Michael Andretti hadn’t missed a Verizon IndyCar Series race on-site since his one-year voyage to Formula 1 in 1993, and returned to the series in 1994.
He missed today’s Iowa Corn 300 though, because his Red Bull Global Rallycross team was doing work not far from the Andretti Autosport team’s home soil in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Raceway.
The decision to miss one team’s race for another paid dividends as the Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross team delivered the goods on Sunday in Red Bull GRC’s maiden visit to Indy.
Scott Speed completed a perfect day in his No. 41 Oberto Circle K Beetle GRC, winning two heats, a semifinal and then the 10-lap finals in the Supercars class. He’d won another heat on Saturday.
The final was a 1-2 finish for the Volkswagen Andretti teammates as Speed beat teammate Tanner Foust in his No. 34 Rockstar Energy Drink Beetle GRC.
This is Speed’s second win of 2017 (Memphis, Round 1) and the fourth 1-2 for the Volkswagen Andretti team this season.
“We had a great car all weekend from the moment we pulled it off the hauler, until the last lap of the Final; the team just did a great job,” Speed said. “The track was unbelievably fun. This is the first time we’ve been to a track that was predominantly some sort of gravel mix and it was just so fun because every time you went out onto the track it was a little bit different. There was water in areas there wasn’t before and the track was changing during the race.
“It was the most fun I’ve had driving yet. I’m so glad it happened here in Indy because it’s our home race and there was so many friends and family that were able to come to this one. I’m definitely looking forward to coming back here and big shout out to everyone at Oberto, Circle K and Expedite Home Loans.”
Foust, who still leads the championship by 10 points unofficially (488-478) after today’s race, was pleased to end second after a tougher weekend.
“Today was pretty hard. We had penalties in two out of the three heat races this weekend which had us swimming uphill,” he said. “To get into the middle of the front row for the final was a big win for our team. The guys have just been cranking all year.
“This is just a one-race weekend and not a doubleheader, but it’s amazing how difficult it is but it’s so nice to be in Indianapolis. Last time I was here on a racetrack, I was the yellow driver for the Hot Wheels jump at the Indy 500 and that was almost as much fun as it is to race a Global Rallycross car …almost. I was so excited to see so many Indianapolis fans out here to see a new sport. We have a blast every weekend.”
Loenbro Motorsports’ Steve Arpin kept up his strong season by finishing third in his Ford, with Oliver Eriksson best of the Honda Red Bull Olsbergs MSE trio in fourth and Austin Dyne banking a fifth place for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing in his Ford.
With car damage, Honda OMSE’s best driver this year, Mitchell deJong was unable to start the final.
Red Bull GRC is off until Atlantic City for Rounds 8 and 9, in mid-August.
INDIANAPOLIS – It almost had to end the way it did on Sunday.
There was Fernando Alonso, doing what he’d set out to do in this six-week odyssey since stunning the motorsports world on April 12 with the announcement he’d be in a McLaren Honda of an IndyCar kind at the Indianapolis 500, with Andretti Autosport, reminding everyone he’s still one of the best drivers in the world after a month where he never looked a rookie in his first oval race, his first IndyCar race.
And yet there was the plume of smoke, just short of the finish, billowing out the rear of the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry that ended his day before he got the result.
The combination of mid-2010s Alonso, McLaren and Honda joined with the legacy of the words “Andretti is slowing” at Indianapolis to produce Alonso, in a McLaren, Honda, Andretti entry slowing and stopping just shy of that ever elusive checkered flag.
It mattered not. Alonso still lived up to all the hype placed on him this month, if not exceeded it.
From the moment Alonso made his first visit to Birmingham, Ala. of all places – as far away by mileage and culture from the Bahrain Grand Prix he had failed to finish a week earlier – Alonso was the focus of attention, even as his primary goal was to integrate into the team and begin the learning process.
The simulator work followed in Indianapolis shortly thereafter, following his seat fit and meeting the crew who’d be on his No. 29 car, in the right shade of papaya orange, not the F1 version that slightly missed the mark.
He met the Borg-Warner Trophy, a trophy he was keen to see his face placed on.
