By David Morgan, Associate Editor
For the second time in his career, Fernando Alonso will be competing in the Indianapolis 500, making his first start in the Memorial Day Weekend classic since 2017.
On Tuesday at Texas Motor Speedway, the two-time Formula One champion started his preparation for the race in earnest as he made his first laps in the No. 66 McLaren Chevrolet, which is a dual effort between McLaren and Carlin to field the NTT IndyCar Series entry for the 37-year old Spaniard.
While the differences are vast between the banking at Texas and that at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Alonso noted that getting time behind the wheel of the car would be helpful.
“It was great,” Alonso said of the test. “Obviously, it’s only the first couple of laps with the car and we’re taking care of everything, slowly building the speed. But, yeah, I drove the Indy car at Barber (Motorsports Park) last year but it’s good to be back on the oval with a very specific setup and this car that turns left, self-steering a little bit.
“Again, some weird feeling for me but trying to get used to it. Also, the speedway is very special. There’s a lot of banking on the corner, especially in 3 and 4 so very different than Indianapolis but, hopefully, a good preparation for us.”
In his first Indianapolis 500 start, Alonso piloted a McLaren entry that was built, maintained, and fielded by Andretti Autosport, in which he started fifth and finished 24th after a mechanical issue, but this time around, McLaren is doing all of the work itself with input from Carlin, so Tuesday’s test was as important for the team as Alonso himself.
“For myself, obviously it’s just about getting comfort in the car,” he continued. “Obviously, it’s a new car and a new team so, in terms of seat position, head rest, pedals, you know, steering wheel preferences, I think all these things I think now we can start the work.
“And for the team, I think it’s quite important to set up everything as a team: who does what in the team and also the people, the facility, everything is completely new for everyone. We’re trying to solve as many problems as possible here and the open test on the 24th and getting ready for the 500.”
Additionally, Alonso and McLaren will be running a completely different aero kit as the IndyCar Series has switched from the manufacturer specific aero kit that Alonso drove back in 2017 to the newer universal aero kit that has been in use since last season.
“Listening to everyone last year, I think there’s going to be less downforce, a little more tricky to drive, especially following, so today is not a problem because I’m alone but guess it’s going to be challenging. Especially this year, I am not in the Andretti (Autosport) environment so it’s all by ourselves this year, a lot to learn, a lot to understand and step by step,” Alonso said.
After winning two of the three races of the Triple Crown (LeMans and the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona), Alonso expressed his desire to complete the sweep by winning at Indianapolis, and wouldn’t rule out future starts in the race should they not be able to hoist the Borg-Warner Trophy at the conclusion of the Month of May.
“Hopefully, we can be competitive at least this year and feel that adrenaline that only the Indy 500 has. In terms of winning, we understand how difficult it is. We respect a lot the race, our competitors and you need a little bit of luck as well. It has to be your day. Probably the race has to choose you, in a way, to win. We are aware of that. Some things are out of our hands so let’s concentrate on everything we can do as a team and make a perfect race. The outcome of the race let’s see at the end.”