By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
Two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso will race in the 2017 Indianapolis 500, driving a McLaren-branded Honda-powered entry run by defending champions Andretti Autosport.
The 35-year-old Spaniard cited multiple reasons for wanting to race at Indianapolis in a statement issued by McLaren-Honda this morning. Among them, his desire to emulate the late Graham Hill and become just the second driver to complete the Triple Crown of Motor racing.
“I’ve won the Monaco Grand Prix twice, and it’s one of my ambitions to win the Triple Crown [the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours], which has been achieved by only one driver in the history of motorsport: Graham Hill. It’s a tough challenge, but I’m up for it. I don’t know when I’m going to race at Le Mans, but one day I intend to. I’m only 35: I’ve got plenty of time for that,” Alonso said.
Interestingly enough he will be competing against former McLaren driver and two time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya who is also making a one off Indy 500 attempt this year and has too expressed interest in going for the Triple Crown.
This will be McLaren’s first entry into the 500 in nearly 40 years and it will be Alonso’s first oval race, but it is not a concern for team owner and former McLaren driver Michael Andretti.
“I do believe that the Indianapolis 500 is one of the best places for a rookie to start because there is the opportunity for so much practice time on the track – and, as we have demonstrated, it can be won by a rookie,” said Andretti.
“Fernando is a great talent and I have full confidence that he will represent very strongly for McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.”
It will also bring Andretti’s entries to six with Takuma Sato, Marco Andretti, 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi and 2015 Freedom 100 winner Jack Harvey partnering Alonso.
Mark Miles, CEO of INDYCAR, is thrilled by Alonso’s decision.
“The entire IndyCar community – competitors, fans, media, everyone – are delighted and excited at the prospect of a driver as brilliant as Fernando making his debut in our series,” said Miles.
“Even better, he’ll be making that debut in the greatest race of our year: the world-famous Indy 500. And which car will Fernando be driving this year? That’s right: a Honda-powered Andretti Autosport car – the same package that won last year’s race. Could history repeat itself? Stranger things have happened.”
Crucially McLaren also hinted that it will consider a full time works team return to the IndyCar Series in the near future, a move which would provide a huge boost to the American based series and could bring even more F1 interest in racing on this side of the pond. McLaren Executive Director Zak Brown recalled McLaren’s previous IndyCar glory while thanking Honda for making such a historic run possible.
“Equally, this project wouldn’t have been possible without Honda’s support and encouragement,” said Brown.
“And our car – the McLaren-Honda-Andretti – will be decked out in the papaya orange livery made famous by our founder Bruce McLaren, and in which Johnny Rutherford drove McLaren IndyCars to Indy 500 victory in both 1974 and 1976.”
McLaren has not yet announced who will replace Alonso for the Monaco Grand Prix, but it is anticipated that Jenson Button will make a one race return for the team to partner Stoffel Vandoorne.
Additional reporting by Adam Tate