And then, he hit the Speedway for the first time on May 3, in a made-for-digital event that was the test heard ’round the Internet. Going 222-plus mph for an average on his first day in the car, as he joked at the time his right foot and brain weren’t in sync, still showcased his innate talent.
Alonso never looked uncomfortable, out of place or – importantly – annoyed with the process that came with coming to Indianapolis.
At every opportunity, he embraced the challenge, the fans and the odyssey that came with it.
If there were autographs to be signed – and judging by the throngs of fans surrounding his garage area or his daily walk to Gasoline Alley – he’d do as best he could to get them all before being whisked away to whatever came next. Or, alternatively, he got on his skateboard and rolled off.
If there were media obligations to be had – and as some drivers casually threw some snark, as Conor Daly and Graham Rahal joked “Alonso was about the only driver in the race” – Alonso fulfilled them. A bevy of reporters were consistently around his No. 29 pit stall all month. More still sat and waited in the media center for his press conferences, and where Alonso starred there was that he never appeared he was mailing it in. The banter between he and Alexander Rossi – when Rossi noted Alonso needed to be awake at 6 a.m. – was perhaps the funniest moment of the month.
He sat for an hour on media day with hundreds gathered around his space as poor Sebastian Saavedra sitting next to him had but one reporter – me – asking him questions ahead of another debut, Saavedra’s Juncos Racing team.
And most importantly, if there was a desire to be the best on track he could be, he fulfilled it.
Alonso learned the elements of single-car runs in practice, race running in practice, drafting with his Andretti Autosport teammates in the “mini packs,” the pressure that comes with four-lap qualifying runs and averaging more than 230 mph, the drama that comes with engine changes in IndyCar, and then the ability to push as hard as possible against other drivers on track.
He made some daring and some would probably say questionable chops and passing maneuvers throughout the month, but wasn’t that part of the plan to begin with? Seeing Alonso back in a car that could win and knowing he had the ability to pull it off made the whole experience worth it.
He made it to the lead by Lap 37 of Sunday’s race, for the first of 27 laps led, third most among the 15 drivers who did. After starting fifth and taking it easy on the start to drop to ninth, Alonso was a top-five regular the rest of the race (more than 100 laps to be more precise), before he was running in seventh on Lap 179 and there, the smoke erupted. He was classified 24th.
He exited the car to cheers from the Indianapolis faithful, who are not easy to please at your first attempt. But the cheers that echoed around these hallowed grounds welcomed a driver who’d starred himself, for McLaren, and for the Indianapolis 500 – even if the result was a similar one he’s been used to this year.
“Anyway, (it) was a great experience, the last two weeks. I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself. I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car. I didn’t know if I can be as quick as anyone in an IndyCar,” Alonso reflected Sunday.
“It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500, you know. One lap you put on the lead there, it was already a nice feeling. I was passing, watching the tower, saw the 29 on top of it. I was thinking at that moment if Zak or someone from the team was taking a picture, because I want that picture at home.
“Thanks to IndyCar, amazing experience. Thanks to Indianapolis. Thanks to the fans. I felt at home. I’m not American, but I felt really proud to race here.”
Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group and the man who was integral in bringing Alonso and McLaren to Indianapolis, could only echo those thoughts.
“If we put aside the last 20 laps, which is a massive disappointment, if we reflect back on the past month, it was outstanding. Fernando didn’t put a wheel wrong. He showed what a world class world champion he is today.
“When Fernando and I first spoke about the Indianapolis 500, I wasn’t sure what Fernando’s response would be because I think not many race car drivers in this world are brave enough to do what Fernando just did. Not just from a physical standpoint, but the whole world was watching Fernando race today. He put himself out there and exposed himself, delivered the goods, which isn’t a surprise to anyone that has watched Fernando race.”
Alonso has left the door open to a return, although that will likely depend on how his F1 future sorts itself out – he’s a free agent at year’s end. But he figures he’ll be better in a second go-’round.
“Obviously if I come back here, at least I know how it is (with) everything,” he said. “It will not be the first time I do restarts, pit stops, all these kind of things. So will be an easier, let’s say, adaptation. Let’s see what happen in the following years.
