Fernando Alonso confirms this will be his last Indy 500 for at least two years

Fernando Alonso Indy future
RED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images

After attempting the Indy 500 in three of four years, Aug. 23 will mark the last trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway by Fernando Alonso for at least the next two years.

Alonso confirmed Tuesday that a full-time return to Renault next season will preclude the Indianapolis 500 from his schedule for 2021-22.

Though there won’t be an F1 race that falls on the Indy 500 next year – the Monaco Grand Prix will take place a week earlier than the Brickyard on May 23, 2021 – Alonso still would miss qualifying, and he said his deal with Renault wouldn’t allow for a hall pass as McLaren did in 2017.

INDY 500 PRACTICE: Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown recently had left open the possibility of Alonso returning in the 2021 Indy 500, but the driver quashed any hope Tuesday.

“I think I approach the (Indy 500) knowing the next two years is going to be impossible to come,” Alonso, who signed with Renault in July, said during a Zoom media availability. “I will have to miss qualifying weekend if I wanted to do so. I will not be any more with McLaren next year in F1. That will not work either. I know at least for two years, I will not be here.

“This is the way it is at the moment. I’m here ready to enjoy the event, ready to give my best, and help the team as much as I can. Let’s see in the future what are the possibilities. If you eventually win one day the race, maybe that opens the possibility for different things.”

After failing to qualify for the Indy 500 last year, Alonso is guaranteed to make this year’s event (which will have 33 entrants to fill its field exactly), and he should have a much better shot at victory given the early season success of Arrow McLaren SP teammates Pato O’Ward, 21, and Oliver Askew, 24.

O’Ward, who is in his first full season in NTT IndyCar Series, nearly won the July 12 race at Road America, and Askew, a rookie, finished third July 17 at Iowa Speedway.

“I was very impressed, definitely,” Alonso, 39, said about the team, which spent the past few days getting him comfortable at its Indianapolis shop after his arrival in the United States last week. “I think I was watching all the races from TV with attention because I knew that the test day we had in April was canceled. The simulator days that we had programmed were canceled. I knew it was very limited time for me on the car before the 500. I wanted to know how the team was performing every weekend.

“It was very impressive what both did. I knew that they are very talented, very brave. It is going to be a huge boost for the team to have these two young drivers, talented drivers, bringing fresh ideas, fresh in terms of car performance, and I’m looking forward to work with everybody.”

Though he led 27 laps before finishing 24th because of an engine failure in his 2017 Indy 500 debut, Alonso downplayed his chances Tuesday and noted he was “aware of maybe not being among the favorites because we lack the experience.”

He also said it was “going to be a shock on race day” to compete without fans, whom he called “the magic part of the 500.

“The fans around the garages, the interaction you have with them,” he said. “I will miss a lot that part, especially the races here in the U.S. They are all very special. Racing at Daytona, Sebring, there is always this close contact with the fans. That will be really missed.

“Probably my life outside the car will be a little bit easier so I don’t need to run away. Sometimes I can go to the bathroom with no phone cameras pointed at me. Apart of that, I think when you close the visor and you are racing, it will be the same pressure. Being in this huge place with these huge grandstands, not having a full, packed grandstand on Sunday is going to be a little bit difficult. But we will put a good show on television where we will make somehow big thanks to the fans and celebrate with them even on a distance.”

Along with marking Alonso’s last Indy 500 for a while, the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET on NBC; green flag 2:30 p.m.) also will be the two-time Formula One champion’s last major event this year.

After racing nonstop last year (winning the Rolex 24 and 24 Hours of Le Mans) and starting this year with the Dakar Rally, Alonso is slowing down to acclimate for re-entry into F1. Aside from simulator work and attending a few F1 races with Renault, it’ll be a “quite easy second part of the year.

“Last year, it was too much,” Alonso said. “It was too active. I had the full attack season. (In) 2020 I wanted to relax a little bit. The second part of the season, just relax, charge the batteries. Coming back to F1, I knew it could be very demanding.”

Roger Penske vows new downtown Detroit GP will be bigger than the Super Bowl for city


DETROIT – He helped spearhead bringing the town a Super Bowl 17 years ago, but Roger Penske believes the reimagined Chevrolet Detroit GP is his greatest gift to the Motor City.

