Our NBCSN IndyCar analyst and ten-time Indianapolis 500 starter, Townsend Bell, had a chance to speak to Alonso on the grid at Barber (top video, above) and then offer insight as well from the booth with colleagues Leigh Diffey and Paul Tracy there, on what Alonso can expect. Bell also intricately knows the Andretti Autosport team from his driving there last year, and offered this amount of insight.
We caught up with Bell for a quick Q&A for what Alonso has to look forward to in Indianapolis, starting with his first test tomorrow:
MST: How refreshing is it to see someone of Alonso’s caliber come over willingly to do Indy and give up Monaco as a result?
Townsend Bell: “Shocking and refreshing in one swoop. After talking to him in Barber last week I have no doubt this is something he’s very serious about with a clear expectation for success. He has a ‘Senna-like’ quality to his personality that I think is magnetic. Count me among the many that wish him well in the quest.”
MST: From your time in F1 paddocks, how much have you gotten to know Alonso?
TB: “I used to see him in the Renault F1 hospitality when he was the ‘Reserve Driver.’ He looked positively miserable at having to watch and wait his turn. The sign of a future champion!”
MST: The challenge of Indy is unlike anything else. Are the 230-plus mph speeds going to be something for him to adjust to, or will his bigger challenge be adjusting to dirty air/turbulence?
TB: “Driving in clean air will come naturally. The challenges include, but not limited to: Traffic, momentum, passing, car setup, in cockpit tools, pitstops, restarts, spotters, windy days, temperature change, fan access, Casino night, and Robin Miller. Other than that he should be fine.”
MST: You know the Andretti Autosport atmosphere… how much of a benefit will having all that data sharing among the five other teammates be to him? How much of a surprise will that be that it is so open compared to F1 where it’s beat your teammate?
TB: “It will feel very open and friendly – bizarrely so – until the green flag drops. Then it will feel like he dropped into a World War II dogfight. It gets primal…really fast.”
MST: How much of a culture shock will Indy 500 be to him? Besides the on-track stuff, how do you think he’ll adjust to the constant hounding in the paddock, extracurricular activities, media responsibilities, etc.?
TB: “I might fly out just to watch him enjoy the dairy farmer’s rookie brunch and casino night. Also hope ‘Rocket’ (Kevin Blanch, from INDYCAR’s technical team) makes him run ROP after a full day private test. “We need to see 10 laps at 205 mph or less” Priceless.”
MST: You can’t ever fully prepare for the magnitude of race morning at Indy. Is there anything he can do to simulate that or is it just key for him to soak it all up and savor the moment?
TB: “He’ll love it. 300,000 passionate race fans cheering on the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Nothing better.”
Here was Alonso after Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix, when yet another Honda power unit issue resigned him to a failure to start:
INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s a rundown of times and notes from Saturday at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, as all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder had their first day of testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A link to Friday’s notebook is here.
Drivers and teams alike have raved about the pace, and the rather loud sound, of the new Tatuus PM-18 Mazda. Reports from private testing had the new car rather close to Indy Lights pace at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and rather quicker than the old car at Road America. The first tangible evidence of that occurred today as all 10 of the Pro Mazda drivers who got representative laps (second BN Racing car of Leonard Hoogenboom ran only a few laps in session four after engine issues all day) supplanted the Pro Mazda lap record at IMS – 1:22.8800 by Pato O’Ward in 2016 – easily. Oliver Askew’s best time of 1:19.8920 in the second session was nearly a full three seconds quicker on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
Of the 11 Pro Mazda drivers that ran today, only Carlos Cunha, Robert Megennis, Nikita Lastochkin, Kris Wright and Sting Ray Robb ran in the 2017 season. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any or all five of them running full-time in 2018 for what would be each of their second seasons in the championship, as returning sophomores along with what should be a glut of strong rookies. Wright, who also races sports cars, looks poised to add a second program of some other series to a planned Pro Mazda full season.
Megennis is planning to test with other teams in the weeks to come, as he tests for Juncos this week after racing in USF2000 with Pelfrey the last two years. Both he and Robb missed portions of sessions today with new car issues.
Several Indy Lights spins and off-course excursions occurred but none produced any serious issues. Rinus Veekay and Anthony Martin were among those to test the course limits but kept on going unharmed. Veekay had a spin in session three on new tires, then promptly laid down the fastest lap of the session for Belardi later on.
His teammate this weekend, Nico Jamin, wound up with the fastest lap of the day in Indy Lights – although he wasn’t quickest in the cool evening session, the fourth of the day, when most of the field ran some sticker tire runs on their Cooper tires.
Pro Mazda title combatants Victor Franzoni (Juncos) and Anthony Martin (Andretti) made their Indy Lights test debuts. The perpetually happy Franzoni wrote on Instagram, “Awesome day!! We finished the day in P3!! The most import we learned a lot!! Tomorrow will be even better!!” Martin, meanwhile, said this: “It’s obviously a new car – bigger, faster and a lot more downforce, so I’m adapting to it and growing up to it nice and slowly. You don’t want to push yourself too early, so we’re working up to a few things. You have to do things a lot quicker and you have to use a lot more brake pressure.”
In USF2000, it was an excellent day at the office for Pabst Racing with Andres Gutierrez – who impressed in a pair of weekends with DE Force Racing this year – leading three of four sessions, while teammates Hunter McElrea and Lucas Kohl were also in the top-five. Pabst has been busy running cars in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda this weekend.
Beyond Pabst, Newman Wachs Racing also had an excellent day, mainly with sophomore Darren Keane and Californian rookie Jake Craig. Keane, who’s coached by Ozz Negri, led the fourth and final session of the day, and stands as a driver who could make a big leap forward in performance if he secures a full season in 2018.
Another team of note today was BN Racing, with Callan O’Keefe – Keane’s teammate when both drove for Team BENIK at this race weekend last May – second best on the day. The South African is poised to be that team’s lead driver next season. Teammates Elliott Finlayson and Zoey Edenholm are working towards seasons of their own; Finlayson having coming off a recent Super Sweep in SCCA Runoffs competition at IMS last month and Edenholm having only just graduated from karts into cars just this month.
While the USF2000 field was primarily rookie-dominated, two-year series veteran Aaron Telitz made a cameo return today with RJB Motorsports, and brought the ex-ArmsUp chassis its best pace yet in RJB’s hands as the Wisconsinite ran with Mirl Swan and Alex Barron’s crew support. Past RJB driver and two-time Team USA Scholarship, Michai Stephens, was also on site today.
Speaking of ArmsUp, its top rookie from 2017, Devin Wojcik was on hand today making the rounds as well, although wasn’t in a car. He looks to return to USF2000 for a second season in 2018.
USF2000 boasted some good diversity with Pabst, BN, Newman Wachs, Exclusive, Pelfrey, BENIK and RJB teams in the top 10 today, but there’s one notable omission: Cape Motorsports. The seven-time defending champions in the series are not testing in USF2000 this weekend, and has just a single Pro Mazda car on site for Oliver Askew. Granted, the team is also at Circuit of The Americas this weekend for F4 U.S. Championship action, where Kyle Kirkwood has taken that series’ championship. DE Force, which also ran in USF2000 this year, is also not here this weekend as it’s at COTA. ArmsUp isn’t here this weekend either.