Alonso’s Indy 500 dream ends in all-too-familar Honda engine failure

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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.”

IndyCar 2023 notes: Alexander Rossi ‘fits like a glove’ with new Arrow McLaren teammates

Alexander Rossi McLaren
Nate Ryan
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – There are more than three dozen fresh faces on the Arrow McLaren Racing IndyCar team, but there was one that Felix Rosenqvist was particularly keen to know – Alexander Rossi.

The driver of the No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet is the most high-profile new hire for McLaren, which has expanded to a third car to pair with the No. 6 of Rosenqvist and No. 5 of Pato O’Ward.

And there is another layer than Rossi just being the new kid. McLaren marks only his second team in NTT IndyCar Series after seven seasons at Andretti Autosport, where he began with a victory in the 2016 Indy 500 and was a championship contender for several seasons.

Rossi is a mercurial talent, and when things go wrong, the red mist quickly descends (and sometimes has led to feuds with teammates). He went winless during two of his final seasons at Andretti and was out of contention more often than not, often bringing out the prickly side of his personality.

Yet there has been no trace of the dour Rossi since joining McLaren. The pragmatic Californian is quick to remind everyone he hasn’t worked with the team yet at a track (much less been in its car), and there surely will be times he gets frustrated.

But it’s clear that Rossi, who made five Formula One starts in 2015 after several years racing in Europe, already is meshing well with an organization whose England-based parent company has deep roots in F1.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Rosenqvist said Tuesday during IndyCar’s preseason media availabilities. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in IndyCar. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, he’s been super nice, super kind. He fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah,  good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

There are many reasons why Rossi’s transition from Andretti to McLaren should be smoother than his abrupt move from F1 to IndyCar seven years ago. Namely, he no longer is the only newcomer to the team’s culture.

“It’s been kind of a good time to come in because everyone is finding a new role and position and kind of learning who’s who, finding everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

But while Rossi might have questions about the team, he has none about the series. Unlike when he arrived at Andretti without any oval experience, Rossi joins McLaren with his IndyCar credentials secured as an established star with eight victories, seven poles and 28 podiums over 114 starts.

Even in his swan song with Andretti, Rossi still managed a farewell victory last July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that snapped a 49-race, three-year winless drought. It seems reasonable to believe he immediately could re-emerge in his 2017-19 title contender form.

“I know the series, and I know kind of everything that goes into American open-wheel racing vs. the European open-wheel racing, which is really the biggest transition,” Rossi said. “Certainly it’s the largest kind of team switch. I’ve obviously driven for different teams in the past in Europe, in sports cars, whatever, but never really in my full-time job. I’ve driven for the same organization for a very long time and have a lot of respect and fabulous memories with those people.

“So it has been a big kind of shift, trying to compare and contrast areas that I can bring kind of recommendations and experience to maybe help fill the gaps that exist at Arrow McLaren. Again, all of this is in theory, right? I don’t really know anything. We’ll have a much better idea and plan going into St. Pete (the March 5 season opener).”

He has gotten a good handle on how things work at its Indianapolis headquarters, though, and has been pleased by the leadership of new racing director Gavin Ward (who worked in F1 before a championship stint with Josef Newgarden at Team Penske). McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown also seems omnipresent on both sides of the Atlantic, making appearances at IndyCar races seemingly as much as in the F1 paddock.

“I think what’s very cool about Arrow McLaren is we do have the resources of the McLaren F1 team,” Rossi said. “They very much are being integrated in a lot of respects. It’s not two separate entities. McLaren Racing is one organization that has its people and resources and intellect in kind of everything. It’s been pretty cool to see how that can be an advantage to us in terms of people, resources, simulations, software, kind of everything. We’ve been able to kind of rely on that and use that as a tool that maybe other teams certainly don’t have.”

That will be helpful for Rossi with the methodologies and nuances of racing a Chevrolet for the first time after seven seasons with Honda.

And of course, there will be the relationship with O’Ward, who has been McLaren’s alpha star since 2020.

Rossi was in a similar role for Andretti, which raises questions about how McLaren will handle having two stars accustomed to being the face of the team. But O’Ward said IndyCar regulations should allow each driver to maintain their own style without being forced to adapt as in other series.

“At the end of the day, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want,” O’Ward said. “Rather than in Formula 1, (it’s) ‘This is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car.’ In IndyCar, it’s very different where you can customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us.”

Though Thursday at The Thermal Club will mark the first time the trio works together at a track, Rosenqvist said he’s hung out a lot with Rossi (both are 31 years old) and deems his new teammate “well-integrated” in the simulator.

“I think the fit has been good with him, me and Pato,” Rosenqvist said. “On a trackside perspective, it’s obviously huge to have always a third opinion on things. Every driver’s opinion is valuable in its own way.”

Said O’Ward, 23: “It’s been great. (Rossi has) been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Ever the realist, though, Rossi still is tempering some of his enthusiasm.

“Again, we haven’t really done anything yet other than some meetings and some team activities together,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for what they’ve done in IndyCar and also their prior careers. I think that we all bring something a little bit different to the table, which I think is really unique in terms of not only personalities but driving styles and experience levels.

“I think we have the ingredients to really be able to develop the team and continue to push the team forward to even a better level than what they’ve shown in the past. It’s been a really positive experience. Really I have nothing at all negative to say and can’t actually wait to get to work, get on track and start working together.”