“It’s bigger than the Super Bowl from an impact within the city,” Penske told NBC Sports. “Maybe not with the sponsors and TV, but for the city of Detroit, it’s bigger than the Super Bowl.

“We’ve got to give back individually and collectively, and I think we as a company in Michigan and in Detroit, it’s something we know how to do. It shows we’re committed. Someone needs to take that flag and run it down through town. And that’s what we’re trying to do as a company. We’re trying to give back to the city.”

After 30 years of being run on Belle Isle, the race course has been moved to a new nine-turn, 1.7-mile downtown layout that will be the centerpiece of an event weekend that is designed to promote a festival and community atmosphere.

There will be concerts in the adjacent Hart Plaza. Local businesses from Detroit’s seven districts have been invited to hawk their wares to new clientele. Boys and Girls Clubs from the city have designed murals that will line the track’s walls with images of diversity, inclusion and what Detroit means through the eyes of youth.

And in the biggest show of altruism, more than half the circuit will be open for free admission. The track is building 4-foot viewing platforms that can hold 150 people for watching the long Jefferson Avenue straightaway and other sections of the track.

Detroit GP chairman Bud Denker, a longtime key lieutenant across Penske’s various companies, has overseen more than $20 million invested in infrastructure.

The race is essentially Penske’s love letter to the city where he made much of his fame as one of Detroit’s most famous automotive icons, both as a captain of industry with a global dealership network and as a racing magnate (who just won his record 19th Indy 500 with Josef Newgarden breaking through for his first victory on the Brickyard oval).

During six decades in racing, Penske, 86, also has run many racetracks (most notably Indianapolis Motor Speedway but also speedways in Michigan, California and Pennsylvania), and much of that expertise has been applied in Detroit.

“And then the ability for us to reach out to our sponsor base, and then the business community, which Bud is tied in with the key executives in the city of Detroit, bringing them all together,” Penske said. “It makes a big difference.

“The Super Bowl is really about the people that fly in for the Super Bowl. It’s a big corporate event, and the tickets are expensive. And the TV is obviously the best in the world. What we’ve done is taken that same playbook but made it important to everyone in Detroit. Anyone that wants to can come to the race for free, can stand on a platform or they can buy a ticket and sit in the grandstands or be in a suite. It’s really multiple choice, but it is giving it to the city of Detroit. I think it’s important when you think of these big cities across the country today that are having a lot of these issues.”

Denker said the Detroit Grand Prix is hoping for “an amazingly attended event” but is unsure of crowd estimates with much of the track offering free viewing. The race easily could handle a crowd of at least 50,000 daily (which is what the Movement Music Festival draws in Hart Plaza) and probably tens of thousands more in a sprawling track footprint along the city’s riverwalk.

Penske is hoping for a larger crowd than Belle Isle, which was limited to about 30,000 fans daily because of off-site parking and restricted fan access at a track that was located in a public park.

The downtown course will have some unique features, including a “split” pit lane on an all-new concrete (part of $15 million spent on resurfaced roads, new barriers and catchfencing … as well as 252 manhole covers that were welded down).

A $5 million, 80,000-square-foot hospitality chalet will be located adjacent to the paddock and pit area. The two-story structure, which was imported from the 16th hole of the Waste Management Open in Phoenix, will offer 70 chalets (up from 23 suites at Belle Isle last year). It was built by InProduction, the same company that installed the popular HyVee-branded grandstands and suites at Iowa Speedway last year.

Penske said the state, city, county and General Motors each owned parts of the track, and their cooperation was needed to move streetlights and in changing apexes of corners. Denker has spent the past 18 months meeting with city council members who represent Detroit’s seven districts, along with Mayor Mike Duggan. Penske said the local support could include an appearance by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer.

Denker and Detroit GP  president Michael Montri were inspired to move the Detroit course downtown after attending the inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We saw what an impact it made on that city in August of 2021 and we came back from there and said boy could it ever work to bring it downtown in Detroit again,” Denker said. “We’ve really involved the whole community of Detroit, and the idea of bringing our city together is what the mayor and city council and our governor are so excited about. The dream we have is now coming to fruition.

“When you see the infrastructure downtown and the bridges over the roads we’ve built and the graphics, and everything is centered around the Renaissance Center as your backdrop, it’s just amazing.”