INDIANAPOLIS — The racing Americanization of Fernando Alonso will come full-circle Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where one of the world’s premier road-racers has emerged as a bona fide contender to win the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500.
Alonsomania is rampant at the Speedway, similar to the buzz created in 2005 by rookie Danica Patrick’s fourth-place start/finish and the launch of Danicamania.
A two-time Formula One world driving champion, Alonso is classified as a rookie at the Indy 500. The 35-year-old Spaniard still is adjusting to the totally American form of racing, driving an open-wheel car around an oval surrounded by concrete walls at speeds in excess of 230 mph. Following an incident-free month of May that has taken him from orientation through qualifying, Alonso has declared himself and his car good-to-go.
“It was great. I mean, it was very smooth,” Alonso said after Friday’s one-hour Carb Day practice, the last time the 33-car starting field would run on the 2.5-mile track until race day. “The car felt the best so far in the last two weeks. Today, I think we put all the ticks in all the boxes and we’re extremely happy. You know, all the main guys they have little tricks here and there I will hopefully learn through the race. But yeah, I feel ready.”
Alonso’s self-confidence stems from a hot lap of 226.608 mph in his papaya orange No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti race car during Friday’s practice, good for fifth overall. Alonso qualified fifth during last Sunday’s nine-car shootout, logging a four-lap/10-mile average of 231.300 mph. Fernando ran 32 more laps Friday, raising his total for the month to 484 and 1,210 miles.
“So, (I’m) lacking experience, for sure, because it’s my first time in everything that’s going to happen — the rolling starts and (pit) stops — all these things,” Alonso said. “But at the same time, I’ve worked very, very hard this last month so I cannot be better prepared than what I am. Maybe it’s not enough, but I could not do anything more than this.”
Alonso, who drives for McLaren F1 in the Formula 1 World Championship, is sixth on that series’ all-time list with 32 victories. His world championships were scored in 2005 and 2006 with Renault F1. Alonso shocked the globe-trotting F1 community on April 12 when he announced he had corporate permission to vacate his No. 14 McLaren-Honda at the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix (also being held Sunday) to compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” with Andretti Autosport.
“I think there are a few things that are very unique here,” said Alonso, who has been very respectful of Indy’s history and traditions. “First, a sports event that hosts 350,000 people is a one-and-only event. This is the Indy 500. Not even the Super Bowl can achieve those numbers in that moment, live, as an event.
“The 101st edition — I don’t think there are many events in the world that reach that number, so there is a history behind this name, this race. There are big names that have won this race as well, and it’s so different of what I am used to drive — these cars, this place, oval racing — to come here and to be racing with them is just a big thing for me.”
Team-owner Michael Andretti’s six-car armada includes reigning Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi and 2014 race-winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Rossi, a native Californian who abandoned his F1 dream to compete in this series, won the Indy 500 as a rookie last May in his second oval-track start.
Rossi acknowledged his return to Indy largely has been overshadowed by Alonsomania — and that’s okay. “Getting to work with somebody I grew up idolizing and having a huge amount of respect for . . . just to be able to kind of work with him on the same level for a couple of weeks has been a very, very cool experience,” Rossi said. “Gotten to know him off the track as well. He’s a great guy and I hope we see more of him in the future.”
That remains the overall sentiment among Gasoline Alley’s “main guys,” as Alonso has tabbed the drivers he expects to be racing during the course of 200 laps.
“I mean, he is Fernando, man,” said Brazilian Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion, who is making his 16th Indy 500 start. “I think in a way he helped us a lot to grow the name of this series outside the United States. A lot of people kept wondering if he’s going to have any problem. But he’s a big contender, 100 percent, 100 percent, I think he can win.”
JUST THE FACTS
What: 101st Indianapolis 500
When: Today, 12:21 p.m., Ch. 7
Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.5-mile oval, 200 laps)
On the pole: Scott Dixon had the fastest average speed in 21 years at 232.164 mph, snapping a six-race streak of starting on the pole for Team Penske.
Last year: Alexander Rossi earned his only win in 21 career Indy car starts. Rossi will start a career-best third today.
Hot rookie: Two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso of Spain will start fifth.
Past winners entered: 7 — Dixon (2008), Rossi (’16), Tony Kanaan (’13), Ryan Hunter-Reay (’14), Juan Pablo Montoya (2000, ’15), Helio Castroneves (’01, ’02, ’09), Buddy Lazier (1996).
Women entered: 1 — Pippa Mann, Great Britain (starts 28th).
Rookies entered: 4 — Fernando Alonso (starts 5th), Ed Jones (11th), Jack Harvey (27th) , Zach Veach (32nd).
Most wins: There are three four-time winning drivers — A.J. Foyt Jr. (1961, ’64, ’67, ’77); Al Unser Sr. (1970, ’71, ’78, ’87); Rick Mears (1979, ’84, ’88, ’91). Team Penske has won 16 races.
Youngest winner: Troy Ruttman, 1952 (22 years, 80 days).
Oldest winner: Unser Sr., 1987 (47 years, 360 days).
Race record time: Kanaan, 2013; 2 hr., 40 min., 3.4181 sec.; average speed 187.433 mph.
Prize money: Dixon earns $263,000 for winning pole. Rossi won $3.7 million for winning last year. This year’s total won’t be determined until after the race (laps, times, qualifying, etc. all go toward the total payoff).
Attendance: Permanent seating capacity is about 250,000, but infield patrons make the total approximately 300,000.
Pre-race: Bebe Rexha sings the national anthem; Jim Cornelison sings“Back Home Again in Indiana”.
Did you know? If all of the hot dogs and bratwurst sold at the Speedway on race day were laid end-to-end, they would circle the oval more than three times.
How they’ll start
The Indy 500 field, with car number (in parenthesis), driver, car, qualifying time and average mph:
(9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 2 minutes, 35.0630 seconds, 232.164
(20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 2:35.3976, 231.664
(98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 2:35.5163, 231.487
(26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 2:35.5981, 231.365
(29) Fernando Alonso, Honda, 2:35.6423, 231.300
(21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 2:35.9191, 230.889
(10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 2:35.9601, 230.828
(27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 2:36.1998, 230.474
(12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 2:36.3859, 230.200
(28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 2:35.5463, 231.442
(19) Ed Jones, Honda, 2:36.1293, 230.578
(16) Oriol Servia, Honda, 2:36.3118, 230.309
(7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 2:36.3377, 230.271
(15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 2:36.3499, 230.253
(8) Max Chilton, Honda, 2:36.4758, 230.068
(83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 2:36.5514, 229.956
(5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 2:36.6169, 229.860
(22) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 2:36.8180, 229.565
(3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 2:36.8528, 229.515
(77) Jay Howard, Honda, 2:36.9213, 229.414
(24) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 2:36.9447, 229.380
(2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 2:37.5488, 228.501
(1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 2:37.8303, 228.093
(14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 2:37.9497, 227.921
(88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 2:38.6458, 226.921
(4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 2:38.9831, 226.439
(50) Jack Harvey, Honda, 2:39.4741, 225.742
(63) Pippa Mann, Honda, 2:39.9944, 225.008
(11) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 2:40.6768, 224.052
(44) Buddy Lazier, Chevrolet, 2:41.1340, 223.417
(17) Sebastian Saavedra, Chevrolet, 2:42.7911, 221.142
(40) Zach Veach, Chevrolet, 2:42.8360, 221.081
(18) James Davison, Honda, no time, no speed