The news that two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso will compete in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil caused seismic, happy shocks across the motorsports world and sparked fans and media to grab their phones and check the calendar.
Is the date truly April 12? Is this a late April Fool’s prank.
It’s no joke, folks.
While Alonso arguably is the biggest global racing name to come to Indy to compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since Nigel Mansell debuted in 1993, the Indianapolis 500 boasts a long history of attracting F1 world champions to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, trying to add their faces to the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Spanish superstar Alonso is attempting to become the 13th Formula One season champion to start the Indianapolis 500, joining Mario Andretti, Alberto Ascari, Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Graham Hill, Denis Hulme, Nigel Mansell, Nelson Piquet, Jochen Rindt, Jackie Stewart and Jacques Villeneuve.
Alonso also is trying to become just the second F1 champion to win the 500 as a rookie. British legend Hill won at Indy in his first start, in 1966.
Hill also is the only driver to win the Triple Crown of global auto racing, capturing the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans – a goal Alonso said he wants to match.
Alonso also is trying to become the first world champion to race in the Indianapolis 500 since Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 world champion, returned to IMS in 2014, 19 years after he won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in 1995.
Mansell caused global shockwaves when he announced he was leaving Formula One as the reigning world champion to compete in Indy cars starting in 1993. He finished third in his rookie 500 start, in 1993, for Newman/Haas Racing.
Alonso plans to race at Indianapolis and then return to his full-time drive in Formula One with the McLaren-Honda team in June. The last driver to race in the Indianapolis 500 and F1 in the same season was British superstar Mansell in 1994, who returned to Williams to race the French Grand Prix in July and in the final three races of that season, after the CART season ended.
Italian Teo Fabi was the last driver to plan to race in F1 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same season, in 1984. Fabi made 12 F1 starts for MRD International, better known as Brabham, and finished 24th at Indy in a Forsythe Racing entry.
World champions Guiseppe Farina and Juan Manuel Fangio both completed rookie tests at Indianapolis but did not attempt to qualify: Farina in 1956 and 1957, Fangio in 1958.
Alonso will join a host of drivers with F1 experience in this year’s expected Indianapolis 500 field, including two-time Indy winner Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske, reigning winner and Alonso’s new Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi, fellow Andretti teammate Takuma Sato, Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing and Max Chilton of Chip Ganassi Racing.
This won’t be Alonso’s first time competing at IMS. He made six starts in the Formula One United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis, in 2001 and from 2003-07, on the IMS road course. His best finish was second with McLaren in 2007.
Alonso, 35, isn’t the only world champion coming to Indianapolis in May. The race also marks the return to the 500 for eight-time F1 Constructors World Champion McLaren.
McLaren fielded Indianapolis 500 entries from 1970-79, with Johnny Rutherford earning his first two 500 victories in McLaren team cars, in 1974 and 1976. Mark Donohue earned the first of a record 16 Indy 500 victories for Team Penske in 1972 in a McLaren chassis.
Other drivers to race at Indy for McLaren included Gordon Johncock, Lloyd Ruby, Hulme, Peter Revson, David Hobbs and Carl Williams.
Late McLaren team founder Bruce McLaren never drove in the Indianapolis 500, but he will be inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame this May at IMS for his significant accomplishments as a driver and team owner.