Gauging his performance during the rookie orientation for the Indianapolis 500 last week, two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso looks like he is ready to mix it up with veterans of the prestigious race on May 28.
Alonso initially did 51 laps and went for another 59 laps of testing and familiarization. His best lap speed was 222.548 mph (356 kph) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).
Mario Andretti, the 1969 Indy 500 winner, and owner of 52 career Indy car victories and a Formula One world title, thought the rookie Alonso had been running at the IMS for two decades.
“The last two, three weeks, we’ve been through many of the things that I was probably facing on this first day, and now we have a lot more things to go through after this test that will be much more useful,” Alonso said. “Because at the moment, we only watch races on television and we saw data on the simulator, which you always are not 100 percent sure if you can trust or not until you test the real car.”
Alonso will be driving for Andretti Autosport, of which Mario is one of the advisers.
It was Andretti Autosport Chief Executive Officer Marco Andretti who set up Alonso’s car with a pair of short runs and then reminded Alonso not to be confused by the road-course path when exiting pit lane to enter the oval.
“I was making sure he didn’t pull a [Tomas] Scheckter and end up on the road course coming out of pit lane,” Marco said.
In what can be called a hilarious moment, Alonso even ran into birds during his test at IMS. So he had to swerve his No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti away from one bird, but couldn’t miss two others a short time later.
“I didn’t [see]that one coming,” Alonso said. “I saw one bird approaching Turn 3 in the penultimate run, and I just lift off [the accelerator]and avoid the bird. Probably I will not do that on the race day. But today I saved one life there. I didn’t manage to save the other two; that apparently they came out of [Turn] 1. But those ones, I didn’t notice.”
Alonso will return to F1 for the Spanish Grand Prix this weekend before flying back to the IMS for another practice. He has been watching Indianapolis 500 footages.
“Yeah, we watch all of them again,” Alonso said. “Because now, definitely the track, it’s [more]narrow than what I thought. You watch the television, and you see three cars aside on the main straight, and now you are with the [one]car on the main straight, and it’s hard to imagine, you know, how you can fit three cars there and at that speed.”
Although he is an F1 champion, the Indianapolis 500 will present some challenges to Alonso. In F1, cars also race on road and street courses at lesser speeds with an average of 20 entries, while more than 30 cars take part in the Indianapolis 500.
“Well, it’s going to be probably the biggest challenge, running on traffic,” Alonso said. “I think there are a couple of things that I’m definitely not up to speed. One is the traffic thing, I think we need to go step by step.”