INDIANAPOLIS – Fernando Alonso and McLaren found out the hard way on Wednesday why the NTT IndyCar Series is the toughest one to compete for in the entire world. The world renowned driver is attempting just his second start in the big race after nearly winning in his first try in 2017. Unfortunately, despite leading a handful of laps a couple of years ago, his engine let go in the closing part of the race.
Now, he returns with a new entrant (McLaren) who’s coming to Indy for the first time on their own since the 1970’s. That mixed with a brand new race car this year than what he ran in 2017 means they have a much steeper hill to climb in 2019.
Alonso and McLaren are doing this all by themselves. They don’t have the luxury of leaning on Andretti Autosport like they did in 2017.
Unfortunately, that showed on Wednesday.
On Alonso’s first lap, his car shut off before it really ever began. They had an electrical issue shortly after he pulled out of his pit stall as his No. 66 Chevrolet came to a stop in the warmup lane in Turn 2. Luckily, they were able to get his car fixed, but he only turned 29 laps and set the days slowest time overall at 218.690 mph. The other 27 drivers who were able to turn a lap at speed all went over 220 mph.
“Well, basically I think is a bit of challenge, no doubt,” said a frustrated Alonso on Wednesday evening. “I think we have to do everything by ourselves, not only in terms of setup-wise, on the technical side. It’s also on the operational side, also on the strategy, tire management, the comfort side in terms of precision, steering wheel grip, basic things that they were ready with Andretti. You save a lot of time.
“Basically it’s a bigger challenge. But it could be a bigger reward, as well. I think some of the, yeah, philosophy or directions that McLaren may go in the next month, maybe now is a little bit different. With Andretti we just follow what we knew what was working. In a way it was easier. But maybe now we can discover new things. That’s our hopes.”
While some may be slightly concerned by this, especially since three cars are going home next month, McLaren CEO Zak Brown said a couple of weekends ago in Long Beach that they’re going to ease into this. They didn’t expect to turn heads in the speed department right away.
That’s why they were even more frustrated with the weather on Wednesday. They need to pound the freshly sealed pavement. They come with literally no experience at Indy together. Wednesday’s test was an opportunity to ease into speed.
Mother nature had other ideas though.
“Unfortunately, the weather was not stable enough to follow the times that we had in terms of practice,” said the former F1 champion. “At the end it was not enough laps and not enough time on the car to get the proper feeling.
“It’s always important. Any track time you have, you may discover issues on the car, you may discover things you can improve as a driver. Learning for us, it’s a brand-new car. We need to check many things.
“Today has been a difficult day for the weather and for, yeah, the time that they gave to the rookies. Nothing we can do. Hopefully we can take over this time.”
Alonso, said it was frustrating for everyone in general on Wednesday and that they lost time at the beginning because of everything being new.
“We lost a little bit of time at the beginning. This was more or less expected because, as I said, it was a brand-new chassis, brand-new car. Everything fit in the last week. We expect to run slowly, step by step, short runs at the beginning. It’s what we did.
“So, yeah, if we could probably have the laps at midday, maybe you discover these issues, then you have hours to work in the car, be ready for the afternoon. The weather delays everything. You do the lap at 5:30 p.m., and there is no room to get back on track on time.”
Despite all of that, Alonso still said it was special to be back in Indianapolis for the first time since 2017.
“It’s good to be back, yeah, to feel again the magic of the place. The facilities when you come in the morning, you see the size of everything again, doing the medical checks in the morning, preparing for the running in the afternoon. It felt good.”