One of the modern masters of the Indianapolis 500, three-time champion Dario Franchitti, has offered advice and tempered expectations to two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso ahead of his shock debut in this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, in a jointly entered car between McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.
While Franchitti says Alonso’s arrival is “brilliant,” he says the challenges of the iconic, 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway will test how well he understands the variables, such as wind conditions and the fact he’s moving from most F1 circuits that are layered with runoff area to an oval that has none.
“Fernando Alonso doing the Indianapolis 500 this year is brilliant. It’s brilliant for IndyCar, absolutely brilliant. To see him going head-to-head with the likes of Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, these types of drivers, is just fantastic and it will make a massive splash around the world,” Franchitti said in a piece written for Motor Sport Magazine.
“The harder bit will be when conditions change and he has to adapt to them. At the Speedway it can be from the wind changing direction, a small rise in temperature or even humidity. You have to adapt to those changes in set-up and driving style. That’s where the experience comes in.
“All this with a backdrop of having no second chances: there’s no run off, if you make a mistake it tends to hurt. It will damage the car and if you can get away without hurting yourself it’s a good day. That wall is sitting there waiting for you. Trust me, he’ll be aware of that as soon as he leaves the pits! He’ll just have to adapt to that.”
The full piece is worth a read, and linked above.
Franchitti knows of what he speaks. Although he has become synonymous with success at the Speedway, it took him a few years to properly get the hang of it. His first win in the rain-shortened 2007 race came in his sixth attempt.
Rookies of course have won the race before, most recently Alexander Rossi last year (admittedly with help from strategic purposes), then Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya in 2001 and 2000.
NASCAR champion Kurt Busch’s run at the track in 2014, as his first leg in the Indianapolis 500-Coca-Cola 600 double, wound up with a sixth place finish in an Andretti Autosport Honda.