Last April, Felix Rosenqvist’s 2021 Indianapolis 500 ride made waves across the IndyCar world before it turned a single lap. With streaks of papaya and black covering the Dallara chassis from front to rear wing like a massive carbon fiber tiger, the Arrow McLaren SP driver’s No. 7 Vuse Chevy looked more like a piece of art or a designer’s dream than any race car livery anyone had seen.
And that was the point all along.
AMSP officials, propelled by primary sponsor Vuse sought to zig off the beaten path and pitched longtime streetwear clothing designer James Bond on stepping out of his comfort zone of hip sneakers and designer jackets to put his ideas on a very different canvas. The co-founder of the UNDEFEATED clothing brand jumped at the opportunity, put together something memorable and then found himself near-speechless in May when he got to see his vision come to life on-track.
Not long after, Bond was “shooting his shot” to Vuse and AMSP last summer.
“The fact (AMSP and Vuse) reached out to us first and showed us that respect, that they felt we were capable of doing something that fit their brand and their plans of what they were doing, that was such an accomplishment in itself,” Bond told IndyStar this month. “I think we were kinda numb to it.
“But anytime you get a chance to shoot your shot in any situation, you do it. This was one of those instances where we said ‘Let’s do something that’s all-encompassing and propose a whole project.’ The worst thing they say is ‘No’, and the best is they say ‘Yes.’”
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A year later, Bond’s project with the team has grown into a full three-car project for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. UNDEFEATED, Vuse and AMSP will unveil the liveries for the Nos. 5, 6 and 7 Chevys for this year’s Indy 500 on Tuesday. And Pato O’Ward, Rosenqvist and Juan Pablo Montoya will try to put a car on the pole and hope to park in Victory Lane May 29.
Rather than something akin to the unique tiger stripe design Bond and his team opted for a year ago, this year’s liveries take a step back toward the traditional with five colors spread across all three cars in separate-but-complementary ideations. But similar to how Bond centered Rosenqvist’s 2021 Indy 500 livery around one of UNDEFEATED’s clothing design calling cards (tiger stripes), the designer chose a company staple to make the focal point of the 2022 AMSP cars.
“I’ve said in the past that in our business, you have to own something in order to have some longevity,” Bond said. “And I think we own the color ‘olive’ as a brand, so knowing what we’re doing in IndyCar, we wanted to own that color along with their traditional pallet.”
So, similar to 2021, Bond used Rosenqvist’s car as the project’s inspirational center. The No. 7 has an olive green nose and carries that color up to the base of the aeroscreen, around the top of the protection device and finishes toward the back of the car on the top of the engine cover. Around it, AMSP’s papaya, electric blue, black and white are featured on the front and rear wings, sidepods and wheel details. O’Ward’s No. 5 swaps out olive green for black on the center portions of the car from Rosenqvist’s No. 7, and Montoya’s No. 6 is largely white with the other four colors used throughout.
The color combinations and designs will also be featured in the drivers’ fire suits for the 500, as well as those for their respective crews in addition to team-only merchandise and Rosenqvist’s Indy 500 helmet.
Whereas Bond said last year’s design took a lot of thought and time to work out for a single car, this year’s trio of designs was much more ‘plug-and-play’, while allowing them to all look different from anything else race fans will see at IMS in May.
“It’s like designing a collection,” he said. “You have the core pallet of color and ideas, and those branch off into the different pieces and work to tell the story together. We had Felix’s Vuse car last year, so he was going to be ours no matter what, and his got the first swing at the design process. When Vuse and McLaren said ‘Let’s knock out all three’, Pato’s was next, and then (Montoya’s) was the wildcard.
“But really, Vuse and McLaren gave us the box to work within, and from there, they let us do what we wanted.”
O’Ward and Rosenqvist told IndyStar they were “stoked” when they were told the partnership was re-upped for a second year and even moreso when they found out it would be featured across all three cars for this year’s 500. But beyond that, they were completely in the dark until the final designs were unveiled.
As it just so happens, Rosenqvist said green is one of his favorite colors.
“I think the coolest part of all of this is we’re bringing in someone who’s never designed a racecar before, and that’s the message – we’re not doing what everyone else has for years,” he said. “We’re letting people from outside the sport design our cars, and that brings a message across that we’re trying to bring younger fans into the sport, and this is a great way to do that.
“And when you do something like this, not everyone’s going to like it. It’s easy to do a design that everyone’s going to like that’s neutral or basic or traditional in racing, but that’s not the point here. UNDEFEATED and Vuse and us as a race team, we’re willing to take the risk that a few people are going to say, ‘What’s this? What’s this olive green color?’ But I think a lot of people are going to love it.”
After initial mixed emotions from his fan base and the greater IndyCar world a year ago when his tiger striped car was released, Rosenqvist said he was constantly approached at IMS in the leadup to race day, with fans complimenting the team’s outside-the-box look. The ‘different-than-the-norm’ livery designs continued into the Music City Grand Prix later that year, when Vuse held a design challenge where fans could submit their own creations. Eventually, another striped design was chosen and used on both full-time drivers’ cars while incorporating their traditional (black and papaya for O’Ward and blue and papaya for Roseqnvist) livery colors.
“Every time you have a new livery or a new idea to work with is really exciting, especially the first time you jump in the car and see everything come together – all the stickers and logos and everything,” Rosenqvist said. “I think it’s really cool that all the primary sponsors (Arrow Electronics, Vuse and Mission) are allowing us to just race the cars, and they’ve joined forces and agreed to do this. It’s such a cool way to celebrate such a special event and try to join the world of motorsports with art, creativity and innovation.
“It’s like if I were to jump into a NASCAR car or something. That type of step out into the unknown is the stuff we want to do. We don’t need to have someone who designed 50 different IndyCar liveries. We want something new.”
AMSP team president Taylor Kiel said that’s no accident. Particularly since McLaren Racing joined what was then Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports between the 2019 and 2020 IndyCar seasons, AMSP has taken off off-track, in terms of how the program using marketing and social media to deliver its message to a younger-trending fanbase. The team tied with Andretti Autosport for IndyCar fans’ second-favorite team in the recent fan survey, and O’Ward was rated female fans’ favorite driver. AMSP’s primary liveries for its full-season drivers were unveiled in a larger, highly-produced preseason live McLaren Racing YouTube show that had several hundred thousand fans watching from around the world.
It all dates back, Kiel said, to offseason meetings where officials from across the team’s different departments, as well as its primary sponsors, brainstorm together about how it can stand out and take risks in the following year. It’s where, more than a year ago, Vuse helped come up with what became the original UNDEFEATED partnership.
“We don’t just ask our partners to cut us a check and then disappear into the background and maybe host them on a weekend,” Kiel said. “We want to be collaborative and do something that moves the needle together. At McLaren Racing, we’re nothing without our fans, and like us, UNDEFEATED wants to reward community engagement. After our initial call with them, we were dead-set in wanting to do something with James.
“(In May), you’ll know exactly which team (our cars) race for, but at the same time, they’ll have their own individual nuances as well. I think they’re a statement at the biggest race in the world and a tasteful way to separate ourselves from the rest of the group and the monotony we sometimes find ourselves in with liveries. What I absolutely hate is when someone says, ‘That’s how we’ve always done it.’ We don’t necessarily always have to fix it, but we can always make it better.”