Perhaps the first real shocking piece of news in motor racing in 2017 is the Fernando Alonso Indy 500 deal between McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport. He can win it.
— McLaren (@McLarenF1) April 12, 2017
Alonso will be missing the Monaco Grand Prix to run the most famous of all oval races, as the two are hosted on the same day. This will be the first time in a very long time that a Formula 1 driver will miss a round of the world championship to participate in the IndyCar series’ blue-riband event.
This will be the Spaniard’s first trip to Indy. The two-time world champion will be given rookie status, but that should not mean that his chances of winning should go out of the window due to his lack of experience. No, far from it.
This will be Alonso’s first race on an oval, and having your first oval race at Indy or any superspeedway is a real baptism of fire for any driver in any class, let alone an 240mph+ IndyCar. But there is more than enough talent within the McLaren and Andretti driver to be able to pull off the sort of shock Alexander Rossi managed last year with the same team.
This will be the first time a driver has missed the Monaco round to race in the 500. The last driver to do so was fellow two-time champion Jim Clark in 1965, and he won at Indy that year. Part-time drivers have won this event before. Dan Wheldon won his second 500 in 2011 in a part-time entry, which would turn out to be the Briton’s final victory before his death at Las Vegas later that year. 2015 victor Juan Pablo Montoya will be looking to take his third win at the Brickyard as a part-time driver this year.
Making an instant impact on ovals is not unheard of too. Rossi won at his first attempt there as mentioned, and both Montoya and Helio Castroneves won as rookies also in 2000 and 2001 respectively. So whilst experience can be very important on ovals, especially at Indy, it clearly isn’t absolutely critical. Speed, setup, strategy and a bit of luck is also part of the game.
Alonso will be racing with one of the bigger teams in the series in Andretti, and will be part of a six-car assault as they attempt to take back-to-back 500 victories. He will be joined by former F1 racers Rossi and Takuma Sato, as well as 2014 victor Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2006 runner-up Marco Andretti as well as fellow rookie Jack Harvey at the team. There is a lot of experience in this line-up, and the team knows how to win this event.
Many feel that Alonso is also at his absolute best right now. He himself has claimed that the two races he has done in F1 this season have been amongst his finest, despite the lack of competitive machinery. So now is perhaps the ideal time to go for an assault on another leg of the Triple Crown of Motorsport. Le Mans always seemed like a long shot in 2017, given the lack of Honda presence as well as the lack of competitive open seats remaining, so heading over to America does make sense in this respect. Le Mans can wait another year.
It will not be easy at all for Alonso however. He has a lot to learn in a very short space of time, and will need to get used to the Dallara DW12-Honda car he will be racing. He also has some fierce competition to get around too, mostly in the shape of Honda-powered Ganassi drivers and Chevrolet-powered Penske drivers. The likes of 2008 winner Scott Dixon, 2013 winner Tony Kanaan, 2015 runner-up Will Power, two-time winner Montoya, three-time winner Castroneves, reigning IndyCar series champion Simon Pagenaud and the very fast Josef Newgarden will all likely be in the mix as well. Drivers from some of the smaller teams may also make an appearance at the front, including 2011 runner-up J.R. Hildebrand and his team owner Ed Carpenter, last year’s runner-up Carlos Munoz and last year’s polesitter James Hinchcliffe. It is a very strong field this year and Alonso will not go in as the favourite heading into May.