Fernando Alonso to race in 101st Indianapolis 500 with McLaren, Andretti

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Two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso will miss this year’s Monaco Grand Prix to take part in the 101st Indianapolis 500 as part of a joint entry between McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.

Alonso has previously expressed an interest in racing in the 500, but was announced on Wednesday as a shock entry for the race at the end of May, becoming the sixth Andretti-backed car entered.

“I’m immensely excited that I’ll be racing in this year’s Indy 500, with McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport,” Alonso said in a statement.

“The Indy 500 is one of the most famous races on the global motorsport calendar, rivalled only by the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix, and it’s of course a regret of mine that I won’t be able to race at Monaco this year. But Monaco will be the only 2017 Grand Prix I’ll be missing, and I’ll be back in the cockpit of the McLaren-Honda MCL32 for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in early June.

“I’ve never raced an IndyCar car before, and neither have I ever driven on a superspeedway, but I’m confident that I’ll get to grips with it fast. I’ve watched a lot of IndyCar action on TV and online, and it’s clear that great precision is required to race in close proximity with other cars on the far side of 220 mph.

“I realize I’ll be on a steep learning curve, but I’ll be flying to Indianapolis from Barcelona immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix, practising our McLaren-Honda-Andretti car at Indy from May 15 onwards, hopefully clocking up a large number of miles every day, and I know how good the Andretti Autosport guys are. I’ll be proud to race with them, and I intend to mine their knowledge and expertise for as much info as I possibly can.”

Andretti IndyCar chief Michael Andretti added: “It’s a great honor to partner with McLaren for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 and to bring Fernando into one of our Andretti Autosport Hondas. I want to thank Zak [Brown, McLaren executive director], Honda and McLaren for this tremendous opportunity.

“We’ve been working very closely in the planning of this new partnership and I believe we’ve laid the foundation for a successful month of May. We’re looking forward to giving Fernando an effort in reaching one of his biggest career goals of winning the Indy 500.

“Fernando’s lack of experience on superspeedways is not of concern to me. I do believe that the Indianapolis 500 is one of the best places for a rookie to start because there is the opportunity for so much practice time on the track – and, as we have demonstrated, it can be won by a rookie. Fernando is a great talent and I have full confidence that he will represent very strongly for McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.

“Fernando’s addition to the team takes our stable of entries to six, working in a cooperative effort. This sharing of experience and knowledge is what makes Andretti Autosport stand out and gives us that extra competitive edge.”

McLaren has won the Indy 500 on two occasions before, back in 1974 and 1976 with Johnny Rutherford, and its 2017 entry will hark back to that as Brown confirmed the McLaren-Honda-Andretti entry will be “decked out in the papaya orange livery made famous by our founder Bruce McLaren, and in which Rutherford drove McLaren IndyCars to Indy 500 victory”.

By missing Monaco, Alonso has opened up a seat at McLaren for the street race, which the team said it will fill “in due course”. This is likely to be taken by reserve driver Jenson Button, who stepped back from full-time racing at the end of last year.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.