McLaren Racing has announced today that they will return to the Indianapolis 500 in 2019, with Fernando Alonso once again behind the wheel with the aim of securing the final part of the historic “triple crown” of motorsport.
Today’s news comes several weeks after it was seemingly made clear that Alonso would not be racing full-time in the 2019 IndyCar Series, despite previous rumours perhaps indicating that that was his intention following his retirement from Formula 1 at the end of the 2018 season.
Alonso had conducted his first road course test in an IndyCar at Barber Motorsports Park in September, driving an Andretti Autosport Honda, but it seems as though plans for a full season fell through after McLaren announced that they had opted not to enter the series full time in 2019. It is believed that contractual issues between engine supplier Honda and Toyota – who Alonso races for in the World Endurance Championship – were preventing Fernando from competing for Andretti full-time.
Despite the disappointment from fans of both Alonso and IndyCar, Fernando intimated recently that it had never been his intention to take part in a full season. Instead, he is solely focused on the Indianapolis 500. Now, more than ever.
Alonso’s first attempt at the Indy 500 took place in 2017 when he shockingly announced that he would miss the Monaco Grand Prix to compete in the historic event. By the time the race came around in May, there was much anticipation around the world to see how Fernando would get on. It turned out that he would get on very well.
Despite having never raced on an oval before, Alonso managed to qualify in a superb fifth place for the race. He continued to impress in the early stages of the race, managing to successfully work his way up into the lead of the race, where he would remain for much of the race.
Sadly for Fernando, his race that year would end the way that many of his races have done recently. His engine would let go in the closing stages of the race, forcing Alonso to retire. Alonso maintained after the race that he was happy with how his first attempt at Indy had gone and went on to state that he would definitely be back at some point in the future.
Alonso elected not to return to the event for the 2018 running, instead choosing to set his sights on the other part of the triple crown achievement. Having already won the Formula 1 race at Monaco back in 2006 and 2007, Alonso needed to win the Indy 500 and the 24 hours of Le Mans.
For 2018 Fernando signed with Toyota Gazoo Racing to compete in the full World Endurance Championship alongside his Formula 1 effort. In a stunning style, aided by the utter dominance of Toyota in the LMP1 class, Alonso and his team-mates, Sebastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima, would win the opening race of the season at Spa-Francorchamps and would then go on to win the 24 hours of Le Mans in June; thus sealing Alonso the second part of the triple crown.
In today’s announcement of Alonso and McLaren’s return to Indy in 2019, Fernando made it no secret that his reason for returning was to complete the triple crown. If he were able to take the race victory in May, he would become only the second person in history to accomplish the achievement, with only Graham Hill having done so before him.
“I’ve made clear for some time my desire to achieve the Triple Crown.” Alonso stated, “I had an incredible experience at Indianapolis in 2017 and I knew in my heart of hearts I had to go back if the opportunity was there.
“I am especially glad to be returning with McLaren. This was always my first choice if the team decided to do it, so I’m delighted they have decided to go ahead. It’s a tough race and we’ll be up against the best, so it will be a huge challenge. But we’re racers and that’s why we race.
“One of the things I’m looking forward to most is seeing the fans again, who are absolutely fantastic.”
The full details of Alonso and McLaren’s entry have yet to be announced. However, Andretti Autosport CEO, Michael Andretti, confirmed on Twitter later in the evening that his team would “be involved” in circumstances “similar to 2017”, seemingly confirming a partnership between Andretti and McLaren once more.
However, it is highly possible that McLaren will take a much larger role in the entry for 2019. The team look likely to be joining the series full-time in the not too distant future, with rumours even circulating that McLaren could field two cars at Indianapolis this year.
Coming into the event with prior experience from 2017, McLaren are “under no illusions” that the race will be a challenge. McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown commented today that the team and Fernando have “unfinished business” at Indy and that they will be “going for it” when the race takes place next May.
“We are relishing our return to the Brickyard and this incredible race.” Brown said, “McLaren has a long and fond relationship with the Indianapolis 500 and it’s a case of unfinished business for us with Fernando.
“No Indy 500 is a cakewalk, it’s a massive challenge. We have the utmost respect for the race and our competitors. So, we are under no illusions. But McLaren are racers first and foremost, as is Fernando. We’re going for it.”
Further announcements regarding the McLaren entry are expected in the coming weeks and months. The 2019 IndyCar Series will kick-off with the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 10. The 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place later in the season on Sunday, May 26.