By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
INDIANAPOLIS – Fernando Alonso endured a turbulent qualifying bout during the first day of qualifying for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
The two-time Formula One champion was part of the juggling act of drivers that rotated from in and out of the locked top 30 positions. The first of an eventual five attempts was thwarted by a right rear tire puncture, with his best four-lap average of 227.224 mph coming on his final run of the day. The result wasn’t enough to fend off late challengers as he was bumped out and will be forced to battle it out with five other drivers in the Last Row Shootout on Sunday.
“Yeah, definitely it has been a difficult day again, difficult week in general but difficult day,” said Alonso, driver of the No. 66 McLaren Racing Chevrolet.
“The run in the morning maybe the conditions were not too bad. We thought that it was not a great number, but the teams were moving quickly and we went out around 1:00. So I think the conditions were OK, but we have a rear puncture at that time, so we wait now until the afternoon to see the conditions, see if they were a bit cooler, and they did, so yeah, we took the chance another two, three runs to improve.
“We slightly improved the average lap, but yeah, it was not enough to be in the top 30 unfortunately, so yeah, we need to try again tomorrow, and now stay calm. Obviously it’s a difficult moment for everyone in the team and for me, but there’s not much we can do now.
“I think we will try a couple of runs in the afternoon. All four laps are flat out, it’s not that you are lifting here and there, so you know, the speed that we have is quite — not enough to be in the top 30. So we will try to do something overnight, but as I said, there is not much we can find from one day to the next. But yeah, hopefully it’s enough to be in the top three positions tomorrow of the six.”
The pressure is only heightened for the Last Row Shootout as all six drivers – Max Chilton, James Hinchcliffe, Sage Karam, Kyle Kaiser, Patricio O’Ward and Alonso – will get one four-lap attempt for a shot to compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 26. While that may stress some, it doesn’t faze the 37-year-old Spaniard.
“I think today I approached like they were the last four laps,” Alonso said.
“You try to go in, and yeah, more or less you are happy with your run, but then when you see the times, it’s not enough, obviously. So yeah, not much we can do at the moment, you know.
“Tomorrow we’ll try to do these four laps clean, no mistakes, try to be flat all four, and then if it’s enough to be in the top three of the six, we’ll take it, and we will try to do a good race. If it’s not enough and we are fourth of six, it’s what we deserve. There were maybe three cars quicker than us. So nothing we can do more than that.
“Try to execute the runs tomorrow the best we can, and same thing with did today, stay calm, stay focused and try to do a good job.”