INDIANAPOLIS – Graham Rahal wants to win Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. If not him, he’d like to see a Honda driver in victory lane.
Ditto for James Hinchcliffe, who’d like to win but would also be happy to see a Honda winner, as well.
Will Power is also of the same mindset. If he can’t win, he’d like one of his Team Penske teammates take the checkered flag.
But those same drivers interviewed by NBC Sports Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, are also well aware of the potential impact of having two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso in the race.
And make no mistake, even though this is Alonso’s first foray into IndyCar and oval racing, when it comes to Sunday’s race, he’s in it to win it. And some of the drivers he’ll challenge for the ‘500 win are well aware of that.
“Obviously, selfishly, for a lot of us, we hope he doesn’t,” Rahal said with a smile.
Rahal then grew serious, adding, “But I’m not going to lie to you, he’s driving the same car Townsend (Bell) drove last year, which was one of the favorites to win until the pit lane accident. So it’s a fast car, it’s a good machine, I’ve worked with some of his mechanics in the past.
“They’re quality guys. It wouldn’t surprise me. He’s going to be in the hunt. But I hope it just continues to draw more eyes. I think he’s had a great time here this month. It would be great to have him continue to come back, amongst others. Clearly, we hope one of the regulars wins this thing, there’s a lot of guys that deserve a lot of credit and maybe have been overlooked this month, but that’s just part of it. We’ll see what happens Sunday.”
Hinchcliffe also wants to win Sunday, but knows Alonso brings an additional dynamic to the table that is kind of a mixed blessing.
“That’s one of those bittersweet situations,” Hinchcliffe said with a chuckle. “Obviously, it would be a tremendous amount of coverage for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500, but if a rookie comes in and wins it on pace, it just makes us look a bit silly.
“Now, if you’re going to be made to look silly, if it’s going to happen at the hands of Fernando Alonso, you’ll sleep a little bit better at night because he’s pretty much the greatest living racing driver.
“The fact of the matter is he’s got a really good shot at it, man. He’s been incredible. There’s a lot of difficult situations that you get put into during a 500-mile race here or in practice and we’ve watched him handle them like a seasoned veteran. It’s been very impressive, honestly. He’s in one of the best cars, he’s starting near the front (middle of Row 2), he’s got as good a shot as anyone.”
In addition to Alonso’s massive talent, Hinchcliffe has also been impressed at the Spanish driver’s personality.
“He’s super down to earth, very friendly and has really embraced this experience,” Hinchcliffe said. “The IndyCar paddock is a very different world from the F1 paddock.
“I know for a fact that there are a lot of (F1) drivers that wouldn’t handle the atmosphere here very well, but Fernando hasn’t been like that. He’s embraced the whole experience, the fan interaction we have, which is a massive degree higher than what you see in F1. He’s been an awesome addition to the field. I hope it’s not the last IndyCar race that we see him at.”
And then there’s Will Power, who has an IndyCar championship trophy on his mantle, but not the Borg-Warner Indy 500 winner’s trophy.
Power feels he has a good chance to finally break through and win the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. But he also knows Alonso presents a formidable challenge in addition to the regular IndyCar drivers he does battle with in every series race.
But Power agrees with his counterparts that an Alonso win would bring a great deal of worldwide attention that would provide a big boost of attention and popularity into the IndyCar Series.
“I think you’d have a new group of Spanish fans if Alonso happened to win the race, plus a lot of interest from Europe, which there already is,” Power said. “He definitely has the car and the capability to do it – but so does a lot of people in the field.”
When asked if he can relate his own first 500 (finished 13th in 2008) to that of Alonso, Power said it was completely apples to oranges.
“It’s not similar,” Power said. “When I came here the first time, the team had never raced ovals and we got the car two weeks before the first race of the season and had no idea of the setup. And my engineer had never run ovals, either.
“(Alonso’s) been placed with one of the best teams, one of the best cars and much more experience. I would have dreamed of having that experience in my first time. It would have made it much easier and given me way more confidence on the oval.”