Fernando Alonso’s only wise choice for Indy 500 leads back to McLaren

Mark Thompson, Getty Images

If and when two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso finally announces he has a ride for the 104th Indianapolis 500, it likely will be on the same team where his search began.

The wisest choice for Alonso would be at Arrow McLaren Racing SP, where he would be reunited with McLaren CEO Zak Brown and Sporting Director Gil de Ferran.

It’s not only the wisest choice, it’s likely Alonso’s only choice.

First, a little background.

Alonso was a fan favorite after his fairly successful run in the 101st Indianapolis 500 in 2017. That was with McLaren Honda Andretti, a team that combined McLaren’s backing with team owner Michael Andretti’s crew and engineering support. Most of Alonso’s crew members and engineers were from Andretti Autosport and the driver from Spain got up to speed fast and stayed there.

It all worked because McLaren then was a Honda team in Formula One, and Andretti Autosport was one of Honda’s top teams in IndyCar. Because both teams shared the same engine supplier, it was easy to put together the relationship and allow Alonso to skip the Grand Prix of Monaco – the premier event on the Formula One World Championship schedule.

As an Indy 500 rookie, Alonso won over the fans and was in contention to win the race, leading 27 laps and running seventh before his engine conked out with 21 laps left in the race. Alonso vowed he would return to Indy because he had some “unfinished business” and went back to Formula One.

By the end of 2017, however, the relationship between McLaren and Honda had deteriorated to the point where the driver was highly critical of his underpowered engine in F1. He radioed to his crew that it was “a GP2” engine during one infamous transmission. McLaren also publicly ridiculed the Honda engine and at the end of the year, McLaren and Honda split.

Honda officials in Japan believed McLaren breached its loyalty with the manufacturer and prohibited its companies from ever doing business again with McLaren. When McLaren attempted to form a team with Andretti Autosport late in 2018, it was blocked by Honda Japan, leading team owner Michael Andretti to consider a jump to Chevrolet when the Honda contract expired in 2019.

HPD and American Honda officials were able to convince Andretti to stay, and a new deal was announced at Mid-Ohio last July.

McLaren wanted back into IndyCar but would have to be a Chevrolet team to do that. The top Chevy team in IndyCar, Team Penske, said no to a combined effort with McLaren because the team’s business model is to promote its brand of sponsors, not McLaren’s.

McLaren thought it could do an Indy 500 effort on its own, so in 2019, it ordered an Indy car from Dallara that was built and prepared at McLaren’s base in Woking, England. It created an engineering alliance with Carlin Racing, one of the smallest Chevrolet operations in IndyCar, but the two sides were familiar because of Trevor Carlin’s success in European junior formula racing.

The combination was like the maiden voyage of the Titanic. It wasn’t long before the McLaren/Carlin/Alonso combination hit the iceberg, and it sank in spectacular fashion when Alonso was the last driver bumped from the field during last year’s “Last Row Shootout” on Bump Day by Kyle Kaiser and Juncos Racing.

Alonso was in his final season as “McLaren Ambassador” in 2019 and had a deal in WEC racing with Toyota. When Alonso’s McLaren contract expired on Dec. 31, 2019, he was free to negotiate with any team of his choosing.

Prior to that, however, McLaren purchased an ownership stake in Arrow Schmidt Peterson to become Arrow McLaren SP. That team was already a long-time Honda operation, and in order to make that deal work, it broke its Honda contract with one year remaining to become a Chevrolet operation.

Alonso was not interested in a full-time IndyCar deal, and Arrow McLaren SP parked popular veteran James Hinchcliffe of Canada for two young drivers and the past two Indy Lights champions, Pato O’Ward of Mexico and Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida.

Brown and de Ferran both said they would consider a third driver for the Indy 500.

Alonso had put together a deal to drive a sixth Andretti Autosport Honda for the 2020 Indy 500, but that deal fell apart and was never announced. It was presumed by many that Honda Japan said no. Andretti, perhaps showing loyalty to his manufacturing partner, said Wednesday in Indianapolis that was not the case. He said Alonso and Andretti Autosport “could not come to terms” without explaining what those terms were.

Hinchcliffe, who was parked by Arrow McLaren SP, will compete in the ride that was put together for Alonso at Indy by Andretti. He will run three races, including the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the 104th Indianapolis 500 and at Texas Motor Speedway in June.

Alonso revealed on his Instagram that he had a deal for the Indy 500 but did not reveal the team.

It’s not hard to figure out through process of elimination.

The top two Chevrolet teams at Indy are Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing. Team Penske president Tim Cindric said the team will not expand to five cars for the Indy 500, and Carpenter told NBC Sports.com last week in Austin, Texas, that he is not adding a fourth car for Alonso.

Of the other Chevrolet teams including A.J. Foyt Racing, Carlin and Juncos, they do not appear to be in a position to give Alonso the kind of ride he desires. Dreyer & Reinbold is an Indy 500 one-off program that has been competitive in the past, but another part-time effort probably doesn’t fit Alonso’s profile as an Indy 500-only driver.

So, the obvious and only choice is for Alonso to be reunited with Brown and de Ferran on the latest version of McLaren’s IndyCar effort at Arrow McLaren SP. He will have a much better chance at making the starting lineup and contending in the race because the operation co-owned by Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson is a full-time entrant in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Though it’s the same team that failed to get Hinchcliffe into the 2018 Indy 500, INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske announced changes to Bump Day last week. The “Last Row Shootout” increases from 60 to 75 minutes with cars that are bumped out allowed more than one attempt. That will change the dynamic from Alonso having just one attempt in the Last Row Shootout last year.

Putting together a third car for Alonso would be easy for Arrow McLaren SP. Zak Brown has said he is interested in talking about it. Schmidt said he hasn’t discussed it but believes Alonso needs to be in the Indy 500.

If that happens, Alonso’s lengthy, circuitous route to his Indy 500 ride will end up right where it started.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead


With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.

In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list