Three-time Indy 500 champion Johnny Rutherford reunites with McLaren for 2017 race

by Paul Hensby

Fernando Alonso’s first venture in the Indianapolis 500 will be overseen by Indy 500 legend Johnny Rutherford, with the three-time Indy 500 champion joining McLaren-Honda-Andretti as their official ambassador.

Rutherford twice won the Indy 500 whilst driving for McLaren back in 1974 and 1976, and then added a third victory in 1980, the same year in which he won the Indy Car World Series.

He now reunites with McLaren to be ambassador and guest of honour for the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Alonso set to benefit from his knowledge and insight of the legendary venue and race.

“The McLaren name still means a lot to me – it has a very special place in my heart, in fact, for obvious reasons,” said Rutherford.  “So when I heard that not only was McLaren heading back to Indianapolis – after a near 40-year absence, and with Fernando Alonso behind the wheel, and that they would also be reviving the same, famous orange livery that was made famous by Bruce McLaren himself in the 1960s and ’70s – well, I was blown away. That’s just neat, real neat…

“I’m thrilled and excited about ‘coming home’ to McLaren for the famous month of May, and I want to do everything I can to help make the team’s return to Indy as enjoyable and successful as possible. Make no mistake, this is a fantastic story for IndyCar, for Formula 1 and for motor racing in general, so to be able to help play a small part in it is just fantastic.

“And the fact that McLaren is doing it in partnership with Andretti Autosport is the icing on the cake: the name ‘Andretti’ means a lot to all racing people, and certainly to me. Not only has the team boss, Michael, achieved so much over his long career, but of course I raced his father, the great Mario, wheel to wheel for many years. I have great respect for both of them. I think everyone does.”

McLaren Technology Group Executive Director Zak Brown has expressed his delight at the announcement, feeling Lone Star JR’s achievements at the Indy 500 mean the team will benefit from his experience in 2017 with Alonso behind the wheel.

“You can count the number of people who’ve won more Indy 500s than Johnny Rutherford on the fingers of one hand – and that tells you everything about the scale of Lone Star JR’s achievements in this legendary motor race,“ said Brown. “I’ve spoken before about the special family atmosphere that exists at McLaren, and it’s incredible that we’ll be joined at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway throughout the month of May by one of the forefathers of McLaren’s original Indy adventure.

“Furthermore, Johnny is a real Southern gent, and somebody who knows the nature of this particular race and the Speedway like few others in the sport. To have him onboard and alongside us as we take on this ambitious project makes me feel both humbled and excited – he’ll be a fantastic asset to us all as we return the McLaren name to Indy.”

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