From a story that started six weeks ago when he shocked the racing world by announcing his entry to the 101st Indianapolis 500, Fernando Alonso’s dream of winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing came to an all-too-familiar end when he was sidelined by an engine failure late on.
Two-time Formula 1 champion Alonso had been a force at the front of the pack throughout the first half of the race and even looked capable of taking a famous victory at the Brickyard, only for his engine to give up on the main straight and his hopes to go up in smoke.
Given his Indy 500 entry was put into motion as a way to ease his gripes with McLaren’s F1 struggles with ailing engine partner Honda, for it to end in such fashion weighs heavy with irony and, for Alonso, disappointment.
Thrown into a rolling IndyCar race start for the first, Alonso made a slow getaway on the opening lap to lose four positions and sit ninth, only to then pick his way back through the order with some fine overtakes on the likes of Will Power and JR Hildebrand.
A swift first pit stop of 8.2 seconds from the McLaren-Honda-Andretti crew lifted Alonso to third after the opening cycle, with the Spaniard then putting down the hammer to take the lead of the race from Alexander Rossi on Lap 37.
Alonso and Rossi spent the next 15 laps drafting, swapping the lead back and forth in a bid to save fuel, with the McLaren man sitting as race leader when the red flag was thrown for the crash between Scott Dixon and Jay Howard on Lap 52.
Alonso shuffled back to fourth before the next caution was shown following Conor Daly’s crash, and the Spaniard continued to sit in the top five despite being frustrated by former F1 colleague Max Chilton’s bold defense at one point.
Running second behind Andretti teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Rossi, Alonso was able to battle his way back through to the lead on the restart with 70 laps to go following Buddy Lazier’s shunt.
Honda’s engine concerns were justified when smoke began to seep from the rear of Hunter-Reay’s car, sparking another caution on Lap 138. While it did rule out one of Alonso’s win rivals, it was one less bullet in the gun for Andretti at the front.
Alonso made his penultimate stop under the caution, dropping him to ninth behind the drivers that opted to stay out. Just a single lap followed when Ed Carpenter’s front wing broke, leaving debris on track, but there was enough time for Alonso to fall back to 12th ahead of the sixth caution.
The loss of position also cost Alonso his net advantage over the field. Now on the same strategy as Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Oriol Servia – all of whom ran ahead – Alonso had ground to make up heading towards the final round of pit stops.
Alonso’s final visit to pit road was sparked by another caution called for a Honda engine failure, this time leaving Charlie Kimball on the sidelines. The majority of the pack came in, leaving the field with a straight sprint to the flag. Sat ninth for the restart, Alonso had to mount a charge with 30 laps to go on the restart.
Having passed James Davison early on the restart, Alonso picked up another spot with a brave move around the outside of Kanaan with 24 laps to go, giving him P7.
As Alonso continued to push, he became the third Honda driver to suffer an engine failure as he came towards the start/finish with 21 laps remaining, his car grinding to a halt.
“I felt the noise, the engine, the friction, I backed off and saw the smoke. It’s a shame. We deserved to at least finish today,” Alonso told ESPN.
“The whole day was a very nice experience from the very beginning, from the presentation, and I think the performance was good.
“We led the race for a couple of laps. We led at the red flag. It’s been a very nice surprise to come here with these names, the best of oval racing, and be able to be competitive.
“This one stings. But I feel competitive. If I come back, I come back with something I know, and it would be easier the second time. It’s been a really good time.
“Thanks to INDYCAR, Indianapolis and the fans for one of the best experiences of my career.”