Bruce McLaren was a New Zealander born and raised in New Zealand. Its namesake Formula One team and high-tech supercar company are based in England.
And yet, McLaren very much wants to be the official North American team.
The crowd roared Wednesday night at the Miami Grand Prix Opening Party when Papaya orange appeared on stage, that’s the hue, don’t get it wrong. In a city used to superstars and the super-rich, viewers seemed to be jumping at the sight of Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo.
Their bosses were there too, but the inaugural Miami Grand Prix has been built around the star drivers and, boy, does McLaren have a team. Norris was voted most popular among women in a fan vote and Ricciardo, the Australian who drinks champagne from his shoe after a victory, has the biggest personality in the paddock and counts the United States among the favorite countries of the.
And then there’s the IndyCar trio of Pato O’Ward, Felix Rosenqvist and Juan Pablo Montoya, among the first to drive the sprawling circuit around Hard Rock Stadium when they took laps Wednesday in McLaren road cars.
O’Ward, who turns 23 on Friday, is a Mexican resident of Texas and the most recent IndyCar race winner. Like Norris, he won the award for favorite driver of his series among female voters. Montoya, part of McLaren’s Indianapolis line-up, is a former McLaren F1 driver and the Colombian was a long-time Miami resident and one of the race’s ambassadors. Rosenqvist moved to Indianapolis and the Swede mingled with the community.
It is the IndyCar team that is McLaren’s ticket to building a sponsor-rich North American base, which has finally caught on with F1, and major companies are scrambling to get involved. It’s fertile ground for Zak Brown, the boss of McLaren Racing, who happens to be a regular fan of California racing.
Brown has had a meteoric rise from owning an Indianapolis-based marketing company that dominated the market during the halcyon days of NASCAR and propelled Brown to the forefront of motorsports. He now he is the quirky American running the late Bruce McLaren’s team in his own way.
Brown is a straight shooter who wants to have fun, but takes little credit for McLaren’s gains in prominence both on the F1 grid and in fan popularity. McLaren was voted the favorite F1 team in a fan poll and Brown said McLaren’s image has been cultivated through its drivers and a commitment to highlighting them through well thought out social media aimed at the younger demographic.
“The drivers are the right age, the right personality,” Brown said. “Pato is a combination of Lando and Daniel. Lando is quite reserved. Pretty clever. Daniel dances into the garage. This is Pato with his presence. Pato has Lando’s youth and Daniel’s outgoing personality.”
“Drivers are a big part of this. I think a lot of credit to our digital and communications teams… What do the fans want to see? It’s the main reason we went back to papaya in the first place. That’s what the fans wanted. The fans know how important they are to us and we have a good two-way relationship.”
The quest to capture the market is working, but it’s not that competitive either. F1 only has one team owned by an American, Gene Haas, but the series has no American drivers; McLaren has signed 22-year-old Colton Herta, an IndyCar star from California, to a test contract starting later this year.
McLaren is using this week – one of two recently unthinkable American races on this year’s F1 calendar – to continue to build its presence. There’s a full “SpeedShop” experience that has been billed as “top secret” and “the most immersive (race) experience outside of breaking into the McLaren garage”. The SpeedShop was sold out and was offered only to members of the US McLaren fan club.
At The Wharf in Miami, a custom 2022 McLaren GT is on display throughout the weekend as part of the “Vuse Ultimate Ride” challenge. The car is a collaboration with streetwear brand UNDEFEATED and will be delivered to a fan at the Formula One race in Austin, Texas in October.
The olive green car is inspired by the livery designed for the three McLarens at this month’s Indianapolis 500 and will be awarded to the winner of a video submission contest who answers “how do you drive change?” The challenge asks consumers to describe in 15-30 seconds the impact they have on their community on a daily basis.
“While designing new liveries for the Vuse and Arrow McLaren is exciting, having the opportunity to help celebrate and reward someone who is working and giving back is gratifying,” said UNDEFEATED Founder James Bond.
Brown just wants to give away a McLaren and make another new fan for the team.
“Without the fans, there is no motorsports,” Brown said.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports