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McLaren looking to America?

MCLAREN is getting ready for a huge team launch at London's Alexandra Palace in mid-February. This was to take place on February 14 but we hear it will now be moved to the 13th because of the scale of the event.

The team is planning to invite up to 5000 guests and media to the show, which will involve a theatrical production company to stage the presentations and light shows. The set is to include two vast 12m x 9m TV screens.

The launch highlights the new optimism at McLaren, where 275 of the McLaren Group's 700 staff are employed on the F1 team. TAG Electronics has 110 staff and many of these are also involved in F1, supplying electronics to rival teams.

We understand that McLaren is planning to announce a secret major new project at the Alexandra Palace launch. David Coulthard's 1996 race engineer David Brown is involved, his place in the F1 team being taken by Pat Fry, while Steve Hallam remains Mika Hakkinen's engineer with Steve Nichols overseeing both cars.

What is the secret project? McLaren will not say. However there is considerable evidence to suggest that with Marlboro no longer involved with McLaren, Ron Dennis may take the opportunity to expand into Indycar racing. McLaren has had a long history in America, including three Indianapolis 500 victories in the 1970s. Ron Dennis has been talking about Indycars since the mid-1980s but in recent years Marlboro and Mercedes have been represented in the US by Penske.

Dennis was in America last week and we have heard suggestions that he may be in the process of buying into Carl Hogan's operation. Hogan split with Roger Penske at the end of last season and has been putting together a deal to run a Reynard-Mercedes for 23-year-old Scotsman Dario Franchitti. He has also been talking with Comptech Racing which has lost not only its driver Parker Johnstone and its Honda engines to Team Green but also its Motorola sponsorship to Pacwest. It does, however, have a Firestone tire deal.

The only team with the potentially-competitive combination of Reynard, Mercedes-Benz and Firestone is Gerald Forsythe's Players Racing. It could be that McLaren, Hogan and Comptech could join forces to run such a combination in 1997 with a view to building McLaren Indycars in 1998 and beyond.

All F1 teams which have signed the Concorde Agreement are bound not to compete in any other open-wheeler racing without FIA consent but, of course, McLaren is not a signatory to that agreement and indeed is quite unhappy with the way F1 is being run at the moment.

This might help to explain why Adrian Newey is so keen to leave Williams to join McLaren where he would presumably be involved with both F1 and Indycar design. Adrian was a very successful Indycar designer with March in the mid 1980s. Although McLaren is denying any official link with Newey it is fairly clear that he will be joining the team at some point in the course of 1997.

McLaren is expecting to hear shortly whether it will have clearance to build a brand new company headquarters on a farm it bought 18 months ago at Fairoaks, to the north of Woking. If planning permission is granted we understand that there are plans for two windtunnels of different scales to be built. One will almost certainly be a 100% facility.

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