INDIANAPOLIS – Believe the hype.
Fernando Alonso took to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway like a duck to water and will compete for the Verizon P1 Award in Sunday’s final round of qualifying for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
Heavy rain delayed the start of today’s qualifying by five hours, forcing all drivers to make one four-lap attempt late in the afternoon on the 2.5-mile oval. Conditions were difficult as the deluge washed away the rubber on the track surface, making grip tricky despite the cooler temperatures.
After waiting his turn from 15th in the qualifying line, the two-time Formula One champion didn’t disappoint, clocking four crisp laps at an average speed of 230.034 mph. The effort was seventh best for the day and advanced Alonso to Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout that will decide the pole sitter for May 28 race.
With the left-side tires diving just below the white line in each of the four 90-degree turns around the track, Alonso kept his No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda on the razor’s edge as he floated it out of each corner just inches from the wall. The Verizon IndyCar Series’ heralded newcomer and 32-time F1 race winner looked anything but a rookie on the run.
“I think the day was smooth for us,” Alonso said. “I think this morning when the weather came in, (it) definitely put a little bit of a stress on everyone. Obviously you have only one attempt, one shot, so you cannot get it wrong.
“So, yeah, we tried to put the run together. I think was not perfectly OK in terms of balance, in terms of driving myself, that I keep learning on this format. Useful run today, useful lessons. So tomorrow I will try to do better and find more speed.”
With Sunday’s forecast similar to today’s, Alonso believes the balance in his car’s setup could need fine-tuning. He will also check in with his Andretti Autosport teammates for ways to improve the car’s performance.
“We need to review the downforce level,” said Alonso. “We adjust anyway the downforce level to the conditions. So today, definitely when we run, it was quite hot in that moment, quite sunny. So we see tomorrow what the conditions exactly are at the time we are running, and we will decide on which level of downforce.
“I think we can do small tweaks to the setup to make the run a little bit more comfortable, a little bit more consistent hopefully. And also my side. I need to now get back to the office with the engineers, listen to Takuma (Sato), to Marco (Andretti), to Alexander (Rossi), what they feel, what they do corner to corner, how they prepare the tires on the warming lap, etc.
“Useful things that I will learn today, tonight, and I will put tomorrow on the track.”
Today’s venture may have been his first qualifying attempt on an oval racetrack, but it wasn’t a completely new experience. To Alonso, qualifying is qualifying.
“All qualifyings are tricky, you know,” he said. “I go to my go-kart place, when I have put new tires, I have 15 kids watching me with a timer on the hand. Is very tough, you know. Every qualifying you do, you go against the physics of the car and the physics of the circuit in that particular moment.
“It gets stressful. It gets difficult, tricky. But at the same time, huge adrenaline when you cross the line.”
Alonso’s goal was simply to advance and that is exactly what the 97-time F1 podium finisher did.
“I think my timing on the qualifying was not the best,” he said. “I think now at the end with the cooler track, the track was faster. But definitely my time was better than the first guys (who made attempts). When I saw Juan Pablo (Montoya) being the second car out there, definitely I think he found the track quite bad.
“I was in the middle, so let's say that I was lucky. Today was all about being in the fast nine. We did it and tomorrow is the real thing, so let's see.”
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