Distinct F1, Indy differences stand out as Alonso returns to Indy

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Fernando Alonso will be a rookie in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil but he is not, in fact, a rookie to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In truth, he had six somewhat forgettable starts there when the United States Grand Prix was held on the previous configuration of the IMS road course.

And the gap between what Alonso went through then as a 20-something versus today, a 35-year-old getting ready to tackle the biggest race on the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar, could not be more different.

Alonso failed to finish his first three starts at Indy with Minardi in 2001 and Renault in 2003 and 2004, the latter year having had a memorable crash on the start/finish straight.

He didn’t even get a chance to start what would have been his best chance to win in 2005, owing to the Michelin tire fiasco, as all-Michelin shod cars withdrew after the formation lap.

It was only in 2006 when he finally finished his first U.S. Grand Prix in fifth with Renault and then finished second to then-teammate Lewis Hamilton in 2007 in a Mercedes-powered McLaren, in the last Formula 1 race held at Indianapolis, that Alonso even got on the board at Indy.

INDIANAPOLIS – JUNE 17: Fernando Alonso of Spain and McLaren Mercedes races during the F1 Grand Prix of USA at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on June 17, 2007 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

But he did have memories of the Indianapolis 500 first, and cool as it was to have raced there in September or June in F1, he was never sure whether he’d have the opportunity to race there in May.

“I was concentrating in go karts, not even dreaming about Formula 1 as a child. It all seemed too difficult to reach,” Alonso admitted during the post-practice press conference. “You’re working to grow on the single seaters, and then into Formula 3000. Eventually you arrive to Formula 1 and you are an F1 driver.

“My first Indy memory would be Jacques Villeneuve winning (in 1995) then coming to F1 (a year later in 1996), and then Juan Pablo (Montoya) winning in 2000. Those were the first memories I had from this place.

30 Sep 2001: Minardi driver Fernando Alonso of Spain in action during the US Formula One Grand Prix held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in Indiana. Mandatory Credit: Clive Mason /Allsport

“When we came here in Formula 1 it was something special. We were racing in the States, which was amazing for Formula 1, and it was the biggest place in the world. I remember the first year I raced here, I took pictures of the entrance. I was taking pictures. I hoped one day to race here in May.”

Alonso took his first step toward that race in May today in his first test session aboard the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry, completing more than 100 laps and finishing his Rookie Orientation Program.

Because Formula 1 doesn’t have anything close to an oval on its calendar, it’s hard to think of an F1 corner that matches any of the four left-handers that make up IMS’ 2.5 miles. Still, Alonso gave his best stab at it when asked.

“Maybe 130R from Suzuka? You’re probably at 320 or 330 kph… I have no idea in mph,” Alonso said. “It feels different. On Formula 1, the feeling of just the steering wheel helps it feel a little bit easier. The level of downforce, sophistication, is that there is a little bit more grip and predictable car.

“But here, it is more raw. It’s more racing. It’s definitely faster and different. We all started in karts or smaller categories. We missed that kind of feeling, where every single millimeter or tenth of second matters. Here, it’s more driver input in different phases of the corner.”

Alonso also noted how the start-up process in IndyCar is vastly different from F1, and significantly quicker.

“Here, they ask if you’re ready, you say yes, switch the car on and you go. In Formula 1, it takes 6 minutes to fire up the car!” Alonso laughed.

“It’s check, re-check. (It’s) so much technology, electronics, hybrid system that needs to be linked with the combustion engine, the brake by wire. Every run gets slowed down by possibilities (that could go wrong) on the car. Here, it is more fun because you switch on the engine, and you race.”

The hardest part of Alonso’s F1-Indy odyssey from a travel and logistics perspective, meanwhile, appears behind him.

Since his announcement on April 12 that he’d be racing in Indianapolis, he has had this travel schedule of locations: Bahrain, Birmingham, Ala., Indianapolis, Sochi, Russia and Indianapolis again, today.

He’ll be back home to his native Spain in the coming days for preparation ahead of his home race, the Spanish Grand Prix (Sunday, May 14, 8 a.m. ET, NBCSN). Immediately after that, he plans to be back in Indianapolis by May 15, where he’ll set up shop for the remainder of the month and miss the Monaco Grand Prix.

For Alonso, this next month comes after a surreal two-month journey of travel since preseason testing for the Formula 1 season began in his native Spain in early March.

“Actually I started in the week before Australia, and I wasn’t coming back to home until after tomorrow when I’m there,” he said.

