McLaren: Monaco to Indianapolis

After an unforgettable Monaco Grand Prix for McLaren Racing, their attention immediately turns to the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 this weekend, where Arrow McLaren SP will field three drivers. Pato O’Ward will start 12th in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, looking to improve on his sixth-place finish and Rookie of the Year honors in 2020. Felix Rosenqvist lines up 14th in his first Indy 500 with the team, piloting the No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. And two-time Indianapolis 500 winner – and former McLaren F1 driver – Juan Pablo Montoya will drive the No. 86 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, making his first start in the race since 2017 from 24th on the grid.

Starting positions are important but, as Juan Pablo will tell you, if strategy falls your way in the 500 you can win from as far back as 30th – just take a look at the 2015 Indianapolis 500.

Whether this is your first, 10th, or 50th Indianapolis 500, we know you’ll have questions, so to help you get your head around the differences between racing at the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500 McLaren has called upon two people who have done just that: McLaren Racing Director, IndyCar and Heritage Mark Grain and Lando Norris’ former performance engineer Andrew Jarvis, aka ‘Jarv’, along with fellow Arrow McLaren SP engineers Nick Snyder and Will Anderson.

Let’s start with a few of the obvious differences between the MCL35M raced in Monaco and the Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolets in Indianapolis.

Mark Grain (MG): At a glance, the F1 and Indy cars are going to look similar. But they are very different. Instantly recognizable differences between the two cars are the wings. F1 in Monaco is all about maximum downforce, so the wings are as big as they can be within the regulations. Indy cars at the Indianapolis 500 will run the smallest wings possible for maximum speed in a straight line with minimum drag.

Andrew Jarvis (Jarv): While both serve the same purpose of protecting the driver, one of the most obvious differences is the aeroscreen on the Indy car versus the halo on the F1 car. The aerodynamic differences between the two cars are quite significant when you get down to the details. The Indy car is a bit simpler, as there’s no freedom for the teams to develop aerodynamically, whereas at almost every race weekend you can see different aero pieces on the F1 car because development is ongoing.

Will Anderson (WA): Another unique part are the tires. In F1 you have tire warmers to bring the tires to peak temperatures for peak grip before the race. On the INDYCAR side, at road and street courses, it takes two or three laps on the track to bring those tires to temperature to get peak grip. However, with oval tires, there is peak grip right away. As soon as you leave the pit box, you start to wear the tire more and more over one lap, two laps or a stint, so you’re always going away from the peak grip that the tire can offer.

When you get into the finer details of each respective racing series, what other differences should the fans know about each discipline?

MG: Between the two types of racing and circuits, the challenge for the drivers differs massively. At Monte Carlo, a driver shifts gear about 55 times a lap and at the 500 you could see a driver shifting approximately five times a lap. Also, if it rains in Monaco you better expect to get wet, as the cars will continue to race, and the fans will remain in the stands! There have been many exciting Monaco Grands Prix that have come from wet races when the weather rolls in from the Mediterranean Sea. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), where the speeds are as high as they are, we can’t ever take the risk of running in the wet. Indy cars have never run on an oval in the wet, it’s just too fast and dangerous.

Jarv: In terms of event specifics, Indy definitely feels like a marathon compared to the Monaco sprint! The Indy 500 is now a two-week event and has been longer in the past. There’s so much risk involved in making changes to a car going 230 mph that it takes longer to decide your setup, while the Monaco Grand Prix takes place over a few days and the track is busy throughout all the sessions. There’s a lot more to do in a short space of time. We have the Thursday practice in Monaco, which gives you longer to think about changes between practice and qualifying than a normal race weekend, but sometimes that just makes you stress more over each decision!

Nick Snyder (NS): In INDYCAR, the tire does change quite a bit over the course of a run. Very early in the run, when you have a lot of grip, the balance can be quite good. As the tires wear, if you have understeer or oversteer, it is going to drive the car and we will have to rebalance it accordingly. The driver does have cockpit tools to help with front and rear anti-roll bar and weight jacker settings. Those help change the lateral load transfer of the car and change the cross-weight dynamic. The driver will use those to try to manage the car over the stint, racing in traffic or if the car is in front and in clean air.

McLaren has a rich history at the Monaco Grand Prix, winning it a record 15 times since making its F1 debut in the race in 1966. Tell us about that history and the uniqueness of the event.

MG: McLaren has a great history in both races, but Monaco does significantly beat our INDYCAR record at IMS. It definitely beats everyone’s Monaco record as well! It is an incredibly significant race for McLaren. The first win came in 1984 with Alain Prost. He went on to win a further three times in the Principality with the team. This was followed by wins with Ayrton Senna, Mika Häkkinen, David Coulthard, Kimi Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton. In the team’s history, the 1992 win with Ayrton Senna, against Nigel Mansell in a much faster car equipped with new tires, stands out as a really fantastic achievement and win for the team.

