Lewis Hamilton: Alonso will be best driver in 2017 Indy 500 field

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Lewis Hamilton believes that Fernando Alonso’s entry to the 101st Indianapolis 500 is a “tall order”, but has backed the two-time Formula 1 world champion to impress, believing he will be the best driver in the field.

Alonso announced on Wednesday that he would be missing the Monaco Grand Prix to enter the Indy 500 as part of a joint entry between McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.

The news has been the talk of the F1 paddock ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, with Hamilton being asked about his former teammate’s decision on Thursday.

The three-time world champion said he thought he would be challenging for Alonso given the different style of racing and lack of testing, but still thinks he will be the best driver in the field.

“It’s a completely different category so it’s a lot, lot different. I’ve never driven one of those tracks but it would be so different for us to go and do that,” Hamilton said.

“How a car’s setup, because it’s assymetric I think, the banking, how much you lift, how you use the tires, it takes us guys forever through these test days to learn how to operate these tires in the right window. I would imagine it’s not an easy thing to do in one go. It’s definitely a tall order in a short space of time.

“Jeez, you’ve got one of the best drivers in the world going there. For sure will be the best driver in the paddock.

“He just won’t have the experience that anyone would have, so I think it will be a very exciting challenge for him to see how strong he can fare against those who have all that experience.”

While Alonso is refusing to set any expectations for his bow at the ‘500 next month, the Spaniard is relishing the fact he has a chance of winning one of motorsport’s biggest races – something he would not have at Monaco given McLaren’s current struggles.

“Monaco is the biggest race of the calendar in Formula 1 and the event is amazing, not only the race on Sunday, the whole weekend is amazing,” Alonso said.

“The best result that we achieved was last year, fifth. I think we are little bit less competitive this year. We are maybe have the possibility to have another top five or top seven, whatever, it’s great to have some points.

“But I won a couple of times there and I’m a two-time world champion so to add fifth, seventh in Monaco, it will not change my life.

“In a way it’s impossible to compare to have the minimum chance to win the Indy 500 compared to fifth or sixth or seventh in Monaco. It’s much bigger the other possibility.”

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.