Alonso will miss the Formula 1 race in Monaco on May 28 to line up on the grid for the Indy 500, as McLaren returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway after 38 years away with an entry supported by Honda and Andretti Autosport.
McLaren has history in the ‘500, winning the race with Johnny Rutherford in 1974 and 1976. Alonso will race in the same papaya color this year that Rutherford took to Victory Lane in each of those years, and has also returned to McLaren’s F1 car for 2017.
In a statement issued following the announcement, Ojjeh spoke about McLaren’s affinity for the ‘500 and his delight in taking the marque back to the Brickyard.
“Even though I’ve been a major shareholder and director of McLaren for more than 30 years, I arrived after our first IndyCar era had come to an end,” Ojjeh said.
“Nonetheless, I’ve attended the Indy 500, and I came away hugely impressed by the scope and scale of this enormous and well-organized event, and the sheer enthusiasm of the hundreds of thousands of fans in attendance.
“So, more than 30 years later, I’m pleased and proud that we’re about to embark on a new IndyCar era for McLaren, this time with Andretti Autosport and Honda.”
While McLaren’s entry to the ‘500 is set to be its sole appearance in the Verizon IndyCar Series for the time being, Ojjeh admitted that futher attempts at the race and even a full works operation could be considered in the future.
“The Indy 500 is the only IndyCar race we’ll be entering this year, but we may possibly repeat that in years to come and it’s just possible that we may even run a full-works McLaren IndyCar operation at some point in the future. We’ll see,” he said.
“Equally, we may potentially enter the Le Mans 24 Hours again some time – we won it outright in 1995 with our iconic McLaren F1 GTR – but to be clear we have absolutely no definite plans to do so at this stage.”
A return to Le Mans would be of particular interest to Alonso, whose entry to the ‘500 acts as the next stage in his bid to become just the second man to win the Triple Crown of Motorsport (Monaco GP, Indy 500, Le Mans).
Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.
There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.
Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.
Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.
By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.
With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.
This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.
Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.
Two privateers have started the season on a high note.
Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.
The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.
Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.
In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.