Photo: Chris Owens/INDYCAR

Breaking Down Alonso’s Oval Baptism

By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer

Fernando Alonso completed his rookie test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.  The Spaniard ran 110 laps with a fastest lap of 222.548 mph (40.4408 seconds).

To get to that speed, however, the two-time Formula One World Champion had to pass his rookie orientation at Indianapolis by running 10 laps between 205-210 mph, 15 laps between 210-215 mph and then 15 laps over 215 mph. The minimum number of laps to complete is 40 laps; it took Alonso 50 laps, counting in and out laps from pitting.

Prior to taking the reins of the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry, teammate Marco Andretti gave the car an 11-lap shakedown to ensure a stable balance for Alonso.

The first phase of ten laps was done in two parts. Alonso’s first full lap outside the pits was turned at at an average speed of 192.184 mph (46.83 seconds). He followed that up with a lap at 199.595 mph and then his rookie test began with a lap of 208.569 mph.

Alonso pitted after turning two more laps in the first phase and then did laps in the 205-208 mph range, staying mostly in the 206 mph window, showing amazing consistency.

After receiving news that he had cleared the first phase of rookie orientation, the 35-year-old Spaniard quickly stepped up the pace, going from a 206.876 mph lap to a 213.014 mph lap. After turning his then-fastest lap of the day with a 213.852 mph lap, Alonso went into the pits again.

His 210-215 mph phase of his rookie test was probably his most impressive. Alonso stayed within 212 mph for every lap after pitting except for two laps turned at over 211.9 mph. He was learning the intricacies of Indianapolis and it showed as his lines were gradually changing.

Alonso pitted after turning two laps over 219 mph and small changes were gradually being made to the car as the speeds increased. Newer tires were put on, fuel was added and downforce was slowly stripped away.

When the rookie test phase was finished, Alonso completed nearly 20 flying laps over 220 mph before pitting. He then ran a caution simulation with three laps just over 100 mph. Alonso also gained some experience with different fuel maps and how the restart and pit in/out procedures went, which are unlike the rules in Formula One.

Overall, five of the seven sets of Firestone tires allowed were given to the team, which used them in the opening 88 laps. However, by coming out with a fresh set of sticker tires after a long setup break (but running on what appeared to be a used set of scuffs), there is still a discrepancy on if they will be allowed to use their additional two sets when they return for the rookie refresher on May 15.

One thing that really got at the rookie was feeling out the car initially and the respect the car demanded.

“I knew that Marco [Andretti] was flat out in Turn 1, so I said, I will do flat out now in Turn 1 because the car is able to do it,” said Alonso.

“So I arrived to Turn 1, and I was convinced 100 percent that I was doing flat out, but the foot was not flat out, you know, (it) has its own life, it was not connected, my brain with the foot at that moment.

“So at the second or third lap, I was able to do it. But in the first lap, it was definitely a very a very good feeling, you know, to be able to feel the respect of the place, the respect of the car, the respect of the speed. It’s something that for any racing driver, it’s just pure adrenaline, so it was a good day,” he added.

Not bad for somebody that’s never driven an oval before the test.

Alonso’s first ever run on an oval was watched on the internet by over a million people combining the Facebook and YouTube stream numbers. His next experience at Indianapolis will be immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix.

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A 2012 graduate of LSU, Christopher DeHarde primarily focuses on the NTT IndyCar Series and the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship. DeHarde has actively covered motorsports since 2014.