By David Morgan, Associate Editor
After last year’s disappointment in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, Arrow McLaren SP isn’t pulling any punches for the 2020 running of the Indianapolis 500 as it will field three entries for the race in an effort to pull off the ultimate comeback story.
Fernando Alonso returns to the team for his third attempt at claiming the coveted Borg-Warner Trophy, with Pato O’Ward and rookie Oliver Askew joining him to make up the McLaren arsenal at Indianapolis.
Alonso’s two previous attempts at the race ended with a 24th place finish in 2017 after leading 27 laps in an Andretti Autosport entry, while he failed to make the 33-car field with McLaren in last year’s running of the race.
Given the setbacks the team faced last year, Alonso noted in a Tuesday press conference that he thinks things will be much different this time around, now that Arrow McLaren SP has much more experience under its belt compared to last year.
“Hopefully you’re right and we are fast enough that we can compete for the win,” the two-time Formula 1 champion said. “At the moment one day before the practice, we have optimistic feeling last year and we have optimistic feeling this year as well.
“I think we need to wait and see where we are on the speed of the pace of the car. But, yeah, it makes a difference the team itself, how Arrow SP is well-prepared, the experience in the series. Is going to be a big difference compared to last year that we were not prepared enough for the challenge.
“I’m with reasonable confidence that there’s going to be a good event for us. But we take it step by step. We know there are a lot of things to do from our side. We will miss some experience. All three drivers, we’re rookies for the 500. We need to rely and we need to work very close to the team and learn every day, make it step by step, concentrate a little bit more on the race this year.”
This year’s race could be the final time Alonso is able to try to complete the Triple Crown as he will be returning to Formula 1 competition with Renault in 2021, removing him from being able to race at Indianapolis for at least the next two years.
Alonso addressed that Tuesday, noting he is ready to give it his all in this year’s race before turning his attention to the future.
“I think I approach the race, as you said, knowing the next two years is going to be impossible to come,” he said. “I will have to miss qualifying weekend if I wanted to do so. I will not be any more with McLaren next year i F1. That will not work either. I know at least for two years I will not be here.
“Look, this is the way it is at the moment. I’m here ready to enjoy the event, ready to give my best, and help the team as much as I can. Let’s see in the future what are the possibilities. If you eventually win one day the race, maybe that opens the possibility for different things.”
While their esteemed teammate has raced at Indianapolis before, O’Ward and Askew bring different levels of experience into Indianapolis, but for both, it will be their first start in the race, so there will be a learning curve to deal with as they get up to speed over the next 10 days.
O’Ward attempted to make the field last year in a Carlin entry, but fell short of being able to do so. Askew won last year’s running of the Indy Lights Freedom 100 at Indianapolis, but this year’s Indy 500 marks his first start in the main event.
“I think it just raises the game for everybody, O’Ward said of having Alonso as a part of the team’s three car stable at Indianapolis. “One, having a driver with Fernando’s caliber is huge, not just for the team but for Oliver and I that we’re learning. He’s got so much experience with so many different cars. Even though we’re all rookies, the experience that we’ve had in the past definitely will help in many different ways.
“I think there’s lots of experience behind the team. We know that we’re going to have very good cars. Like Fernando said, we have to wait and see exactly where we’re going to fall. But I think we all have faith in what the team is going to give us. We know that they’re going to give their best to give us the tools to ultimately try and win the Indy 500. That’s all the work that has been going into it the past lots of months. In us drivers, as well, we’re looking forward to it.
“I think it’s a really cool thing to have him here, but as well as just someone that knows what he’s doing, having an extra car out there to test different things definitely helps us use our time more efficiently.”
Askew added that the addition of Alonso to the team, along with the combined knowledge and expertise Arrow McLaren SP has been able to amass will be a big help to both him and O’Ward.
“It continues to amaze me the amount of knowledge and the personnel that we have on this team right now, especially this weekend with three cars now,” said Askew. “There’s some new people, people who have been more involved than they have been in the past.
“As Pato said, it’s going to be really fun to have Fernando on the team. We both looked up to him for a long time. We look forward to experiencing how he works, his work ethic around the engineers and throughout these next couple weeks. It’s going to be interesting for us. I’m sure we’re going to learn a lot from him.”
Even with all the accolades that Alonso has racked up over the years, he noted that his younger teammates have certainly left an impression on him with how well they have been able to perform thus far in the season.
O’Ward currently sits fourth in points, having started on pole at Road America before finishing second to claim his first career podium finish in the NTT IndyCar Series. Along with the runner-up finish in the second race of the Road America doubleheader, O’Ward added a top-five at Iowa and dual eighth-place finishes in the Indianapolis Grand Prix and the first race at Road America to his 2020 season resume.
Meanwhile, Askew has had a rougher season, but still has been able to produce some successful results, with a podium finish in the first race of the Iowa doubleheader. The defending Indy Lights champion has two other top-10 finishes on the year, finishing sixth in the second race of the Iowa doubleheader and ninth in the season opener at Texas.
“I was very impressed definitely,” Alonso said. “I think I was watching all the races from TV with attention because I knew that the test day we had in April was canceled. The simulator days that we had programmed were canceled. I knew it was very limited time for me on the car before the 500. I wanted to know how the team was performing every weekend.
“I mean, was very impressive what both did. I remember the Indy GP, Oliver was super fast, on pole. Then Pato with the points he achieved every Sunday. Probably even more that skip away in some unlucky moments. I knew that they are very talented, very brave.
“Is going to be a huge boost for the team to have these two young drivers, talented drivers, bringing fresh ideas, fresh in terms of car performance, and I’m looking forward to work with everybody.”
The three drivers will get their first taste of on-track action at Indianapolis on Wednesday when the green flag flies for the first of three practice days leading into this weekend’s qualifying sessions to set the 33-car field. The 104th running of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing is scheduled for a 2:30 pm Eastern green flag on August 23.