Unlike his 2017 effort that partnered with Andretti Autosport and was powered by the Honda engine, the split between McLaren and Honda in F-1 after that has led the team to use Chevrolet engines this year.
Alonso’s McLaren effort will partner with Carlin, a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team that features former Formula One driver Max Chilton and 19-year-old Mexican rookie Patricio O’Ward. They will share a technical alliance, but McLaren will play a bigger role in its Indy 500 operation this year than in 2017.
Bob Fernley, formerly the deputy team principal Force India F-1, is the president of McLaren’s IndyCar operation with assistance from McLaren’s sporting director Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner with Team Penske.
“McLaren coming into Indy for the first time for some years, we want to build a good base knowledge of what we’re doing,” Fernley said. “We put one chassis over to McLaren so we can bring that forward and understand what’s going on. This car will be used for the main NTT IndyCar Series program. The test chassis that we would use at the two track tests that we do is being built by Carlin in Florida.
“We’re looking at supervising both of them but fundamentally split the resources in order to make sure we can deliver by the time testing begins.”
McLaren and Carlin have deep connections. Lando Norris raced for Carlin in several series, most recently in Formula 2. The teenager is now one of McLaren’s drivers in Formula One.
“We have a history with Carlin,” Fernley said. “It makes it very easy for us to work with them. Our systems are very similar in the way we operate. Again, we can integrate the programs much easier. It was a good fit for us.
“We need that little bit of safety blanket. When you come in as a new team, there’s always bits and pieces you have forgotten, haven’t got on top of, you need the guidance. The good thing with Carlin is they’ve gone through it the year before. It gives us a good platform to work with.”
De Ferran will be joined by crew chief Anton Julian, whose brother, Blair Julian, is Scott Dixon’s crew chief. Anton Julian was chief mechanic for Josef Newgarden with Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing.
Andy Brown, a longtime Indy car engineer, will be the chief race engineer. Brown was part of four Indianapolis 500 victories, most recently with Dario Franchitti in 2010.
Two cars have been prepared by McLaren. One is the actual car it will use in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 and the second car, designated as its “test machine,” was sent to Texas Motor Speedway where Alonso tested on April 9.
“The team at the McLaren factory has worked very hard to build this car ready for our return to the iconic Brickyard and I think it looks fantastic in the 2019 McLaren racing colors,” Alonso said. “My hopes for the race remain the same, to win and achieve the Triple Crown and I’m looking forward to meeting the fantastic U.S. fans who made me feel so welcome first time around.”
Alonso has been using the General Motors simulator in Huntersville, N.C., since last October in preparation for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.
“Right now, full focus is on the Indy 500,” he said. “I’m trying to do something more, maybe in different disciplines. I need to think, I need to plan, I need to make sure that I’m competitive, to have the right people, the right teams and the right preparations.
“Whatever adventure is next, I will not do it if I’m not competitive or I don’t have a shot for winning. I need to be very calm and clever with the decisions for the future.”