When I started looking at social media this morning, my first reaction was “Isn’t it a bit late for April Fools?” I immediately went to my email, and sure enough, there was an official release from Andretti Autosport! (See below.) Two-time Formula 1 World Driving Champion Fernando Alonso will forego the glitzy champagne and caviar scene at Monaco for the beer and tenderloins of Indianapolis. We’ve known that Fernando has been more than frustrated with the lack of performance and reliability of the McLaren-Honda MCL32, and it’s caused many to speculate about his future with the team and with Formula 1. Todd and Paul even mused on whether the WEC would be the next right move for Alonso in the most recent Formula1blog.com Podcast #519 while reviewing the Chinese GP, which was atrocious for the McLaren team.
In recent weeks, there’s been talk about Kyle Larson perhaps coming to Indianapolis to do the double, the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. Part of the speculation was that it would be good for IndyCar and perhaps bring over some new fans. That’s been done before with Kurt Busch, and of course Tony Stewart used to do both races in the early days of the IRL, but the bump in viewership wasn’t even noticeable. Alonso running a McLaren-Honda sponsored DW12 prepared by Andretti Autosport is quite another matter. To say this is huge, would be a gross understatement. We’ve seen retired Formula 1 drivers come over to IndyCar in the past, and a few that have dabbled in Formula 1, Max Chilton, Alexander Rossi and championship leader Sebastian Bourdais come to mind. There was even a time when the reigning Formula 1 champion, Nigel Mansell came over to IndyCar. Of course, that was huge, but I can’t think of an example in the modern era of IndyCar that a current Formula 1 driver has abandoned a round of the F1 championship, let alone abandon Monaco, to race at Indianapolis.
It’s not the first time that McLaren has raced on the 2.5-mile oval of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Peter Revson, Mark Donohue and even Bruce McLaren himself drove in the 500 Mile Race during the 1970s, often running the now famous orange and blue livery of it’s Gulf Oil sponsor at the time. McLaren cars ran both for the factory team as well as customer teams. Mark Donohue won the 1973 500 in a M16B for Roger Penske, and Johnny Rutherford won for the factory team in 1974 and again in 1976.
Given the resurgent pace of the Honda-powered machines in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season, I’ve jokingly quipped that perhaps the Honda F1 engineers should come over and talk to their IndyCar counterparts. Apparently, one driver, Fernando Alonso, thinks that might be a good idea afterall. Is it May yet?
Official Release from Andretti Autosport
Fernando Alonso to race at Indy 500 with McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport
INDIANAPOLIS (April 12, 2017) — After an absence of 38 years, McLaren is to return to the Indianapolis 500 next month, using Honda engines.
On May 28 2017, McLaren will enter a single car in the 101st Indianapolis 500, powered by Honda. The car will be run by the Andretti Autosport team, headed by founder, owner and Chief Executive Officer Michael Andretti, a former IndyCar champion who raced in Formula 1 for McLaren alongside the legendary Ayrton Senna for a single season (1993) and is the son of three-time IndyCar champion and one-time Formula 1 champion Mario Andretti.
The McLaren-Honda-Andretti entry, a Dallara DW12 chassis as used by all Verizon IndyCar Series teams, will be driven by current McLaren-Honda Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso, who has started 275 Grands Prix, has won 32 of those races, has become Formula 1 world champion twice, and has been Formula 1 runner-up three times.
Its engine will be a Honda 2.2-litre twin-turbo V6, limited by IndyCar regulations to 12,000rpm.
Since the Indianapolis 500 will take place on May 28, the same day as the Monaco Grand Prix, Fernando will not race at Monaco this year. The Indianapolis 500 will be the only 2017 IndyCar race in which Fernando will compete, however, and the Monaco Grand Prix will therefore be the only 2017 Formula 1 race in which he will not compete.
In due course McLaren-Honda will announce the identity of the driver who will race Fernando’s car at Monaco.
Fernando Alonso said:
“I’m immensely excited that I’ll be racing in this year’s Indy 500, with McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.
“The Indy 500 is one of the most famous races on the global motorsport calendar, rivalled only by the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix [which Fernando has won twice, one of those victories at the wheel of a McLaren (in 2007)], and it’s of course a regret of mine that I won’t be able to race at Monaco this year. But Monaco will be the only 2017 Grand Prix I’ll be missing, and I’ll be back in the cockpit of the McLaren-Honda MCL32 for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in early June.
