Fernando Alonso completes his Rookie Orientation Program at Indy (VIDEO)

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Fernando Alonso has completed his Rookie Orientation Program for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, driving the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in his first running. This means he is cleared to participate in the race itself.

It took just 50 laps for Alonso to work through ROP, at a best speed of 219.654 mph (40.9735 seconds) around the 2.5-mile speedway.

The phases of ROP are 10 laps in the 205-210 mph range, then 15 in the 210-215 mph range, then 15 north of 215-plus.

Alonso expressed his first comments to Robin Miller during the IMS/NBC Sports App live stream, hosted by Kevin Lee, Mario Andretti and Johnny Rutherford with Miller on pit lane.

“It was fun! It was a good way to start to build the speed. It was a little bit difficult at the beginning to meet the minimum Now we can put some laps and feel a bit of a the car. Right now the car is driving myself, I’m not driving the car,” Alonso told Miller.

“The laps, with 30 laps, 40 laps in the book, you’re able to fine tune the lines, the upshift and downshifts. At the moment everything looks good. Now we start the real thing.

“I think the feeling of the simulator is quite realistic. The real car is such a unique feeling. It’s not the same in the simulator as the real thing! The real thing, Marco ran it this morning. Running alone is quite OK, we will see in the next weeks.

“It was so far a good experience. Now it starts the real deal.”

Team principal Michael Andretti, who will call Alonso’s race, said Alonso has done well and acclimated to the initial level of downforce.

“It was great. He did perfect. Now we can play a little bit after he looks at data, so he can see what’s on the data compared to how he’s feeling,” Andretti told Miller.

Alonso is set to run again after a quick break but it depends on whether weather will hit the track. Here is the official plan per INDYCAR communications head Curt Cavin:

Interestingly, the 51 laps he completed in this morning session, following Marco Andretti’s shakedown, are more than he has in any Grand Prix this year except for Bahrain (54 laps). At Australia (50 laps), China (33) and Russia (did not start), Alonso did not make as many laps.

Yes, it’s an oval compared to a road course and laps are quicker, but this was by all means a successful first run in the car.

More to follow…

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”