Fernando Alonso is going through a phase – and that’s meant in a good way.
He’s trying things he’s never done before and taking in the enjoyment and newness of it all.
Last year, it was Alonso taking part in and doing well for much of his first Indianapolis 500. He led 27 laps early in the Greatest Spectacle of Racing and appeared headed to a potential upset win before a blown motor with just over 20 laps ended his day and winning hopes prematurely.
Tuesday, the 36-year-old Spaniard was in Charlotte for a stop at NASCAR Media Day and waxed whimsically about how he might want to try NASCAR some day – but not some day soon, though.
And this weekend, Alonso will enjoy another career first, competing in his first Rolex 24 endurance race this Saturday and Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
The two-time Formula One world champion is casting a large presence in Daytona, but nowhere near as large as last year at Indianapolis.
Still, his name has drawing power that should help the overall crowd for the 24 Hours, and much like at Indy last May, he is in a car – the United Autosports No. 23 Ligier LMP2 – that could surprise with a strong run.
Even though this will be his first endurance race in a sports car, Alonso already has a feel for what’s in store this weekend, having taken part in the three-day Roar Before the 24 three weeks ago at Daytona.
He got a good handle on the difference between a sports car and an open wheel Formula One chassis. He also got a good handle on the Daytona road course layout.
And much like he did in Indianapolis, don’t be surprised if Alonso surprises with a strong outing in the Rolex 24.
“You feel the compression in the body, you feel the visibility change because when in a normal car on the circuit, your view in the car is longer ahead,” told IMSA Wire at the conclusion of the Roar. “When you are in the corner with banking you see only the next 200 meters of the track.
“But it was good fun, a good feeling after missing track time. So far, so good.’’
IMSA President Scott Atherton has quickly become an Alonso fan, both personally and also for what his inclusion in the race will do for the race series.
“I don’t remember a time in my tenure in sports car racing which goes back a long time that we’ve had an active F1 driver on the grid,” Atherton said to IMSA Wire, adding, “and to have an active F1 driver of Alonso’s credentials … is nothing short of remarkable.
“Of course, his debut at Indy last year cannot be overstated in terms of the impact it had. It created a groundswell of interest in the United States and overseas.
“It will be significant and certainly with what this race represents and uniqueness of him competing in a multi-class race over 24 hours. The dynamics of that … we all saw remarkable embrace of his ability to compete in highest level at the Indy 500 and I think we will see the same here.”
While it’s unlikely Alonso will have a repeat performance at Indy this May due to his F1 obligations, this weekend will allow him to check off Daytona from his bucket list, much like he did with Indy last year.
“You smell motor racing here,” Alonso said. “That’s a good feeling for any driver. The speedway is amazing. The size of everything is just huge. I imagine this grandstand full of people for the NASCAR race would be an amazing thing to experience.”
Alonso still has one other race to check off his bucket list, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it’s unclear when that may reach fruition.
Much like location, location, location is key in selling real estate and buying a house, scheduling, scheduling, scheduling is the biggest obstacle for the perennial busy Alonso to overcome if he is to race at Le Mans, in NASCAR or even making a return visit to the Indy 500.
But for now, he was able to fit the Rolex 24 into his schedule and is looking forward to what he’ll experience this weekend.
“This is first time for me in an endurance race,” he told IMSA Wire. “First time for me in a prototype car. First time driving at night. First time driving with GTs around. Many new things will come. Step by step.
“That’s quite a big challenge but I’m ready to join. And as it happened in Indianapolis, if you feel great opportunity and you feel competitive, you go for it.”