“Yeah, I need to keep pursuing this challenge because winning the Indy 500 is not completed. It holds a new challenge if I can find a car that slow me down somehow.”
Lastly, Alonso did have some milk – albeit in a slightly different type of container than the one teammate Takuma Sato had as he won the race.
That meant that in “happy hour” – the last hour of practice where conditions start to cool and are generally ideal for race preparation – Alonso’s car was back in the garage and he was unable to get much running in traffic.
Nonetheless, lack of traffic running aside, Alonso said that knowing what to expect from his Dallara DW12 chassis and Honda aero kit and power unit was comforting on a day when conditions were different.
“I was a little bit concerned about the conditions, about the temperature, much hotter today than the test we did here on the 3rd. But no, the car felt good, felt as good as in the test, and I was able to make some setup changes, yeah, without, as I said, losing the confidence in the car. Everything went very smooth,” Alonso said.
“The last half an hour maybe we had some issues with the rear suspension, and we could not complete the program that we was planning to run a little bit in traffic at the end of the day, so we missed that part, but overall it was an amazing day.
“Happier than the first day with the car because I was able to feel some of the setup changes that we were planning in the morning, and yeah, I feel good.
“Not much running in traffic, so still the thing that I need to go through in the next couple of days, so that is something we need to chase tomorrow in the program. But I did two or three laps behind some cars that were going out of pit lane, and it was good fun, so I’m looking forward, and running along is enough.”
Despite the long travels to Indianapolis, and then meeting fans at both the airport and outside his garage in Gasoline Alley, Alonso was immediately reacquainted with his IndyCar once he was back behind the wheel.
“You jump in the car, you are in that sitting position that is different compared to Formula 1. You have this headrest that you have the padding here, so you have no movement at all to look right, left.
“You just remind yourself exactly what you were driving two weeks ago, so you go flat out and you know what is going to happen. So it took really no time to switch on from one to another.”
Alonso also had time to debrief with Mario Andretti, and what was originally just a quick chat then turned into more than an hour worth of conversation.
“Yeah, well, he went to the pit lane just to say hello, but he was — he knew that we were testing at that point, so it was just a formal hello,” Alonso said.
“But later in the garage, lunchtime, we were talking for more than one hour and a half, so we went through many, many things, from Formula 1 to talk about the tires here, how they perform, to talk about the tires in Formula 1.
“We were talking about the two-seater that he will run on Monday he said, and he’s preparing that run in a proper way, so if I was one of the guests, I will be worried because he will push to the limit that car!
“He’s an amazing person and a true legend in motorsports, so every comment, every word that he says is obviously very, very important for all of us, and inside the team we are extremely proud and happy to work with him.”
Lastly, Alonso seems set to focus on race setup this week, and whether he qualifies higher up the grid or not is not as important as ensuring he has the best possible car in traffic for the race.
“Yeah, it’s completely right. I think in my case, qualifying is not very important,” he said. “Obviously, you know, when you are out there, you want to be fast. You want to feel fast, as well, so it’s a question of enjoyment, not only the position, the final position.
“But yeah, I think all the priority for us in my garage is to set up the car for the race, to feel comfortable in traffic, to learn as much as I can, you know, the way to overtake, the place to overtake, how you lose the minimum time possible in those maneuvers.”
Alonso remains humble to the task as he continues the learning process.
“You know, many things that I don’t know now and I need to learn quickly. So yeah, let’s see what we can do in qualifying, but definitely the race preparation will be the first priority.”
After his tough start to the Formula 1 season, Fernando Alonso finally finished a race in Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix, his race on home soil.
Alonso starred with seventh place on the grid but didn’t have the race pace to back it up in his McLaren Honda. Even with some notable retirements ahead of him, he finished in 12th place, albeit ahead of both Williams Mercedes.
That being said, Alonso was thrilled to have at least enough positive momentum from one good race and a somewhat promising weekend by 2017 standards in Barcelona. He now heads immediately to Indianapolis, where he’ll be set to take part in the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry in this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, the marquee race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.
