young, up-and-coming drivers, tell me what you think Fernando might be able to bring and offer these young drivers.GIL de FERRAN: Well, look, I guess the way I think about this is if I was in that position, right? I guess I was a driver once upon a time. I would say, having had for example the opportunity to work with Sir Jack Hewitt for many years, it was something that was hugely beneficial, particularly early in my career.Being a complete racing driver is not just about how fast you can go. There are many, many, many, many things that you have to learn how to do well to be able to win championships on a consistent basis and race year after year, which is something that Fernando has done pretty much his whole life.In my mind, I think it was Zak that said it earlier, seeing how I think Sam and Taylor also touched on it, a guy that has had such an accomplished career, seeing how he goes about his business, not just steering to the right, to the left, how you touch the brakes, so on and so forth, but every aspect of being a racing driver, I think it can only be a positive.I can’t see how they couldn’t come out of this experience better than they were before.
Q. What has been the biggest takeaway assuring that this year’s 500 will go much better?GIL de FERRAN: I’ll touch on that.Look, I guess the fact that we’re here today in a partnership with a team that has over 50 people and have been doing this for many, many years now. They have won races before, has a great deal of talent and experience within their roster should tell you everything that you need to know.I think Zak touched on this at the end of his previous answer on this topic. That’s it really. I’m not too sure there’s much more to say than that.
Q. Zak, Fernando had an unfortunate exit from the 500 last year. Is he extra determined to have more success to getting in there this season?ZAK BROWN: Yeah, I think Fernando is as dedicated as ever in his desire to win the Indy 500. I think that he’s getting back to Formula 1 next year will mean that potentially this is the last time he has to win the Indy 500 in the near future, therefore he’s never wavered during this time of COVID, is the race on, off, what date. He cleared his calendar post Paris-Dakar to come compete and hopefully win the Indy 500.He’s been very focused on that. He’s excited to get back in the car this week.GIL de FERRAN: I have a question for you, Asher? Are you racing yet?ASHER: I have my second win my last race, so yeah.GIL de FERRAN: Congratulations. In a few years, we’ll talk, okay?ASHER: Okay.
Q. Gil, even though you’re in the technical area, you have two young drivers now, you’re bringing a Formula 1 champion into the Indy 500, seeing what you’ve been doing this year, I feel you are top contenders to win this race. Will you let them race, let him disregard team orders?GIL de FERRAN: Thank you for being as confident as you are. Have to focus on doing well and prepare well for the race.Look, hopefully these preparations will go well. If we’re in a position in the front, we have all drivers involved, I think the policy is usually the same: you have to let them race, but race with respect. I think people want to watch a 500 that is hard fought. That’s what this race is all about, whether it’s between teammates or not.You seen that in the past. I can’t remember exactly where, I think it was between Will and Montoya when they were teammates. They were fighting all the way till the end. That is what the 500 is all about. For me, I think the drivers understand that, they respect each other, and hopefully if we’re in this position, which would be very nice, those certainly are my thoughts.
Q. Gil, following last year, the moment you turned around and walked away from Indy, what would you say is the first or biggest decision you had to make to make sure nothing like that happened again?GIL de FERRAN: Well, look, nothing is guaranteed in life, either successes or failures. I always go through this review process in my own head with everything that I do, frankly. Something I’ve been doing for many years, is to analyze everything we do on a daily basis. In my mind, that’s the only way you can move forward, even within the operations and engineering, whatever task is at hand. I think you always have to review very carefully.Ultimately that was a very painful one that we had to review. But we grouped everyone together, we talked about it, dissected in every single way that you can possibly imagine. I think we became stronger because of it. We learned our lessons. As Zak mentioned earlier, this eventually led to this partnership.
Q. Zak, Lando Norris is massively popular, had some success in the virtual races. Any possibility that he could come over to INDYCAR?ZAK BROWN: Lando, it’s great racing with him. He loves other forms of motorsport. He’ll drive anything. He’s one of those guys.I think realistically, given how early he is in his F1 career, how unlikely it is that there won’t be a scheduling conflict between Monaco and Indy, because they need to be two weeks apart, not one week apart. I think on that basis, unfortunately he’s probably years away.I think he’d love to do it. I think he’d be great at it. I think he’s got a lot of time. He’s very young still to come over to Indy. We shouldn’t get our hopes up for the next first half of this decade, but who knows thereafter. He’s got a long way to go in his career.
Q. Has he shown any interest?ZAK BROWN: He’ll race anything. If I called Lando tomorrow and said, Do you want to do the Indy 500? He’d say yes. Logistically we want to be able to get that to work out. Yeah, it’s very clear Lando likes everything from karts to INDYCARS to sports cars to Formula 1 cars. No doubt he’d like to do it.THE MODERATOR: Thank you, everybody, for joining today.