Today was the much anticipated IndyCar debut of two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Not only did it live up to the hype, it actually seemed to exceed it. Alonso passed the Rookie Orientation Program with flying colors, doing so in nearly an hour. With that completed, he is now cleared to practice for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 28.
The weather cooperated early, allowing for Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti to shake down the car. Alonso did 10 laps at 205-210 mph, 15 laps at 210-215 mph, and 15 laps at 215-plus mph. He got up to speed quickly, passing all three phases of orientation in just 51 laps. In all, Alonso completed 110 laps with a top speed of 222.548 mph.
“I think it’s a good way to start, to build speed,” Alonso said. “It was difficult at the beginning to reach the minimum speed. The next stages felt good, not because of the speed but because of the laps. You’re able to fine-tune the lines; up-shift, downshift, which gears to use in the corner. You have the first impression of how it’s going to be. But the real car is a unique feeling. When you have to go flat out in the corner, it’s not the same in the simulator as in the real car.”
The livery for the No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti machine was unveiled early in the morning, decked out in the famous Team McLaren papaya orange. The video below was extremely well done.
The outreach of today’s test was even beyond what many had expected. A live show with Kevin Lee, Robin Miller, Johnny Rutherford, and Mario Andretti provided incredible insight and discussion. The number of viewers was staggering. Kevin said that at one point, there were over half a million people watching, as the stream was on the IndyCar and IMS websites, IndyCar’s YouTube and Facebook pages, as well as the NBC Sports app.
Alonso, like most, experienced trust issues with his foot entering Turn 1. “I knew that Marco was flat out in Turn 1 so I said, I can do flat-out now in Turn 1 because the car is able to do it, so I arrived to Turn 1 and I was convinced 100 percent I was doing flat out, but the foot, it had its own life, it was not connected, my brain and foot at the moment. So the second or third lap I was able to do it … to be able to feel the respect of the place, the respect of the car, the respect of the speed is something for any racing driver is just pure adrenaline. It was a good day.”
Michael Andretti was impressed with how well he was able to grasp everything. “He gets it. He’s one of the best in the world and you can see why. He watched what he was doing with his line and was changing up lap to lap to get a feel and he had a little bit of understeer that run and he adjusted his line. He’s the real deal; I think he’s going to be really strong.”
The only incident came when two birds failed to move in time as the bright orange car traveling at 220 mph made its way around the speedway. “I didn’t see that one coming,” Alonso said. “I saw one bird approaching Turn 3 in the penultimate run, and I just lift off and avoid the bird, probably I will not do that during race day, but today I saved one life there. But I didn’t manage to save the other two that apparently they came out of 1, but those ones I didn’t notice.”
In addition to Marco, two other Andretti drivers were on hand today, as Jack Harvey and Alexander Rossi watched from pit lane. Rossi received his 2016 Indianapolis 500 winners ring, which was as incredible looking as you would think.
The first practice for the Indianapolis 500 begins on May 15. On track activity begins at Noon, as Rookie Orientation Practice will run for two hours. All drivers are then able to practice from 2 – 6 PM.