By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Arrow McLaren SP announced Tuesday that two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso will be driving the third entry for the 104th Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge.
Alonso will be sponsored by Ruoff Mortgage and like last year, will carry the No. 66 on his Chevrolet powered car.
Ruoff Mortgage is known in the world of INDYCAR as Takuma Sato’s primary sponsor when he won a thrilling 2017 Indy 500, the only race Alonso qualified where he led 27 laps until a dreaded engine failure knocked him out of the race on Lap 179.
Mark Music, CEO of Ruoff Mortgage, is thrilled of being a part of Alonso’s redemption tour. Where not only Alonso will be looking to be among “The Fastest 33,” but also join Graham Hill as the only other driver to accomplish the Triple Crown of Motorsports — winning the Indy 500, 24 Hours of Le Mans and Monaco Grand Prix.
“We are beyond thrilled to sponsor such a world-class and respected driver and to partner with Arrow McLaren SP this year,” Music said. “We hope Fernando takes home the coveted Triple Crown of Motorsport in the Ruoff Mortgage IndyCar at this year’s Indy 500. It’s going to be a very exciting race.”
Now with a secured ride, the 38-year-old racer is focused on making his second Indy 500 and embrace the special journey Indianapolis Motor Speedway has to offer under the Arrow McLaren SP banner.
“I am a racer and the Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world,” Alonso said. “I love the incredible fans who make it so special for all of us drivers and make me want to come back. I have maximum respect for this race and everyone who competes in it and all I want to do is race against them and give my best, as always.
“It was important for me to explore my options for this race but Arrow McLaren SP has always been at the top. I have a special relationship with McLaren; we’ve been through a lot together and that creates a bond, a loyalty that is strong.”
Additionally, Alonso was impressed how McLaren fully prepared themselves to be involved in the NTT IndyCar Series and is thrilled to work with rookies Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward, who are both carrying the torch all season.
“I am impressed with how the new organisation and operation is developing into a strong package with the Chevrolet partnership,” Alonso said. “The team has experienced, well-qualified people and great resources, and I’m confident we can be competitive.
“I’m focused and excited to begin our preparations. It will also be great to work with Oliver and Pato, two fantastic young talents for the future who are growing all the time.”
Sam Schmidt, co-owner of Arrow McLaren SP, said that’s one of the main intentions of having Alonso. Have an experienced racer help aid the rookie duo so their first experience bodes well, notably O’Ward who also failed to make last year’s 200-lap contest.
“Adding Fernando to the team brings a level of experience and expertise that will benefit our two young, talented full-time drivers in Oliver and Pato,” Schmidt said. “We have fast cars at Indy and fully believe he has the talent to run at the front, not just participate. That, combined with Chevy power and the experience of the team, will make this trio of drivers one of the strongest in the field.”
The road of getting a ride at Indy was sheer chaos. It started after last year’s fiasco when small team Juncos Racing and its driver Kyle Kaiser bumped Alonso out of the 33-car field after the single-car effort literally re-build the No. 32 Chevrolet nearly non-stop for over 40 hours.
Several months later, rumors of Alonso driving a Honda powered team ran wild with Andretti Autosport being the front runner.
Earlier this month, that vision was vetoed by Honda, who wouldn’t let the Spaniard run any of their engines and teams at Indy. The Andretti gig ultimately went to James Hinchcliffe, reuniting with the team he previously drove from 2012-14.
It left Alonso with limited options which were only Chevrolet powered teams like Ed Carpenter Racing, who immediately backed out of getting Alonso as they’re dedicated of only running three cars with Carpenter himself, rookie Rinus VeeKay and Conor Daly.
Fortunately, Alonso was able to land a home with McLaren as Zak Brown, CEO of McLaren Racing, said the option have always been open and is delighted to work with Alonso once more.
“We’ve always said we’re open to running Fernando in a third car for the 500, so we’re delighted he’s decided to join us,” Brown said. “Fernando is one of the greatest drivers in the sport and it’s fantastic to have him as part of the team. It’s a fine way to contest our first Indy 500 as Arrow McLaren SP and to have Ruoff Mortgage backing Fernando is a perfect partnership.”
Alonso’s livery, which was infamously knocked by the press last year due to a paint coding botch becoming the biggest priority over the actual car’s performance, will be unveiled at a later time.