INDIANAPOLIS — Fernando Alonso knows this Month of August is going to feel much different than anything that he’s ever done in his racing career. The 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) will be the first race that the two-time Formula One champion has ever raced without fans.
F1 has done several races this year without fans. This will be IndyCar’s third. For Alonso, he notes that he hasn’t raced in any of them as this will be a new experience, one with maybe a little more privacy than he’s used to.
“I think it’s going to be a little bit different without fans,” Alonso said. “Yeah, for me it’s going to be the first race with empty grandstands. I know the guys have been racing lately with no fans. It’s going to be a shock I’m sure on race day.
“But, yeah, looking forward. I think we did a nice preparations with the circumstances, we didn’t have any test day, any simulator or anything like that, compare other 500s.
“I think it was the magic part of the 500, the fans, around the garages, the interaction you have with them. I will miss a lot that part. Especially the race is here in the U.S., they are all very special. Racing at Daytona, Sebring, there is always this close contact with the fans. That will be really missed.
“It’s not releasing the pressure. Probably my life outside the car will be a little bit easier so I don’t need to run away. Sometimes I can go to the bathroom with no tight phone cameras pointed at me. Apart of that, I think when you close the visor and you are racing, it will be the same pressure.
“As I said, being in this huge place with these huge grandstands, not having a full, packed grandstand on Sunday is going to be a little bit difficult. But we will put a good show on television where we will make somehow big thanks to the fans and celebrate with them even on a distance.”
This year will also hopefully be different for Alonso in the sense that they will have the outright speed to contend. Last year, Alonso was very vocal that they weren’t ready for the challenge.
See, when he came over as a rookie in 2017, McLaren teamed with Andretti Autosport. That was basically an Andretti car with McLaren helping. Last year, it was McLaren all on their own. They had no help. They had a rude awakening on how difficult this series is.
Alonso, missed the show completely. He wasn’t competitive at all and even crashed in practice one day.
Now, McLaren is back, albeit a full season participant with two cars and have teamed with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to form Arrow McLaren SP. So far, the season has gone great for them despite having two rookie drivers.
Pato O’Ward sits in the top five of points. He won a pole in Road America and finished second in that race. His teammate Oliver Askew finished on the podium the next race weekend at Iowa.
“I was very impressed definitely,” Alonso said of seeing what his two teammates this month have done this season so far. “I think I was watching all the races from TV with attention because I knew that the test day we had in April was canceled. The simulator days that we had programmed were canceled. I knew it was very limited time for me on the car before the 500. I wanted to know how the team was performing every weekend.
“I mean, was very impressive what both did. I remember the Indy GP, Oliver was super fast, on pole. Then Pato with the points he achieved every Sunday. Probably even more that skip away in some unlucky moments. I knew that they are very talented, very brave.
“Is going to be a huge boost for the team to have these two young drivers, talented drivers, bringing fresh ideas, fresh in terms of car performance, and I’m looking forward to work with everybody.”
Alonso, says that while it’s been a long time without being in a race car, he doesn’t feel too big of a disadvantage there. He’s been training a lot and ready for the task at hand.
Has been long time, yes, without sitting in a racecar. But I think everybody is struggling with that. We were missing our racecars even if you are on a normal drive or just one event driver. I don’t think that I have a huge disadvantage there. He compares it to Dakar.
“I’m confident that we do things well, maybe luck goes to our side this time,” Alonso continued. “There are many factors here, many yellows, many things that may happen in the race that are out of your control. So you have to be there.
“I think the Indy 500 is such a special race that you have to keep trying because eventually one day you will get everything right.
That and he is optimistic that his No. 66 Chevrolet will be vastly better this year than it was last. But, he also notes that he was optimistic heading into the 2019 Month of May too.
“Well, hopefully we are fast enough that we can compete for the win,” said Alonso. “At the moment one day before the practice, we have optimistic feeling last year and we have optimistic feeling this year as well.
“I think we need to wait and see where we are on the speed of the pace of the car. But, yeah, it makes a difference the team itself, how Arrow SP is well-prepared, the experience in the series. Is going to be a big difference compared to last year that we were not prepared enough for the challenge.
“I’m with reasonable confidence that there’s going to be a good event for us.”
Alonso also notes that they have to take it step by step this week in practice. The experience factor is against him. It’s a huge challenge and he’s aware of that. He’s only made one ‘500 start. O’Ward and he were bumped last year while Askew is a wide eyed rookie.
“We know there are a lot of things to do from our side,” continued Alonso. “We will miss some experience. All three drivers, we’re rookies for the 500. We need to rely and we need to work very close to the team and learn every day, make it step by step, concentrate a little bit more on the race this year.
“Qualifying, we are already 33 cars. Maybe that eases the pressure and stress on the first couple of days, and we can concentrate on race day.
I think it’s going to be things that we need to learn within days, in the practice, into qualifying, and next week. Personally, yeah, I was following the races, tried to learn as much as I could from home, tried to ask the engineers what may surprise me watching television and I didn’t understand completely on Mondays, they were trying to help me with understanding. I was making questions why we did that, why we didn’t stop here, there. It was a constant communication.”
Still, the reason Alonso is doing this is to win the triple crown. If he can’t pull it off on Aug. 23, it won’t be until 2023 until the soonest that he’s back.
See, Alonso signed with Renault to race full time in 2021 back in F1. He’s there for two-years he says and that while everyone has speculated whether he’s do an Indy-Monaco double with the Monaco Grand Prix a week earlier this year compared to the past, Alonso says that he wouldn’t be able to make it work that way.
“I think I approach the race, as you said, knowing the next two years is going to be impossible to come,” said Alonso. “I will have to miss qualifying weekend if I wanted to do so. I will not be any more with McLaren next year in F1. That will not work either. I know at least for two years I will not be here.
“Look, this is the way it is at the moment. I’m here ready to enjoy the event, ready to give my best, and help the team as much as I can. Let’s see in the future what are the possibilities. If you eventually win one day the race, maybe that opens the possibility for different things.”