Photo: Walter G. Arce, Sr./ASP, Inc.

TORRES: Papaya Orange Over Quality Test Time at Indianapolis

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

People must be hiding under a rock if they’re unaware of two of Formula One’s household names missing the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge — McLaren and their driver Fernando Alonso.

More striking that the driver/team combo that send them packing was one of the NTT IndyCar Series’ smallest teams of Juncos Racing, with Kyle Kaiser representing the driver’s seat.

What an amazing story on both ends because Juncos undeniably spent hours upon hours preparing a backup car and even after skipping the morning pre-qualifying practice, they were still fast enough to make the 33-car field. An inspiring feat that’ll go down as the story of the calendar year in the world of motorsports.

Now a couple of days removed from the raw drama and emotions of Sunday’s astonishing qualifying session, my biggest question was why McLaren got humiliated?

According to Jenna Fryer’s AP article, one of the main pivotal factors into the team’s lack of success came down to improper painting.

Yes, the traditional “papaya orange” was essential to McLaren over preparing the car for x-amount of hours. No joke.

A team that had a lot to prove after bringing an Indy car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway without the sport’s powerhouse, Andretti Autosport, helping them out. Time time around, Carlin was McLaren’s alliance and coincidentally, the other two drivers who failed to qualify, were Carlin’s Patricio O’Ward and Max Chilton.

Instead of putting an effort on the car’s performance after the April test sessions at both Texas and Indianapolis, their priority was making sure the car had the proper color, failing multiple times. It took them until the backup car due to Alonso’s Turn 3 crash during last Wednesday’s practice session, to get the proper “papaya orange” on the No. 66 Chevrolet.

The final verdict, McLaren lost two testing days that should never be taken for granted, all because of some extremist viewpoint that it has to be the right color.

Do you think O’Ward and Kaiser’s team gave a damn about how the car should look like when they had to pull out a backup? Hell no.

O’Ward, who crashed the day after Alonso, didn’t have the Mexico colors on his car. It was Chilton’s scheme without primary sponsor Gallagher bearing the No. 31 Chevrolet. This practice is far from the first time drivers and teams drove base schemes from other cars, just to make the field.

Look no further than when Team Penske’s Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser, Jr. tried making the 1995 grid. During Bump Day, they drove base schemes of Bobby Rahal’s Miller Genuine Draft car with Marlboro decals on those cars.

It may give photographers an excellent opportunity of capturing an aesthetic oddity, but to them, they weren’t thinking about how pretty the scheme is, their hearts were on making the 500, which they infamously failed to qualify.

As for Kaiser, who wrecked near the same area Alonso crashed, Juncos brought their Circuit of the Americas car and put the pieces together. It was all white before his crash on Friday and when he bumped Alonso, it was the traditional dark green with white and orange colors except the front nose didn’t blend into the scheme.

You see my point? Aesthetics isn’t everything. Who cares if it doesn’t match during qualifying.

Remember, this is qualifying we’re speaking. Not the race, but qualifying. Taking time to make the scheme look nice should always be the last thing to worry about when you’re in a tight box of making the field.

You think Sebastien Bourdais and the entire Dale Coyne Racing team cared if their No. 18 Honda had a “Frankenstein” look (using spare parts from his Seal Master colors to blend with the pink dominant Gorilla Automotive Products scheme) at Portland during qualifying last year?

Hell no as well because their minds were on going fast and have the setup to do so. Bourdais made the Firestone Fast Six by the way and once race day rolled along, it was back to his pink, purple and white colors.

With that being said, I’m appalled beyond belief because McLaren literally lost two days over a repainting job?

Not only that, the team appeared to be aware that Alonso’s car wasn’t that good and in return, nothing could’ve saved him. Doesn’t matter if McLaren have one of the best drivers of my generation, they were doomed.

When I look back at May 19, 2019, I’ll find it fitting how McLaren’s overall game plan backfired and improper painting had a role on their failures.

Going forward, if they want to be taken seriously when they want to start not one, but a two-car effort in either 2020 or 2021, this silly aesthetic decision isn’t a good look.

It has been said that Indianapolis is a track where respect is a holy grail. You must respect the 2.5-mile phenomenon before Indy itself respects you back.

This told me that McLaren’s 2019 effort didn’t show the proper respect, which is an absolute travesty and perhaps could be the final straw for Alonso to cut ties with the squad that’s done more damage than good deeds this decade.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. He's also covered Idaho Athletics and high school football as both a writer and videographer. Additionally, he spent 2017 writing several racing columns as an independent journalist. Luis does video and photography, and is a fan of Seattle sports, a music critic and a motivator who wants to impact people's lives.