IndyCar: Time for Arrow McLaren to ‘put up or shut up’?

Arrow McLaren, IndyCar (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Arrow McLaren, IndyCar (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Despite all of the hype, the fact is that Arrow McLaren are currently nowhere close to being a top-tier IndyCar team. What can they do to change that?

Arrow McLaren entered the 2023 IndyCar season looking to make a splash and potentially end the 10-year run of championships won by either Team Penske or Chip Ganassi Racing.

After a second straight multi-win season in 2022, Pato O’Ward was viewed as a serious title contender, and while the general expectation was that Felix Rosenqvist would continue to be a borderline top 10 driver, the team were expected to have two serious contenders in the championship fight, having added a third car for former Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi.

O’Ward opened up the season looking like the title favorite. If not for an engine blip in the closing laps on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, he would have won the opener, and at one point at Texas Motor Speedway, he had 26 of his 27 competitors a lap down. Even after settling for second place in both events, he led the standings.

Bottom line, even without Alex Palou coming over from Chip Ganassi Racing, Arrow McLaren were supposed to be a top-tier team throughout the 2023 IndyCar season.

But here we are 13 races into the 17-race season, and Arrow McLaren remain winless.

The Chevrolet team were particularly strong in the Indy 500, and they appeared to have the race under control with O’Ward and Rosenqvist running 1-2 late. O’Ward led a race-high 39 laps while Rosenqvist led 33. But both drivers ended up wrecking out, and Rossi led the team with a disappointing fifth place finish.

Looking back, the last 20 laps of that race pretty much sum up Arrow McLaren’s season.

Once again, the championship battle features a Team Penske driver in Josef Newgarden and a Chip Ganassi Racing driver in Palou. Just two other teams have won races this year. Andretti Autosport, like Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, have won multiple races.

The other race-winning team is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which opened the season well off the pace and had a particularly disappointing Indy 500 Bump Day, when Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Honda was the one and only car left on the outside looking in.

When you consider the fact that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing have won a race this year while Arrow McLaren haven’t, it puts a whole new spin on just how disappointing the latter have been during a season when they were supposed to be regular frontrunners.

O’Ward finds himself well outside of the championship fight in sixth place in the championship standings, and he is the only one of the team’s three drivers who sits in the top 10.

Upon signing with the team for 2023 last year, Rossi noted that he felt his then-current team, Andretti Autosport, was not one of the three teams capable of winning a championship. The third, of course, was the team with which he signed his new deal.

Yet Rossi currently finds himself in 11th place in the championship standings, which would match his career-low finish from his rookie 2016 season. And considering he won the Indy 500 that year, it’s not hard to argue that the 2023 season has been the worst of his career.

Even during his disappointing final three seasons with Michael Andretti’s team, he never finished outside of the top 10 in the standings, and even amid their own struggles with consistency, the multi-race-winning Andretti Autosport team currently find themselves with twice as many drivers in the top 10 as Arrow McLaren.

Rossi himself hasn’t finished any of the six most recent races higher than 10th place. Meanwhile, his replacement behind the wheel of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda, Kyle Kirkwood, has won twice as many races since mid-April as Rossi won across the 2020, 2021, and 2022 seasons combined.

And here’s an even crazier stat: Rossi and fellow former Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has made just seven starts with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing this season, have led the same number of laps this year. That certainly wasn’t Rossi’s — or Arrow McLaren’s — plan for 2023.

O’Ward has reeled off six straight top 10 finishes, which is nothing to sneeze at, but he is obviously looking for quite a bit more as a driver with championship aspirations.

Finishing in eighth and 10th place consistently is solid, but not when other championship caliber drivers on other championship caliber teams are consistently finishing in third or fifth. Arrow McLaren’s lead driver has recorded just two podium finishes in the eight most recent races.

As for Rosenqvist, he has just one finish higher than 10th place in the six most recent races, and he really hasn’t shown any signs of improving his consistency. He has six DNFs and/or finishes of 20th or worse. That equates to nearly half the season thus far.

The major rumor of silly season is, once again, that the driver who hasn’t stood atop an IndyCar podium since July 2020 will be replaced by Palou next year.

But is Palou even still interested in joining the team, given their current form? Even if not, they could certainly still look to replace Rosenqvist, who remains winless since joining the organization in 2021.

Arrow McLaren are unlikely to expand their IndyCar team to four cars until they acquire Andretti Autosport’s Indianapolis headquarters in 2025, so their silly season will likely be capped at one change. And it’s safe to say that this is a good thing; they have no need to bite off more than they can chew.

When you really break it all down, Arrow McLaren as they run right now are no better than the Honda-powered Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team that existed before the partnership between McLaren, SPM, and Chevrolet. They are currently a borderline fourth or fifth best team in the series, perhaps with a bit more upside than they had a few years back.

Just look at what Robert Wickens was doing as a rookie in 2018 before his injury. Even James Hinchcliffe had an impressive 2018 season, minus his baffling failure to qualify for the Indy 500.

But this current Arrow McLaren team haven’t won a race in more than a year, and for as highly touted as O’Ward is, he is nearing the end of his fourth season with the team with just four victories — the team’s only four victories.

In the last calendar year alone, Palou and Newgarden have five victories each.

At some point, this team needs to actually make a step forward that goes beyond the mainstream media telling us how amazing they are going to be. The time for excuses is over, especially if they end up adding Palou, the 2021 series champion and current points leader, to their roster for 2024.

After a disappointing season for the team in 2023, the 2024 season is a big year for the team on many levels. Can O’Ward re-emerge as the championship contender he has shown he is capable of being? Can Rossi rediscover his 2018/2019 form? Can the team put a more reliable driver, even if not Palou, in the third seat?

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The answers to all three of those questions need to be “yes” by this time next year, which is set to be Arrow McLaren’s fifth in the sport. They are in IndyCar to challenge the big dogs of the series, and despite their investment and commitment to doing so, they have gone in the opposite direction. Now we have reached the point where anything shy of that is unacceptable.