Alonso To Take Another Whack At Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 26 2020

Formula One champion Fernando Alonso is headed back to the 500.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Fernando Alonso’s relentless pursuit of motorsports’ prestigious Triple Crown will resume in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the Spaniard will compete with Arrow McLaren SP in the 104th edition of the Indianapolis 500.

A two-time Formula One World Driving Champion, Alonso will join Arrow McLaren SP’s fulltime NTT IndyCar Series rookie lineup of Oliver Askew and Patricio O’Ward on IMS’ famed 2.5-mile oval. Arrow McLaren SP is the first-year INDYCAR team formed by the merger of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and McLaren in the latter’s return to domestic open-wheel racing.

In addition to his Formula One titles in 2005 and 2006 with Renault, Alonso won F1’s “Crown Jewel” _ the Monaco Grand Prix _ in 2006 and 2007 driving for Renault and McLaren, respectively. Competing in the World Endurance Championship for sports cars, Alonso has emerged as a two-time winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That leaves the Indy 500 as the missing link to a Triple Crown won previously only by two-time F1 World Champion Graham Hill of Great Britain.

Alonso was unceremoniously bumped from the traditional 33-car field last May in McLaren’s dedicated return to IMS with Chevrolet power. The 2017 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year with Andretti Autosport, Alonso struggled through a frustrating week of preparations in 2019 that began when he crashed his primary car during practice on the Wednesday before time trials. The team never recovered in its backup Dallara chassis outfitted with a new Chevy powerplant.

Alonso earned Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors in ‘17 after a 24th-place finish driving a Honda-powered Andretti Autosport entry. Alonso led 27 laps of the race before the engine blew on Lap 180 of the scheduled 200.
Alonso skipped the 2018 Indy 500 while competing for McLaren in his final FIA Formula One World Championship season. Alonso exited F1 with career totals of 22 poles, 32 victories and 97 podium finishes. Alonso has shared the winning Toyota Prototype in last two 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance classics. With his victories at Le Mans, Alonso became one of only 13 drivers to have won two of three legs of the Triple Crown.

“I am a racer and the Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world,” said Alonso, 38, who has been assigned the No. 66 Ruoff Mortgage Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet for his latest attempt at IMS. “I love the incredible fans who make it so special for all of us drivers and make me want to come back. I have maximum respect for this race and everyone who competes in it and all I want to do is race against them and give my best, as always.”

Alonso briefly was rumored to be headed back to Michael Andretti’s Indianapolis-based organization for the 2020 Indy 500 during the offseason. But that opening was filled last week when Toronto native James Hinchcliffe was signed to a three-race deal including the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road-course and the Indy 500 in May as well as the Texas Indy 600 night race in June at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

Ironically, Hinchcliffe _ the 2016 Indy 500 pole-sitter and arguably the commercial face of Honda in the United States and Canada _ lost his ride with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after it partnered with McLaren last fall. “Hinch” will compete alongside Andretti’s four fulltime NTT IndyCar Series regulars, including Indy 500 champions Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014) and Alexander Rossi (2016).

“It was important for me to explore my options for this race but Arrow McLaren SP has always been at the top,” Alonso said. “I have a special relationship with McLaren; we’ve been through a lot together and that creates a bond, a loyalty that is strong. But more than that, I am impressed with how the new organization and operation is developing into a strong package with the Chevrolet partnership. The team has experienced, well-qualified people and great resources, and I’m confident we can be competitive.

“I’m focused and excited to begin our preparations. It will also be great to work with Oliver and Pato, two fantastic young talents for the future who are growing all the time.”

Alonso spent one day in April last year testing on Texas Motor Speedway’s 1.5-mile oval in a bid to re-acclimate himself to oval-track racing in a car built at the McLaren Technology Centre in Woking, United Kingdom.
American Zak Brown, CEO, McLaren Racing, was among the executives stunned last May when Alonso failed to qualify for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Gil de Ferran, McLaren’s Sporting Director and the 2003 Indy 500 champion with Team Penske, termed Alonso’s failure to qualify at IMS a “painful experience” for the organization founded by racer/designer Bruce McLaren of New Zealand.

McLaren’s Indy 500 history dates to the 1970s, highlighted by Johnny Rutherford’s run from 1973-79. “Lone Star J.R.,” of Fort Worth, scored victories in Offy-powered McLaren entries in 1974 and 1976 sandwiched around a runnerup result in 1975.

“We’ve always said we’re open to running Fernando in a third car for the 500, so we’re delighted he’s decided to join us,” Brown said. “Fernando is one of the greatest drivers in the sport and it’s fantastic to have him as part of the team. It’s a fine way to contest our first Indy 500 as Arrow McLaren SP and to have Ruoff Mortgage backing Fernando is a perfect partnership.”

Team co-owner Sam Schmidt said Alonso’s worldwide popularity will add to the team’s Month of May program featuring former Indy Lights champions Askew and O’Ward. Arrow McLaren SP will field O’Ward in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet and Askew in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet beginning with next month’s season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

“Adding Fernando to the team brings a level of experience and expertise that will benefit our two young, talented fulltime drivers in Oliver and Pato,” Schmidt said. “We have fast cars at Indy and fully believe he has the talent to run at the front, not just participate. That, combined with Chevy power and the experience of the team, will make this trio of drivers one of the strongest in the field.”

Arrow McLaren SP is the result of a partnership among Arrow Electronics, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and McLaren Racing.

“We are beyond thrilled to sponsor such a world-class and respected driver and to partner with Arrow McLaren SP this year,” said Mark Music, CEO, Ruoff Mortgage. “We hope Fernando takes home the coveted Triple Crown of Motorsport in the Ruoff Mortgage car at this year’s Indy 500. It’s going to be a very exciting race.”

A race-record $15-million purse has been posted by first-year IMS owner Roger Penske for the Indy 500, set for Sunday, May 24, and televised by NBC Sports. Practice is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, May 12, leading to Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying on May 16-17. The latter session will include an expanded, 75-minute Last Row Shootout. The race is scheduled to go green at 12:45 p.m. (ET) on May 24.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, February 26 2020
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