SAKHIR, Bahrain – The motorsports world is still spinning from the news that McLaren would be returning to the Indianapolis 500 with Fernando Alonso and Andretti Autosport.
Alonso, a two-time Formula One world champion, will be forced to skip the Monaco Grand Prix in order to compete at Indianapolis, but it was something he was willing to do in order to tackle the challenge of Indianapolis.
“Monaco is the biggest race of the calendar in Formula One and the event is amazing, not only the race on Sunday but the whole weekend is amazing but the best result that we achieved was last year, fifth,” Alonso said. “Thinking that we are a little bit less competitive this year, you know and maybe you had a possibility to do another top five or seven or six or wherever, it’s great to have some points but I’ve won a couple of times there already and two times World Champion so to have fifth, seventh or ninth in Monaco will not change my life.
“In a way, it’s impossible to compare… to have the minimum chance to win the Indy 500 compared to a fifth or sixth or seventh in Monaco. It’s much bigger, the other possibility.”
The Indianapolis 500 will provide a unique challenge for Alonso. He’s raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before, but not on the oval. He previously competed on the Grand Prix circuit five times between 2001 to 2007, earning a best finish of second in 2007.
Alonso said he is looking forward to trying something different and for him, the Indianapolis 500 is certainly that.
“This possibility, it was there for us this year, and I think I am excited to try a different thing,” said Alonso on Thursday in Bahrain. “If I want to be the best driver in the world there are two options: I win eight Formula One World Championships, one more than Michael (Schumacher) which is very unlikely; the second one is to win different series in different moments of my career and be a driver that can race and win in any car, in any series.
“I think it is good for Formula One. This big market in North America that we’ve been pursuing for many years: I think it’s good to go there now and show the respect for the IndyCar Series; good for Indy, I guess, to have some Formula One drivers in the competition, and same for McLaren-Honda.
“I think, as a team, to be racing on the same day in Monte Carlo and in the Indy 500, two McLaren-Hondas in different series, is an amazing thing for motorsport fans. As I said, I think it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Alonso said Thursday there isn’t a defined plan just yet for him to prepare for the Indianapolis 500. He expects to travel to Alabama’s Barber Motorsports Park next weekend to watch the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and meet the Andretti Autosport team he’ll be driving for at Indianapolis before getting his seat fitting done the Monday afterwards.
“The plan, at the moment, is that next weekend I will be in Alabama just visiting the race and meeting the team members to see how things go there,” Alonso explained. “Probably on Monday after the race I will do the seat fitting, and then I will fly to Russia for the race (Russian Grand Prix).
“After Russia, I will try to be in Indianapolis for a couple of simulator days and hopefully test the car – but it’s not 100 percent sure. And after that I will go to the Spanish Grand Prix and then fly to America on Sunday after the race because the free practice is on Monday at midday. So, definitely busy weeks in front.
Alonso knows he’ll be in for a steep learning curve at Indianapolis. He’s used to racing at high speeds in Formula One, but the Verizon IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway are both totally different beasts.
“It’s completely different skills that you need there, to adapt to the car, to adapt to the circuit, strategies, ways of racing: that close, at that speed, so many things that I have to learn and I’m not ready yet, at the moment – but in the next couple of weeks I am confident I will be able to adapt as quick as I can,” Alonso said.