Fernando Alonso and McLaren will make a shock appearance at the 2017 Indianapolis 500, which means the Spanish driver will miss this year’s Monaco Grand Prix.
Alonso will drive a single entry McLaren at the 101st running of the Indy 500, that will be powered by Honda and run by the Andretti Autosport team, which is headed by Michael Andretti, who raced in F1 for the Woking-based team in 1993.
The car will be a standard IndyCar DW12 chassis powered by a Honda 2.2-litre twin-turbo V6 engine, limited by regulations to 12,000rpm. It will be Alonso’s first appearance at IndyCar’s headline event and also the first time he will race on a high-speed oval course.
As the 2017 Indy 500 takes place on the same day as the Monaco Grand Prix, McLaren will replace Alonso on a one-off basis, but it is not yet clear who the team will field.
An official McLaren statement announcing the news explained that the team would “announce the identity of the driver who will race Fernando’s car at Monaco” in due course. Jenson Button is the British team’s reserve driver for the 2017 season.
Speaking as the news was announced, Alonso said: “I’m immensely excited that I’ll be racing in this year’s Indy 500, with McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.
“The Indy 500 is one of the most famous races on the global motorsport calendar, rivalled only by the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix and it’s of course a regret of mine that I won’t be able to race at Monaco this year. But Monaco will be the only 2017 Grand Prix I’ll be missing, and I’ll be back in the cockpit of the McLaren-Honda MCL32 for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in early June.
“I’ve never raced an IndyCar car before, and neither have I ever driven on a super-speedway, but I’m confident that I’ll get to grips with it fast. I’ve watched a lot of IndyCar action on TV and online, and it’s clear that great precision is required to race in close proximity with other cars on the far side of 220mph.
“I realise I’ll be on a steep learning curve, but I’ll be flying to Indianapolis from Barcelona immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix, practising our McLaren-Honda-Andretti car at Indy from May 15th onwards, hopefully clocking up a large number of miles every day, and I know how good the Andretti Autosport guys are. I’ll be proud to race with them, and I intend to mine their knowledge and expertise for as much info as I possibly can.”
Alonso also added that his entry into the 2017 Indy 500 was the first part of his plan to become the second driver in history to win the ‘Triple Crown of Motorsport’ – the Monaco Grand, Indianapolis and the Le Mans 24 Hours. Graham Hill is the only driver to have won all three events.
“I’ve won the Monaco Grand Prix twice, and it’s one of my ambitions to win the Triple Crown which has been achieved by only one driver in the history of motorsport: Graham Hill,” said Alonso. “It’s a tough challenge, but I’m up for it. I don’t know when I’m going to race at Le Mans, but one day I intend to. I’m only 35: I’ve got plenty of time for that.”
McLaren has raced at Indianapolis in the past and won the 500-mile race in 1974 and 1976 with American driver Johnny Rutherford. A McLaren chassis that was entered by the Penske team also won the race in 1972.
Zak Brown, McLaren’s executive director, confirmed that Alonso’s car would be painted in the team’s historic orange livery, which it has brought back to F1 for 2017.
He said: “Our car – the McLaren-Honda-Andretti – will be decked out in the papaya orange livery made famous by our founder Bruce McLaren, and in which Johnny Rutherford drove McLaren IndyCars to Indy 500 victory in both 1974 and 1976.”
McLaren has faced a tough start to the 2017 season after two difficult years with Honda’s first attempts to crack F1’s V6 turbo hybrid power units. Brown explained that the team was “very committed” to its partnership with the Japanese manufacturer at last weekend’s Chinese Grand Prix, but Alonso has grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of progression that has been made in their attempts to move up the F1 grid.
The 35-year-old has expressed his desire to race on in F1 in 2018 although there have been repeated rumours that he could switch to sportscar racing in an attempt to win Le Mans.
Even before the 2017 season got underway McLaren was explaining what it had to do to persuade Alonso to stick with the team beyond this year, which is the final year of the three-year deal he signed at the end of 2014.
Honda-powered cars have taken eight of the last ten Indy 500 victories and IndyCar rookie – and former F1 driver – Alexander Rossi, won the 2016 event. Could the next step of Alonso’s triple crown by on the cards on 28 May?
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