IndyCar drivers focus is on Fernando Alonso at Barber Friday
Topic A in the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock on opening day at Barber Motorsports Park Friday was not the weather (sunny and warm but changing for Sunday) or Team Penske’s strength in the opening practice.
Conversation centered on two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso and his decision — announced last week — to pass up the Monaco Grand Prix and race in the Indianapolis 500 on May 28.
Alonso’s choice stunned the international motorsports community — Monaco, after all, is a motorsports capital in a league of its own — and added another level of intrigue to Indianapolis.
Recognized as one of the best drivers in the world, Alonso has never raced on an oval. The rectangular track at Indy is one of the toughest in the world, and there will be weeks of discussion about the Spaniard’s chances of doing well in a one-off in an IndyCar fielded by Andretti Autosport.
“He’s going to have a ball,” said driver Graham Rahal. “He’s going to have a damn good car. He’s going to get passed and pass more cars in one month than in his entire F1 career combined.
“I love his style, his aggressive nature. I think it’s great for our sport that he has the interest he has in it.”
Alonso is scheduled to drive a race car on an oval course for the first time in a test at Indy May 3. Then he’ll roll into the steady run of practices leading to 500 qualifying and the race.
The general reaction among IndyCar drivers is intense respect for Alonso’s willingness to detour from the cars he is used to driving and from one of his sport’s biggest races to accept the challenge of Indianapolis.
“I admire him a lot for coming over and running with us,” said Josef Newgarden. “He’s going to have a challenge on his hands, coming up against the competition with the IndyCar Series, but I think it’s a great challenge for him, and it represents what the Indianapolis 500 is all about.”
Newgarden said Alonso faces an uphill climb.
“I think he’ll have a good month of May, but it’s going to be tough for him to figure out how to drive the car when it’s trimmed out,” he said. “It’s going to be tough for him to figure out how to draft the cars, how to work within traffic, especially with a car that is more trimmed out in traffic. All those types of things are going to be foreign to him.”
Simon Pagenaud called Alonso’s decision “very courageous. It’s going to be exciting, I think, even for us just to see how he does, and he’s going to bring an incredible following from Europe, from Spain, and Spanish people are very excited about racing in general, so I think it’s fantastic for IndyCar.”