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.”
Ahora ya puedo compartir con vosotros que estaremos en mayo en las 500 millas!! Muchas ganas ✊️✊️
— Fernando Alonso (@alo_oficial) February 25, 2020
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.