INDIANAPOLIS – The atmosphere inside McLaren Racing’s garage Wednesday evening at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was straightforward. All business, no panic, maximum assurance.
On one side of the garage, mechanics pressed forward with the noisy repair of the team’s primary car and preparation of a backup car. On the other side, engineers gathered around a table packed with laptops and monitors, quietly discussing the next step.
A few hours earlier, Fernando Alonso lost front grip in the team’s primary No. 66 Chevrolet and slammed into the SAFER Barrier in Turn 3. A decision about which of the two cars to use when practice resumes Thursday for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge would be made later Wednesday night, McLaren sporting director Gil de Ferran said.
Avoiding panic is essential to the recovery process, de Ferran said.
“That’s literally the most important thing,” de Ferran told IndyCar.com. “We’ve been dealt a hand. These are the circumstances we have to deal with, and we have to deal with them in a calm and determined manner. That’s the whole thing. It happened. We have a great group of guys who are working super hard. We’ll see what happens. We’ve got to put one foot in front of the other.”
At 12:35 p.m. ET Wednesday, the car slid into the wall, skidded through the infield grass into another SAFER Barrier, bounced across the pit entry lane and back onto the track, where it struck the Turn 4 barrier. Alonso, who wasn’t injured, blamed strong understeer for the crash.
“I lost completely the front aero,” he said. “The wall came too close and too quickly. Unfortunately, it happened today. We will lose a little bit of running time again. I’m sorry for the team, but we will learn and hopefully we will come back stronger tomorrow.”
The worst aspect of the crash from a team perspective was the lost track time. Electrical issues cost Alonso time during Tuesday’s opening practice, when he turned 50 laps, and he had recorded only 46 laps Wednesday before the crash. By comparison, six drivers topped the 100-lap mark Tuesday and 13 exceeded the century mark Wednesday.
“There’s no denying that the last two days have put a dent in our preparations – not only car preparation, but the setup development,” said de Ferran (shown at left next to the car talking with Alonso). “It’s no secret to anyone that at Indy it’s important to have a slow, steady evolution of the setup of the car. When events like this happen, you put a wave in that steady evolution.”
Before the crash, Alonso told the team the car was handling better Wednesday than it had been Tuesday.
“It felt much better than yesterday,” he said. “Definitely we were moving in the right direction – small steps that we learned today that hopefully we can bring for next time.”
Alonso’s second go-round at the Indy 500 hasn’t gone nearly as smooth as his first, when he created a worldwide sensation with McLaren’s partnership with Andretti Autosport in 2017. Then, the two-time Formula 1 champion ran near the front in preparations for the race, qualified fifth and led 27 laps before his race ended 20 laps shy of the finish with a mechanical failure.
Now he could be forced to move ahead in his bid to capture the remaining leg of the motorsports Triple Crown in the backup car that – unlike the crashed Dallara that was meticulously built at McLaren’s tech center in Woking, England – was put together in technical partner Carlin’s shop in Florida. Alonso did test the backup car in April at Texas Motor Speedway. Just two more days of practice remain before qualifying begins Saturday.
“You never want to plan for a crash, but in a way, you have to,” de Ferran said. “We tried to the best we could to have both cars as well prepared as we could coming into the month of May. It’s been a tremendous amount of work by everyone coming into this month. … We have a clear direction of where we need to take the setup of the car.”
As mechanics worked methodically late Wednesday, Alonso stood by, encouraging the crowded garage.
“I feel sorry for the team and for my mistake,” he said. “We will learn from this and hopefully tomorrow we’re back on track and back stronger.”
Thursday’s practice runs from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. ET and will stream live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold.