Fernando Alonso will reunite with McLaren to attempt 2020 Indy 500

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Fernando Alonso will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this May with a new team but a familiar brand.

The two-time Formula One champion will attempt to qualify for the 104th Indianapolis 500 in a third car with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, which is running full-time entries for Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew. The team formerly known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports picked up a new partner this year in McLaren, which fielded Alonso in Formula One in the 2007 and ‘15-18 seasons.

“It’s obviously one of the most iconic races in the motorsports calendar, and I’m extremely happy to be in the month of May again,” Alonso, who will drive the Ruoff Mortgage-sponsored No. 66 Dallara-Chevrolet, told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview about his Indy 500 return (watch the video above). “After last year, we had some issues, and it was not the race we were expecting. This year we go again with the aim to do well and to win the race.

“Definitely once you experience the Indy 500, it’ll remain always in your heart. The fans are amazing. The show is unbelievable, and the race itself is one of the greatest. In 2017, we had the real chance to be competitive and to feel that adrenaline.”

In his Indy 500 debut three years ago, Alonso led 27 laps for Andretti Autosport and finished 24th after an engine failure with 21 laps left.

With victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix, Alonso, 38, is trying to win the Indy 500 and complete the “Triple Crown of Motorsport” that has been achieved only by Graham Hill.

“I think the Indy 500 is one of the most impressive races,” Alonso said. “The Indy 500 competes the big three races in motorsports and in three completely different disciplines. It makes you quite a complete driver. That’s what I’m looking for in this stage of my career.

“The Indy 500 is probably the biggest priority for me now.”

Last year, Alonso failed to qualify in a McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet that wasn’t aligned with a winning team. Carlin Racing, a midpack team that had familiarity with McLaren from its England origins and European background, was its engineering partner. As an Indy 500 one-off, McLaren wasn’t able to run Alonso in any other races.

With McLaren aligned with two full-time entries for 2020, there is the possibility this year that Alonso might run the Indianapolis Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course as a warmup for the May 24 running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I know Helio (Castroneves) and some of the big guys are doing it as preparation,” Alonso said. “Now that McLaren is doing the full (IndyCar) championship, there’s a possibility we may think about that. Right now, it’s the Indy 500, and in the next couple of weeks, we’ll decide how the preparation will go.”

The Spaniard said he had conversations with Andretti Autosport (which reportedly was close to a deal but nixed by Honda) and other teams about racing at Indy this year. But Arrow McLaren Racing SP emerged as virtually the only competitive candidate (as reported last week by NBCSports.com).

“I already said last year I wanted to explore more options,” Alonso said. “Andretti and McLaren are the ones I feel in my heart are like family. At the end, it was the natural choice to go with McLaren, especially after last year, and give the fans something back after the disappointment of last year.”

Missing the iconic race in 2019 didn’t dampen Alonso’s enthusiasm for returning to partake in its history and tradition.

“I think the Indy 500 is on top of all the events I’ve ever participated,” he said. “The atmosphere, the adrenaline, the traditions. All the celebrations before the race. Even the milk. It arrives in a fridge Sunday morning and goes to the Pagoda.

“There are things as a driver you understand the importance of the moment and how big that race is worldwide.”

Alonso, who raced last month in the Dakar Rally, said the Indy 500 would have his full focus over the next three months. He has left the door open to returning to Formula One next year, though, and said he will decide on his 2021 racing schedule this summer.

New schedule has Josef Newgarden seeing double (points) again in 2020

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske believes the latest revised schedule for 2020 will change his approach to the season.

The new schedule has the defending IndyCar champion looking at ways to double the possibilities for a second consecutive championship.

“When I look at the whole schedule they released now, I look at it as double-points as a whole in all of them,” Newgarden told NBCSports.com Monday. “Iowa is double points on a short oval. There are double points at the Indy GP because there are two races and a road course. Then double points at Laguna, which is a different road course than IMS. And there is double points in the Indianapolis 500.”

IndyCar announced to team owners two weeks ago that the season finale (once scheduled for Laguna Seca and now at St. Petersburg) will no longer be a double-points event. But Monday’s schedule revision essentially adds three double points-style races to the Indy 500’s double-points format, Newgarden said.

“Those are four events where you have to be quite strong,” Newgarden said. “They are all very different from each other. Each one is critical to get right. Iowa has a chance to be the most difficult. From a physical standpoint, it’s already a physical track for one race. To double it up on one weekend will be quite the toll for the drivers.

“It will be a very big test physically to see who will get that weekend right. You can bag a lot of points because of it.”

Just 12 days after the first schedule revision, IndyCar officials announced another revised schedule Monday because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The new schedule features doubleheader weekends at Iowa Speedway in July and Laguna Seca in September. There is an additional race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 3.

That race will be known as the IndyCar Harvest Grand Prix. It will be the second time in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history that an IndyCar race is held in the fall. The only other time was the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a series of three races won by Johnny Aitken on Sept. 9, 1916.

The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix scheduled for May 30-31 will be dropped from the 2020 schedule. Michigan has a “Stay at Home” order that won’t be lifted in time to start construction of the Belle Isle street course.

Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles said the Detroit event will return in 2021.

The IMS road course essentially will have a doubleheader spaced out by nearly three months. The first race will be the GMR IndyCar Grand Prix on July 4, and the second will be Oct. 3 in the Harvest Grand Prix.

The extra doubleheaders combined with the loss of Detroit gives IndyCar a 15-race schedule for 2020. It started out as a 17-race campaign, but April’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the Acura Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the AutoNation IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas (COTA) have been canceled. The season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being revived as the season finale on a TBA weekend in October.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Newgarden also is excited about the chance to run at Indianapolis for three major races in one season. Of course, that all depends on how soon IndyCar can return to action because of the global pandemic.

“I’m continually excited about the thought of getting back to the race track,” Newgarden said. “We would love to be there now, but we can’t. With the current situation, everyone is trying to do the best they can to pitch in and do their part so we can get back to the track as quickly as possible.

“I’m excited to get back to racing at some point in the future. To see that is planned to start at Texas is still great. IndyCar has done a great job staying active and fluid with the ever-changing dynamics and current situation.

“We have three opportunities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are a lot of chances to get it right at the Mecca of our sport.

“I have a lot of trust and faith in IndyCar and Roger, and they are doing their best to stay on top of the situation.”

The one downer to the revised schedule is the loss of the Detroit doubleheader, a very important weekend to Team Penske because Roger Penske also owns the Detroit race. It’s a chance to showcase the series in front of as “Motor City” crowd, which is also the home to the Penske Corp.

“It’s a shame that we miss any event this year,” Newgarden said. “As a racer, you look forward to each one of them. If any of them drop off, it’s a tough pill. Detroit is more so because it is such an important race for us at Team Penske. It’s in our backyard for Penske Corp. Also, our relationship with Chevrolet, how much they put I that event and try to get it right for everybody involved. It’s tough to not have a go at that this year.

“I think of the volunteers. The Detroit weekend is so well run and executed with such a positive momentum behind it for the last eight years that I’ve gone there. I’ve always enjoyed that weekend off the back of the Indy 500.

“It’s a shame we will miss that this year, but I look forward to getting back there in 2021 and getting it started again.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500