Jarv: Monaco was the first circuit I went to where we didn’t talk about corner numbers. We talked about corner names – Tabac, Casino, Swimming Pool, Rascasse, etc – which reflects the history of the place. Hearing about and seeing some of the traditions that go on in INDYCAR – the only race where milk is preferred over champagne – just adds layers to the event’s uniqueness. In both though, you really feel the uniqueness from the fans. The amount of access they get to the circuit, the drivers and engineers really creates a buzz around both events that can be quite different to other events.

With the Indianapolis 500 being the marquee event in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for over a century in open wheel racing, what should the fans know about its importance to Arrow McLaren SP?

NS: This is what INDYCAR racing is all about. This one race is in the name of the series, it has the greatest history, and it is why all these teams exist. It is the biggest race in the entire world and the one we all want to win. I think a lot of us would rank this race as the highlight of our career. If we could win this one, it is mission accomplished because this is what everybody is here to be doing. Wins at other places are great, winning championships is great, but this is the pinnacle of open-wheel racing in the United States.

WA: One thing that makes this event so special to me and the team is all the history around Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500. A lot of people know the history of the track, being constructed in 1909 and being the pinnacle of racing and motorsport for so long.

Every time I come to the Speedway, walk in and see the cars going around, there’s a brief second when you think back to the history of the place: all the cars, the innovation, and all the crews that have worked here, won here, and all the development that has happened at IMS. I think it’s something that we all reflect on and realize it’s a special event to take part in. When you consider everything that has happened at this place, and everything that will happen in the future, it’s very special to say you’ve been a part of it.

What is your favorite moment in your racing experiences at either the Monaco Grand Prix or the Indianapolis 500?

MG: Personally, Lewis’ win in the wet at the 2008 Monaco Grand Prix. After hitting the wall on Lap Six he got a flat tire, came in and boxed – taking the team by surprise due to the tight pit entry. He went back out again, having dropped from second to fifth, with rain still pouring down. Two laps later there was a Safety Car and everyone pitted. It played right into our hands, leaving Lewis at the front. We had to stop again later in the race, but by that time Lewis had built a massive lead. It was a dominant display in the wet and a fantastic achievement by everybody involved.

Jarv: 2018 with Fernando was probably a memory that stands out for both good and bad reasons; we had a challenging car that year and it was my first time as performance engineer for Fernando in Monaco. We did well to qualify seventh with the car we had and were running well in the race when we had a power unit failure. That one was tough to take! Being there for a wet race in 2017 was wild too, just trying to survive in those conditions was crazy to be a part of. In terms of Monaco itself though, going up the hill and looking over the track at night is one of the best views in motorsport.

NS: My Indianapolis highlight was the pole in 2016 with James Hinchcliffe: just the culmination of a lot of effort that went into it from him and the team. It was a great result for the entire team, so that P1 on Pole Day was pretty spectacular.

WA: In my time at the Indy 500, my favorite experience would have to be when we won the pole in 2016. There’s no other feeling like that when you have more than 33 drivers trying to go as fast as they can around this 2.5-mile oval. Teams put a lot of effort in during the off-season to make these cars go as fast as they can. Knowing that we as a team were the fastest was a cool experience and to know all that work we put in was enough to put us ahead of everyone else was very rewarding.

What are your expectations for the Indianapolis 500 with Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist and Juan Pablo Montoya?

Jarv: To win. If this wasn’t our expectation, we wouldn’t be here. That’s not to underestimate the competition, which is fierce, but we have some of the best drivers on the grid in our team. If we all do our jobs the best we can, we definitely have a chance of taking the checkered flag first.

NS: In terms of expectations for this year, I would say that I am cautiously optimistic. We have a good speedway car, and I think we showed our pace when we won at Texas Motor Speedway. In terms of race package, I think we have a good car in traffic. Indy is a whole different animal. A lot comes down to preparation, but you need to have a bit of luck on your side as well. You can have the best car out there, but everything has to go perfectly on race day. On race day itself, we will end up making seven or eight pit-stops, so it makes for a very long race and there are a lot more variables in play.

We’ve done a ton of off-season research and development work. Hundreds of hours have gone into preparing these chassis and getting the last little bits ready to go. Now it’s time for execution. We are as prepared as we can be, but everything has to fall into place for us to win the race.

WA: We would all like to leave IMS with that winning feeling. That’s the goal. I think we have a good chance with three really good drivers who have different levels of experience. It’s great to have Juan Pablo Montoya with us this year as a two-time winner of the race. His experience can help Felix and Pato understand the nuances of this race. I also think it’s been good for Juan to work with Felix and Pato, who have more experience of the aero specification we’re running on the cars. There’s good communication between them all. We want all three cars fighting inside the top 10 and hopefully things will go our way, so we can come away with victory.