“It has been a good weekend in general. A positive. At the moment we finished the race. Hopefully this is a first step forward on reliability. There was not the pace to be in the points
“At end of the day we had too much tire difference. For passing, I was with new softs, and Williams on old mediums.”
Alonso is now airport-bound as he’ll be looking to get the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as quick as possible on Monday, for his first run since his test on May 3.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s a nice challenge,” he said. “First of all, 9 a.m. I need to be at the circuit and 12 I need to be in the car for practice! So it’s nine hours in the plane, flying overnight to Indianapolis.
“Tomorrow morning I’ll be ready to change my mind and get into the Indianapolis driving mentality. I think it will be a great event. I will enjoy it to the maximum. The performance… I think will come naturally.
“I will enjoy as much as I can, every single minute of the next two weeks.”
The big names just keep on growing for the McLaren Honda Andretti entry that will field Fernando Alonso in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford, better known as “Lone Star JR” in his driving days, has joined as the team’s official ambassador, which he’s free to do now as he’s not engaged in official INDYCAR duties as the pace car driver. Rutherford was succeeded by Sarah Fisher in that role starting last year.
Rutherford will then don a McLaren team shirt and kit in his role and will be the team’s “guest of honor.” He was part of the joint IMS/NBCSN live stream last week for Alonso’s first test on the 2.5-mile oval, sharing stories and insight with Mario Andretti, Robin Miller and Kevin Lee.
Rutherford’s three wins at Indianapolis came in 1974, 1976 and 1980 – the first two with McLaren driving a Papaya Orange-liveried McLaren M16D, a feat he repeated in ’76, driving a similarly liveried M16E. In 1980 he was in the famous Chaparral 2K ground-effect car, which was designed by the British engineer John Barnard, who later became McLaren’s pioneering technical director in the early 1980s.
“The McLaren name still means a lot to me – it has a very special place in my heart, in fact, for obvious reasons,” Rutherford said in a release. “So when I heard that not only was McLaren heading back to Indianapolis – after a near 40-year absence, and with Fernando Alonso behind the wheel, and that they would also be reviving the same, famous orange livery that was made famous by Bruce McLaren himself in the 1960s and ’70s – well, I was blown away. That’s just neat, real neat…
“I’m thrilled and excited about ‘coming home’ to McLaren for the famous month of May, and I want to do everything I can to help make the team’s return to Indy as enjoyable and successful as possible. Make no mistake, this is a fantastic story for IndyCar, for Formula 1 and for motor racing in general, so to be able to help play a small part in it is just fantastic.
“And the fact that McLaren is doing it in partnership with Andretti Autosport is the icing on the cake: the name ‘Andretti’ means a lot to all racing people, and certainly to me. Not only has the team boss, Michael, achieved so much over his long career, but of course I raced his father, the great Mario, wheel to wheel for many years. I have great respect for both of them. I think everyone does.”
McLaren Technology Group Executive Director Zak Brown added, “You can count the number of people who’ve won more Indy 500s than Johnny Rutherford on the fingers of one hand – and that tells you everything about the scale of Lone Star JR’s achievements in this legendary motor race.
“I’ve spoken before about the special family atmosphere that exists at McLaren, and it’s incredible that we’ll be joined at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway throughout the month of May by one of the forefathers of McLaren’s original Indy adventure.
“Furthermore, Johnny is a real Southern gent, and somebody who knows the nature of this particular race and the Speedway like few others in the sport. To have him onboard and alongside us as we take on this ambitious project makes me feel both humbled and excited – he’ll be a fantastic asset to us all as we return the McLaren name to Indy.”
Michael Andretti added a more humorous anecdote to the story.
“I had the honor of racing with Johnny early in my career and always regarded him as one of the legends of our sport,” Andretti said. “We share similarities having both driven with McLaren – I even got the opportunity to witness his acting abilities when we appeared together on an episode of Home Improvement, and can say he’s a better racer than actor!
“I am looking forward to working alongside Johnny as he joins us as ambassador to the McLaren-Honda-Andretti effort.”