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de Ferran, Rutherford impressed by Alonso’s Indy 500 effort

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Unsurprisingly, the dominant storyline of the 101st Indianapolis 500 Presented by Penngrade Motor Oil is the presence of Fernando Alonso. “Alonso Mania” has taken over Indianapolis Motor Speedway in every sense imaginable, with the other 32 competitors even fielding questions about how they believe he’ll do and what advice they would offer him.

And despite his lack of experience at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and at ovals in general (he had never been on an oval prior to his May 3 test at the Speedway), Alonso has acclimated himself quickly. His speeds have steadily gotten quicker all week and he made it into the Fast Nine Shootout after posting the seventh fastest average speed during Saturday qualifying.

Two former “500” winners chimed in on “Alonso Mania” this weekend, both of whom are involved in the Alonso/McLaren venture. In separate press conferences with the media, Gil de Ferran (2003 Indy 500 winner) and Johnny Rutherford (three-time Indy 500 winner; 1974, 1976, and 1980) expressed positive thoughts about Alonso’s time so far.

“To be honest, I think Fernando has slotted very well into the Andretti camp and the whole Andretti team culture,” said de Ferran, who has been coaching Alonso all week. “(He) really fit right in. There’s been a lot of exchange between all the drivers. Everything has been very positive.”

De Ferran, who first raced at Indianapolis in 1995, even detailed his own experience as a rookie, and how uncomfortable he was, which highlights how strong Alonso has been on debut.

“I came here in ’95 for the first time. I found it quite difficult,” de Ferran revealed. “The cars were very powerful back then, didn’t have a lot of downforce. It was even hard to go flat at the time. Even though we had a lot of practice, believe me, I needed all the practice.”

Fernando Alonso during Fast Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo: IndyCar

Johnny Rutherford, who joined the McLaren effort as an ambassador earlier this month and has won two Indy 500s under the McLaren banner, offered his thoughts on Saturday during a press conference of his own, and he did not seem surprised that Alonso has acclimated himself quickly to both track and car.

“He is a professional race driver, and he’s won the world title twice, and it shows,” Rutherford said of Alonso’s progression. “He had done very good in his tests. He just (rifled) through his driver’s test; at the end of the day he ran 220 mph or 222, I think.”

“Lone Star JR” added that the quality of Andretti Autosport and its Honda package has been instrumental in Alonso’s development. “It says a lot for the cars. They’re pretty stable. I look for him to do very well,” he asserted.

(Original Caption) Johnny Rutherford waves after he won the 58th Indianapolis 500 Race, 5/26. Rutherford’s wife, Betty, is left.

As of writing, Rutherford is likely one of the few people who hasn’t yet had a chance to speak with Alonso. But, when that time comes, he certainly will have some advice to give.

“It’s little things that he needs to think about,” he said regarding potential advice. “He’s a race driver, a good race driver. He just needs to think about traffic and some things that can happen. This is a long race: 500 miles, right at three hours. You’ve got to really pace yourself and be at the right place at the right time at the end. And that all comes with pit stops.”

Rutherford added, “I tell the rookies: If you can run a good steady race all day and have good pit stops without any major problems happening, you can finish in the top five here pretty easily. You know, just be there, because that’s the way it unfolds if you look at the records.”

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Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.