Now it’s getting very real for Fernando Alonso.
Two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso reached an important milestone in his journey toward his first Indianapolis 500 start, as his initial test in a Verizon IndyCar Series car and on an oval track gets underway this morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Alonso, 35, from Spain, is skipping the Monaco Grand Prix this year to compete in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28 at IMS. He will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in a Honda entered by McLaren and prepared by reigning race champions Andretti Autosport.
He is aiming to win the second leg of auto racing’s career triple crown of victories in the Indianapolis 500, Monaco Grand Prix and 24 Hours of Le Mans. Alonso triumphed in 2006 and 2007 at Monaco.
McLaren proudly heralded Alonso’s historic run at Indianapolis and the great team’s return to the Indy 500 this morning by unveiling Alonso’s No. 29 Honda in its famous papaya orange color scheme. McLaren entered the Indianapolis 500 from 1970-79, earning victories in 1974 and 1976 with Johnny Rutherford behind the wheel of orange-colored machines. Mark Donohue drove Penske Racing to the first of its record 16 Indianapolis 500 victories in a McLaren chassis in 1972.
The rookie orientation program is the first on-track step for Alonso today at IMS. All first-year competitors in the Indianapolis 500 must complete this longtime gradual introduction to the speeds and unique nature of the 2.5-mile oval, with its four straightaways and 9-degree banking in all four corners.
Rookie drivers complete 40 laps in three speed phases while demonstrating car control, placement and consistent driving. Phase 1 consists of 10 laps over 210 mph; Phase 2 consists of 15 laps at 215 mph and Phase 3 requires 15 laps at faster than 220 mph.
That adaptation is important for Alonso. While Verizon IndyCar Series and Formula One cars appear similar to the eye as open-wheel, open-cockpit machines, there are vast differences above and under the skin.
F1 cars rely on numerous aerodynamic bits to generate downforce, while Indy cars are “trimmed out” with lower amounts of downforce to build speed on oval tracks. Another big difference for Alonso will be adjusting to the lack of power steering in Indy cars as he adapts to the minute movements in the steering wheel that often can mean the difference between a solid lap and a quick lap around the IMS oval.
The test is helping Alonso adapt more quickly to the most unique racing schedule he will have encountered in his illustrious career. Almost all Formula One events consist of practice Friday, more practice and qualifying Saturday and a race Sunday lasting between 90 minutes and two hours on a road course.
At Indianapolis, Alonso will begin practice May 15 and continue on track every day through Fast Friday, May 19. Then two days of intense, high-speed qualifying take place May 20-21.
Practice will continue May 22 and on Miller Lite Carb Day, May 26, followed by the pageantry, tradition, drama and huge crowds of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28.
Fans around the world can watch a live show of Alonso’s highly anticipated test today, with commentary from a team including the legendary Mario Andretti.
A fully produced live show will be televised online from 9:30 a.m.-noon ET, with an announcing team of 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1978 Formula One champion Andretti and NBCSN’s Verizon IndyCar Series talent Kevin Lee and Robin Miller. Coverage of the test will continue from 1-5 p.m. with a live stream without commentary.
Both the live show and stream will be available at these online outlets: IndyCar.com, IMS.com, the INDYCAR YouTube page and the INDYCAR Facebook page.
Fans can watch testing for free from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at IMS from the Turn 2 viewing mounds, the museum parking lot and South Terrace grandstands.
Get a sneak peek at Alonso's car for the Indianapolis 500 here: