By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda’s Fernando Alonso had never driven on an oval before his private test on May 3rd. Some people would expect the two time world champion to have an easy time learning to drive the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After all, with only four corners, one would expect it to be an easy track to learn on.
“Not at all, not at all,” Alonso said. “This is a place that we didn’t repeat the same lap at any time in the practice because the wind direction changed, the wind intensity changed, the track temperature, running in traffic, how far from the car in front of you you are running.
“Friday Saturday and Sunday you turn up the boost, you put new tires on, you put less downforce on the car, I mean you keep changing every single lap the car configuration and that, even if there is only four corners and the circuit could look simple on the outside, there are so many things that we keep changing every single lap that makes this place every lap a unique lap so I think it will be the same in the race.”
The 35-year-old Spaniard is driving for a team that has won two of the last three Indianapolis 500s with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi winning in 2014 and 2016, respectively. Alonso does have a good shot at winning but no driver has won in the last five Indianapolis 500s from higher than 11th starting position. Starting fifth, his confidence is high.
“I mean, [winning]’s something that could happen,” Alonso said. “I think this is a race that there are chances for many many drivers, even the guys that are starting 25th, 27th, you know they will maybe lead the race at one point a bit and that is the best thing about this race.
“You know that there is no plan, there is no something defined before the start so this unpredictable race will make the show better and I’m sure we can have a chance, maybe lower than some of the big guys because they have the experience. They have these little tricks here and there that they will play in important moments of the race, I will not have those but I will try to compensate with determination, good speed and focus on the important moments.”
Alonso’s month of May so far has been unlike anything else he’s experienced before.
“So far it has been an amazing thing, I’ve been discovering a new series,” Alonso said. “I’ve been learning from zero again, I felt like a rookie, I felt like a beginner in everything that I did, and that I think wakes up all of your senses as a racing driver that you have always inside of yourself that maybe accommodate [you] a little bit when you’re in your normal series.
“You come here, you start from zero, you learn from zero and you get up to speed as soon as possible, because there is no time getting started with 20 miles of Cincinnati. You’re starting with the 500 miles of Indianapolis, the biggest race in the world, so there is no time to learn, you need to perform immediately so that was extremely challenging but extremely rewarding.”