Fernando Alonso led 27 laps in the 2017 Indy 500.PHOTO BY MOTORSPORT IMAGES-LAT
Led 27 laps in 2017 before being sidelined with engine issues
BY: BRUCE MARTIN
It was just a few weeks ago at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, that Alonso announced he was not interested in running a full season in the IndyCar Series but said he would like to return to the Indianapolis 500 one day after his impressive run in 2017. McLaren also announced at the United States Grand Prix that it would be unable to field a full-time IndyCar effort in 2019 but remained interested in the 103rd Indianapolis 500.
Saturday at the Brazilian Grand Prix, McLaren announced it would return to next year’s Indianapolis 500 with Alonso.
“I’ve made clear for some time my desire to achieve the Triple Crown,” said Alonso, a two-time Formula 1 World Champion from Spain. “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’m 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’ve 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.”
Alonso will attempt to become only the second driver ever to win motorsport’s unofficial Triple Crown with victories at the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500.
The feat was achieved by Graham Hill in 1972 with his win at Le Mans.
McLaren has won the Indy 500 three times: once in 1972 supplying a private entry and twice as a works entry, in 1974 and 1976, with Johnny Rutherford. In 2019, it will return as McLaren Racing.
“We are relishing our return to the Brickyard and this incredible race,” said McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown. “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.”
According to McLaren, further details on the team’s Indy 500 effort will be provided in “due course.”
It is expected that some type of partnership with Andretti Autosport will be part of the plan. But Honda officials in Japan did not want Honda Performance Development to support a fulltime McLaren IndyCar effort because they believe McLaren showed disloyalty to Honda in Formula 1 in 2017.
After several attempts were made for concessions, Honda Japan held firm in its edict that McLaren was off limits.
Andretti Autosport is involved in Steinbrenner-Harding Racing, which will feature rookie drivers Pato O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion, and his Indy Lights teammate Colton Herta. That was a Chevrolet team in 2017 and 2018, but it has not chosen an engine partner yet for 2019.