IndyCar drivers expect Indy 500 challenge from F1 champ

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Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso is confident that in short time he can get up to speed for the Indianapolis 500, even though he has never before raced in IndyCar or on a superspeedway.

So are the IndyCar drivers Alonso will be competing against the last Sunday in May after his surprising announcement that he’s skipping the Monaco Grand Prix to instead race at the Brickyard that day.

“The experience that he has in motorsport, I don’t think it’ll be any problem for him,” three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves said.

“I think he absolutely does,” Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner, said when asked if Alonso has a chance to win. “Obviously all of us want to win at that place, and the competition is extremely tough. But he has a great shot.”

Alonso will be the first Formula One world champion to drive as an Indy 500 rookie since Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet both in 1993. Mansell finished third, and Piquet 32nd that year. Seven other drivers won F1 titles after participating in the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s a step forward in my career. I want to the best driver and the most complete driver in the world,” said Alonso, adding that he needs to know how it is to handle the cars through the oval and the backstretch while driving so close to each other.

McLaren is back in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in 38 years with Alonso’s entry, a Dallara DW12 chassis run by Andretti Autosport. Team owner Michael Andretti is a former IndyCar champion who raced in Formula One for McLaren in 1993.

It will be Alonso’s first time driving at Indy as the 35-year-old Spaniard steps up his bid to win motorsport’s so-called “Triple Crown” of the Monaco GP, the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours race. Alonso is a two-time Monaco GP winner, and has yet to drive Le Mans.

“I didn’t expect it to happen this year, but I know that he was looking at it,” Andretti said. “He’s a racer, and he sets goals for himself. He wants to be one of the few people to say he’s won the Triple Crown like that. So I admire him for that, to want to go out and do it – especially right now, in the middle of the season.”

Alonso will fly to Indianapolis immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix on May 14 to start practice for the May 28 race.

The only driver to win a Formula One title and then win the Indianapolis 500 in his first attempt was Graham Hill – in 1966, four years after the first of his two F1 titles. Hill is also the only Triple Crown winner in motorsports.

Andretti’s team won at the Brickyard last year with Indy 500 rookie driver Alexander Rossi, the former F1 test driver.

“You get enough miles around Indianapolis to sort of get a good basis on it,” Dixon said during a break at IndyCar testing in Texas. “He’s with a team that’s a proven winner, and teammates that are definitely proven winners, too. He’s walking into a good combination. Honda is a very strong package right now. So the stars are somewhat aligning for a great run for Fernando.”

And another big day for IndyCar, after last year’s Indianapolis 500 was a sellout breaking attendance marks and again had improved television ratings.

IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden talked about how incredible and impressive the 100th running of Indy was. For anyone wondering how the series would keep that momentum, having Alonso for the 101st makes a big difference.

“You’re not going to see any drop in momentum,” Newgarden said. “If anything, it’s going to be a better show, which is hard to do after what we had last year. But the Indy 500, it’s the greatest race in the world, and having a team like McLaren come back to that, to have an entry and also a driver of Alonso’s caliber to come over and race with us, it just speaks volumes to the type of race that the Indianapolis 500 is.”

Will Power said he “was pretty stoked” to hear about Alonso’s entry that brings a lot of attention to the IndyCar Series and its showcase event.

“Seeing the interest from a Formula One champion, a double world champion, is actually exciting, super exciting from a driver’s standpoint,” Simon Pagenaud said. “I think we’re all excited to get to race against him. … It’s going to be a great challenge.”

AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer and AP Sports Writers Steve Douglas, Michael Marot and Luke Meredith contributed to this report.

More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org

Hamilton tops second Abu Dhabi F1 practice with new track record

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Lewis Hamilton swept to the top of the timesheets in second Formula 1 practice for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Friday evening, beating Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel by one-tenth of a second.

Hamilton trailed Vettel through the daytime-run opening practice session, but managed to strike back by recording a new track record at the Yas Marina Circuit for Mercedes.

Hamilton recorded a fastest lap time of 1:37.877 to finish one-tenth of a second clear of Vettel at the checkered flag, appearing to have an edge across a single lap on the ultra-soft tire.

Red Bull threw its hat into the ring as a possible rival for pole through Daniel Ricciardo, who finished the session third-fastest, three-tenths of a second back from Hamilton at the head of the field.

Kimi Raikkonen ended FP2 in fourth place in the sister Ferrari, finishing within half a second of Hamilton, and managed to edge out fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas, who was a further two-tenths back in P5.

Max Verstappen failed to get in a quick flying lap during FP2, ending the session one second down in P6 for Red Bull.

Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon’s tight intra-team fight at Force India continued through FP2 as the pair were separated by just 0.01 seconds, taking seventh and eighth respectively to finish as the leading midfield drivers.

Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso completed the top 10 for Renault and McLaren, with Felipe Massa following in 11th for Williams on his final Friday appearance in F1.

Massa was fortunate to avoid an accident with Ricciardo during the final 15 minutes of the session after a mix up at the hairpin when the Brazilian tried to get a wider line for the back straight.

Running in Abu Dhabi continues with final practice at Yas Marina on Saturday morning from 5am ET on the NBC Sports app, followed by qualifying at 8am ET on NBCSN.