Fernando Alonso has taken to the track for the first time in his newly-revealed #66 McLaren Chevrolet that he will race in the 2019 Indianapolis 500. Alonso took to Texas Motor Speedway for a private test yesterday, with the aim of getting settled back into the ways of the NTT IndyCar Series and oval racing.
Just one day after McLaren unveiled Alonso’s steed for the Indy 500, the Spaniard was completing his first oval laps since taking part in the famous race back in 2017. The version of the #66 McLaren Chevrolet that he drove yesterday was prepared by Carlin, who are working with McLaren for this year’s race.
The test was not only Fernando’s first time in his new #66 McLaren, but it was also his first visit to Texas Motor Speedway. In an interview with RACER yesterday, Alonso spoke of the differences between Texas and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, chief among which was the higher levels of banking in the corners at Texas.
“It was great, obviously,” Alonso said of the test, “It’s only the first couple of laps with the car. We are taking care of everything slowly with the speed. It’s good to be back on the oval with a very specific setup. This car that turns left ‘self-steering’ a little bit. So, again, some weird feeling for me to try to get used to with the speedway, especially with a lot of banking on the corner, especially Turns 3 and 4. It’s different than Indianapolis, but hopefully a good preparation for us.”
With Texas being vastly different from Indianapolis, the main aim of yesterday’s test was to get Fernando reacclimatized with ovals, as well as getting a grip on the lower-downforce aerodynamic package that was introduced prior to the 2018 IndyCar season.
“For myself, obviously, it’s just about getting comfortable in the car,” Fernando said. “It’s a new car, new team so in terms of seat position, headrest, pedals, steering wheel preferences I think all these things we can start now the work. For the team, I think it is quite important to set up everything as a team, who does what in the team, also the pit wall, the facility is completely new for everyone [and] try to solve as many problems here and at the open test [at the end of the month at Indy] and getting ready for the 500.”
“So far it’s too early to say because I am not up to speed,” Alonso continued, regarding how the current spec of IndyCar compares to his last outing, “I guess, listening to everyone in the last year, there will be less downforce. They can be trickier to drive, especially following. Today’s not a problem because I am alone. But I guess it’s going to be challenging, especially this year I am not with the Andretti, let’s say, environment. It’s all by ourselves this year.”
Alonso has made no secret of his intentions at this year’s Indy 500. Like in 2017, Alonso is aiming to win the race to complete the famous triple crown of motorsports. Fernando won the Monaco Grand Prix twice during his Formula 1 career and now also has a victory in the 24 hours of Le Mans under his belt after winning the race with Toyota GAZOO Racing last year. Winning the Indy 500 would complete the triple crown, making him only the second person in history to have done so following the legendary Graham Hill.
Fernando’s first attempt at the Indy 500 occurred in 2017 when McLaren partnered with Andretti Autosport to field the Spaniard in the race. Alonso took to the challenge like a duck to water, qualifying a superb fifth on the grid before going on to lead many laps during the race. Sadly, his race would end prematurely when, somewhat ironically, he suffered a Honda engine failure, but Fernando said after the race that he had greatly enjoyed the experience and that he would certainly be back in the future.
Now, as Alonso prepares to make his return, he has stated that he feels “more prepared” this time around. Continuing his interview with RACER yesterday, Fernando said that he will be able to use all of his experiences from 2017 to his advantage this time around, but that he also wanted to prepare as much as he could to make sure he has the best chances possible next month.
“I feel quite a lot more prepared,” Fernando said. “At least I know the race, the atmosphere of the 500, the drivers’ parade, I know the formation laps. I know a lot of things that you spend energy on your first time there because everything comes as a surprise. I think that energy I can save it now.
“I know how it goes so I can go into the rhythm of the race, come into qualifying with a little bit more energy and more concentration, but I take this race as if I was starting from zero. I don’t want to take for granted anything. I want to review every single race from the past, start from zero with engineers and everything. I want to go to the simulator as I did when making the first start, every pit stop. I want to make much preparation as possible.”
Alonso’s last IndyCar test took place towards the end of last year when he tested with Andretti Autosport at Barber Motorsports Park. At the time, this fuelled speculation that Fernando could be contemplating a full-time campaign in IndyCar.
Alonso has previously said that this is not his intention and, when asked again about the possibility yesterday, Alonso said again that he was “not thinking about it” right now due to his already busy schedule in the FIA World Endurance Championship. However, Alonso would also tease that a full-time campaign was not “out of the question” for another year.
“It was a possibility last year when we started talking about the Indy 500 coming back,” Alonso told IndyCar.com yesterday, “I think it was too intense for me the season if I commit to the full championship with the WEC calendar and the Daytona 24 et cetera. It was not this year, but I think it is not out of the question for the future. Right now I’m not thinking about it.”
Alonso’s next outing in his #66 McLaren Chevrolet will come at the IndyCar open test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday, April 24. After that, he will have to wait a few weeks until the first official practice session for the Indy 500, which will take place on Tuesday, May 14.
Qualifying for the 2019 Indianapolis 500 will take place from Saturday, May 18 to Sunday, May 19. The two days of action will be vital for anyone hoping to contest the event, as any driver that does not place in the top thirty-three will not be able to race. After that, all eyes will be on the main event, 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, which will be run on Sunday, May 26.