Fernando Alonso Returns to Indianapolis

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The orange McLaren Honda Andretti #29 car of Fernando Alonso – Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Fernando Alonso shook up the Formula One world when he announced he would skip the Monaco Grand Prix, a race which he has won twice, to race the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. Alonso has raced in Indianapolis before, six times in fact, well almost six but we’ll get to that later.

 Everyone knows that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is home to the greatest spectacle in racing but it was also the home of the United States Grand Prix for F1 from 2000-2007. During the eight years when the track was properly a F1 race the cars would race a slightly different road circuit than the Indianapolis GP is currently raced on and would race the opposite direction using turn one. Alonso was one of the 14 drivers who didn’t get to race in the 2005 USGP after Michelin realized the tires they provided couldn’t handle the stress of going around the banked turn.

Alonso has never won in Indianapolis but he did come in second in 2007. He hasn’t won a race since 2013, and has yet to finish a race in 2017. As of the current four races of this season in the Honda powered McLaren team Alonso has been forced to pit the car before seeing the checkered flag. He didn’t even get to start the Russian Grand Prix on April 31.

The Honda F1 engines are rumored to have around 100 less horsepower than the other F1 engines so Alonso will be excited to be in a race with equal equipment. Alonso has complained that he is driving at his best this year and the two-time world champion knows that he has no chance of adding another championship to his name is going after the triple crown. The triple crown is winning the Monaco Grand Prix in F1, the Indianapolis 500, and the 24-hours of Le Mans. Alonso has done what most drivers never get to do, win at Monaco which is the jewel of the F1 circuit and is the only driver in its nearly 90 years of history to win it consecutively with different manufacturers.

Alonso might have two championships and two wins at Monaco under his belt but he has never done anything like this. He has never raced on a superspeedway and will be driving an Indycar for the first time May 3. F1 cars rarely break 200 mph so to take a whole lap at an average of 220 mph is going to be a real change. He also hasn’t been in a competitive car in four years so this might just be his chance to break his 77-race losing streak.

To get to race in the 101st running of the Indy 500 Alonso must clock in 10 laps at 205-210 mph, 15 laps at 210-215 mph, and 15 laps over 215 mph. If he can do that he will get another practice day two weeks before the actual Indy Car takeover of the track. With the temperature sitting below 50 degrees this morning only time would tell if Alonso can bring himself to speeds he has never raced out around a type of circuit he has never raced before.

The history of the Speedway isn’t lost on Alonso who recalls his excitement racing here with F1 and taking pictures of the entrance. When asked if he is coming to win or just have a good experience he said his first priority is to have a good time which he couldn’t miss.

“At the moment I’m coming to have a great experience. It’s the best race in the world,” Alonso said. But he added “you don’t like when you are coming in second.”

A view of Alonso’s retro helmet and orange McLaren Honda Andretti car.

Chris Owens/IMS Photo

In a little over an hour Alonso had completed all the phases of his Rookie Orientation Program to be able to race in the 500. It took him 50 laps to hit 220 mph and looked like a pro the entire time. After completing the ROP Alonso took to the track for more practice where he hit 222.548 mph without the qualifying turbo boost. Mario Andretti said that Alonso looked like he had been racing at the Speedway for 20 years. Alonso disagreed.

“No not at all. I was getting up to speed. The circuit looks very narrow at speed,” Alonso explained. “At the beginning, I have to be honest, the right foot has a mind of its own. I wanted to be flat out but the right foot has its own life.”

According to Indycar over half a million people live streamed Alonso turn in over 100 laps in practice and pass his ROP test in around an hour. Alonso got in more practice than most rookies get to, practicing pit entry, fuel-mapping, and caution conditions. Having gotten practice and the ROP test completed he literally killed two birds with one stone, except the stone was his car.

“Today I saved one life, I didn’t manage to save the other two…” Alonso joked.

After dispelling any thoughts that he might not be able to race the Superspeedway he seems poised to do well in the race. Last year’s winner was a rookie and with all the power of Andretti behind him Alonso has a chance to get closer to the triple crown.

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