“So from the first week in March, I’ve been moving. The next four days I will train a bit and relax a little bit. See the family in Spain, be at the Spanish Grand Prix. 

“There’s been a lot of flights, time zone differences, but I’m pretty much OK at the moment.”

Other than the whole, getting used to turning left only, thing.

“Yes it felt new to me! It felt strange, anti-clockwise at those speeds,” Alonso said. “But it’s been a very helpful day in getting to learn all the techniques on driving. I’m happy with this first step.”

IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta: How to watch, start times, schedule, entry list

AUTO: NOV 13 IMSA - Motul Petit Le Mans
David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Start times, TV schedule: The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship will conclude the 2022 season this weekend with the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta, which also will mark the end of the line for the DPi class.

The premier Daytona Prototype international category, which started in 2017, will be replaced by the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with its LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to Le Mans.

For the third time in four years, an Acura will be crowned the champion in DPi as the No. 10 of Wayne Taylor Racing holds a 19-point edge over the No. 60 of Meyer Shank Racing.

Last year, WTR’s No. 10 entered the season finale with a 19-point lead but lost the title to the No. 31 Cadillac of Action Express.

Full-time WTR drivers Filipe Albuquerque and Ricky Taylor (who will be joined by Brendon Hartley in the No. 10 this weekend) have a series-leading four victories this season. The MSR duo of Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves this weekend) won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and have five runner-up finishes this year.

Championship scenarios in the other four categories:

GTD Pro: Points leaders Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet will clinch the title by starting in their No. 9 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

–GTD: There are 140 points separating the top four teams with Roman De Angelis and the No. 27 Heart of Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT3 leading by 45 points.

–LMP2: John Farano is first in the driver standings by 33 points over Dwight Merriman and Ryan Dalziel. In the team standings, the No. 52 PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports leads by 19 points over the No. 8 Tower Motorsport (Farano’s team).

–LMP3: No. 54 CORE autosport drivers Jon Bennett and Colin Braun lead by 83 points over the No. 74 Riley Motorsports of Gar Robinson.

With the 10-hour race requiring an extra driver, several stars from other racing series have been added. In addition to Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay will serve as third drivers in Chip Ganassi Racing’s pair of Cadillacs.

Jimmie Johnson also will be making his last DPi start in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac with Mike Rockenfeller and Kamui Kobayashi. Petit Le Mans could mark the last start in an IMSA prototype for Johnson, who has said limited inventory likely will keep him out of the GTP category in the Rolex 24 next year.

Here are the start times, starting lineup, schedule and TV info for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta (all times are ET):


Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta start times, schedule, TV info

When: Saturday, 12:10 p.m. ET

Race distance: Ten hours on the 12-turn, 2.54-mile road course

TV: Noon-3 p.m., NBC; 3-10:30 p.m., USA Network. Peacock, the NBC Sports App,and NBCSports.com will have streaming coverage of the event from flag to flag beginning at noon. Leigh Diffey and Dave Burns are the play by play announcers with analysts Calvin Fish, Townsend Bell, James Hinchcliffe and Brian Till. The pit reporters are Kevin Lee, Hannah Newhouse, Dillon Welch and Matt Yocum.

IMSA.com live TV qualifying stream: Friday, 3:35 p.m. ET.

IMSA Radio: All sessions are live on IMSA.com and RadioLeMans.com; SiriusXM live race coverage will begin Saturday at noon (XM 207, Internet/App 992).

Forecast: According to Wunderground.com, it’s expected to be 63 degrees with an 85% chance of rain at the green flag.

Entry list: Click here to see the 48-car field for the IMSA Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta


Daily schedule IMSA Petit Le Mans

Here’s a rundown of the Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia:

Wednesday, Sept. 28

9:30 a.m.: Mazda MX-5 practice

10:25 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup

12:30 p.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

1:15 p.m.: Mazda MX-5 practcice

2 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup practice

3:30 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

Thursday, Sept. 29

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge practice

9 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup qualifying

9:50 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

11:40 a.m.: Prototype Challenge qualifying

12:10 p.m.: Michelin Challenge practice

1:50 p.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 1

2:55 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

5 p.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 1

6 p.m.: Michelin Challenge qualifying

7:30 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

Friday, Sept. 30

8 a.m.: Prototype Challenge race

9:50 a.m.: Mazda MX-5, Race 2

10:55 a.m.: Porsche Carrera Cup, Race 2

1:10 p.m.: IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race

3:40 p.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship qualifying

Saturday, Oct. 1

9:15 a.m.: IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice

12:10 p.m.: Petit Le Mans