The double F1 world champion has much to learn as he prepares to make his IndyCar debut. But his squad have a proved record of crossover success
From now until this weekend, when the grid order is set for the 101st Indianapolis 500, most of the talk emanating from the track will be about practice a discipline measured on the velocity charts and through the marks on the Brickyards hurdle walls. Of the 30 -odd drivers hoping to challenge for the Borg-Warner trophy when the race goes green on 28 May , none will face more scrutiny than Fernando Alonso who is skipping this years Monaco Grand Prix to try for the second stage of motorsports triple crown.
Maybe that scrutiny is a bit harsh for a rookie, especially one “whos never” raced on an oval. But Alonso, a two-time F1 world champion, is a singular breed of racer one of the best Ive ever seen, Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indy winner, told the Guardian. Alonsos talent shone through during his 4 May test at Indy an internet-breaking event that, apart from a double aviaricide, was flawless.
The success, as with most things in racing, was in the set-up. Andretti Autosport, which guided Nascar champion Kurt Busch to a sixth-place finish at Indy in 2014 and former F1 driver Alexander Rossi to the victory lane just last year, has proven a prime shop for Indys crossover episodes. Marco Andretti, one of three veteran IndyCar drivers who Alonso now counts as a team-mate, broke-in the Spaniards car in testing. After swapping seats Alonso didnt really have to fear himself with much other than get up to speed, and topping out at around 220 mph during his 110 -lap session. He was the only driver on Indys two and a half-mile expanse, after all.
Now comes the hard part. There will be traffic to reckon with( and a spotter in his ear, talking him through ), pit stops to attain( not just for tires but fuel too ), and rolled restarts that must be timed to perfection. The fickle central Indiana weather may well play havoc with the 35 -year-old rookies auto too.
The set-up is extremely important because the differences in Indy is just milliseconds, says Alonso, who binge-watched old Indy races to help his preparation. I think to set up the car differently, in the different parts of the race with different gale directions, with different ga loads, tire degradation there are many things that you need to make small adjustments, apparently, that I have no idea[ about ].
So I definitely need to learn those things, and to learn it alone will take two years. To learn it with some assistance, it will take six months. But I have two weeks. So I will need a lot of help.
Luckily, he can lean on De Ferran, who has a big its participation in Alonsos switch along with Zak Brown, an L-Aborn racing executive with a soft spot for the Indy, and is now executive director at McLaren. Furthermore, the Andretti squads relationship with Honda, which is vastly more competitive in IndyCar than in F1 at the moment, paved the way for De Ferran a Honda technological consultant to join Alonsos pit box as coach-and-four.
This isnt De Ferrans first time in such a role. Not long after retiring from driving, he spent two years with BAR-Honda as sporting director. Early in his Honda tenure, De Ferran mentored a young racer named Simon Pagenaud last season the Frenchman ran away with the IndyCar championship while driving for Team Penske.
The Alonso assignment completes a circle for De Ferran. He remembers stealing away to the 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix and marveling at the Spaniard then a teenage driver for Minardi. I went to a corner[ at the track] and Im standing by myself, simply taking it all in. And this guy comes around, you know, with this frankly not-great vehicle. And Im watching him, and Im thinking, Jesus, who is that? It was clear that his technique, his car control, how hard he was pushing you were talking about a special talent.
Still, steering an F1 car more like a supercomputer on wheels is a wholly different proposition than racing an Indy car, which is relatively primitive by comparison. Whats more, adds 2014 Indy winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, another Alonso team-mate: Its no secret that Formula 1 has much higher safety standards. The ways have a lot of run-off. You have less of a shot of hitting a wall. But when it comes to open-wheel racing, when it comes to closed-circuit racing in general, oval racing in IndyCar is by far the most dangerous there is.
The warm reception to Alonsos crossover to the IndyCar paddock stands in marked contrast to reactions among Alonsos F1 peers, which are easily summed up in a simple, Seinfeldian phrase: good luck with everything that . Id take[ the] Daytona 500 over Indy, Red Bulls Daniel Ricciardo told after Alonsos Indy schemes were announced in April. Indy kinda scares me, actually. Mikhail Aleshin, a fourth-year IndyCar veteran from Moscow, isnt astounded: Some of the drivers who dont wishes to do the Indy 500, he tells, they just have small balls. I think thats the only explanation.
Alonso, though , not only has the nerve, but one skill in particular that should help a smooth transfer. Only watching him race in Formula 1, tells De Ferran, its clear to me that hes very good at wheel-to-wheel racing. Makes good options. Positions himself well. Knows when to assault, when not to assault. Hes got a very good strategic intellect. That is likely going to serve him well.
The triple F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, after expressing his own reservations about Alonsos Indy trip-up , nonetheless pronounced his former McLaren team-mate the best driver in the[ IndyCar] paddock. Thats not hyperbole. Neither is this: he could very well etch his name on the Borg-Warner trophy. Sure, hes the rookie in a crowd that is likely to include at least six Indy 500 wins. But upsets at the Brickyard are not unprecedented. Recollect: Rossi who had a modest F1 record and only one oval start to his name was the one guzzling milkat the end of last years race. Alonso is well positioned to win too. Its just going to take practice. Miles and miles and miles of it.
Read more: www.theguardian.com