“I’ve never raced an IndyCar car before, and neither have I ever driven on a superspeedway, but I’m confident that I’ll get to grips with it fast. I’ve watched a lot of IndyCar action on TV and online, and it’s clear that great precision is required to race in close proximity with other cars on the far side of 220mph [354km/h]. I realize I’ll be on a steep learning curve, but I’ll be flying to Indianapolis from Barcelona immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix, practising our McLaren-Honda-Andretti car at Indy from May 15 onwards, hopefully clocking up a large number of miles every day, and I know how good the Andretti Autosport guys are. I’ll be proud to race with them, and I intend to mine their knowledge and expertise for as much info as I possibly can.
“I’ve won the Monaco Grand Prix twice, and it’s one of my ambitions to win the Triple Crown [the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours], which has been achieved by only one driver in the history of motorsport: Graham Hill. It’s a tough challenge, but I’m up for it. I don’t know when I’m going to race at Le Mans, but one day I intend to. I’m only 35: I’ve got plenty of time for that.”
Zak Brown (Executive Director, McLaren Technology Group) said:
“As an American, albeit one who fell in love with Formula 1 at a very young age, I’ve always regarded the Indy 500 as a fantastic motor race.
“For that reason I’m particularly delighted to have been able to bring McLaren back to Indianapolis in my very first year as McLaren’s Executive Director. Michael [Andretti] is an old friend of mine, and a man I respect enormously, and his Andretti Autosport organization is one of the best in the business. Michael is a winner – indeed his team won the Indy 500 last year with Alexander Rossi, who will be one of Fernando’s team-mates at Indy next month – and I couldn’t be happier that Fernando will be making his IndyCar debut in one of Michael’s cars.
“Equally, this project wouldn’t have been possible without Honda’s support and encouragement. And our car – the McLaren-Honda-Andretti – will be decked out in the papaya orange livery made famous by our founder Bruce McLaren, and in which Johnny Rutherford drove McLaren IndyCars to Indy 500 victory in both 1974 and 1976.
“Could Fernando win this year’s Indy 500? Well, I wouldn’t be so silly as to make any such rash prediction, but I expect him to be in the mix. Put it this way: the team he’ll be racing for won the race last year, using the same Honda engine, and he’s the best racing driver in the world. That’s quite a compelling combination. So, yes, as I say, he’ll be in the mix.
“OK, equally, he’ll have his work cut out to acclimatise to running at superspeedway velocities, but ultimately it’s quality that counts in all forms of motorsport, and Fernando is very definitely quality. He’s ballsy and brave too. Also, the differences between Formula 1 cars and Indy cars are less marked now than they were in the past. Formula 1 cars weigh about the same as Indy cars these days – just north of 700kg [1543lb] – and Formula 1 cars actually develop more power than IndyCar cars do, whereas it used to be the other way around in the past.
“I’ll be at Indy to see McLaren’s return to the Brickyard, and I’ll be a happy man on that day. But I’ll be in constant contact with Eric [Boullier], who’ll be running McLaren-Honda’s Formula 1 operation at Monaco as per usual.”
Michael Andretti (Chief Executive Officer, Andretti Autosport) said:
“It’s a great honor to partner with McLaren for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 and to bring Fernando into one of our Andretti Autosport Hondas. I want to thank Zak [Brown], Honda and McLaren for this tremendous opportunity. We’ve been working very closely in the planning of this new partnership and I believe we’ve laid the foundation for a successful month of May. We’re looking forward to giving Fernando an effort in reaching one of his biggest career goals of winning the Indy 500.
“Fernando’s lack of experience on superspeedways is not of concern to me. I do believe that the Indianapolis 500 is one of the best places for a rookie to start because there is the opportunity for so much practice time on the track – and, as we have demonstrated, it can be won by a rookie. Fernando is a great talent and I have full confidence that he will represent very strongly for McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.
“Fernando’s addition to the team takes our stable of entries to six, working in a cooperative effort. This sharing of experience and knowledge is what makes Andretti Autosport stand out and gives us that extra competitive edge.”
Katsuhide Moriyama (Operating Officer, Chief Officer, Brand and Communication Operations, Honda Motor Co., Ltd.) said:
“We are delighted that we are able to race in the historical Indy 500 as McLaren-Honda-Andretti in order to make Fernando Alonso’s dream come true.
“We are also honored that Honda can become a part of this ambitious project as an engine supplier. We are grateful to Mr. Andretti who willingly accepted our offer and now shares this dream with us. Fernando is one of the best racing drivers in the world, and I strongly believe that he will put on a great performance in one of the world’s most historical motor races, the Indy 500.
“Honda will provide our maximum support to him and the team, as well as the other Honda drivers competing.
“We can’t wait to see him racing on the legendary Indianapolis track.”
Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa (Executive Committee Principal, McLaren Technology Group) said:
“McLaren is more than merely a Formula 1 team, and has been for many years.
“Alongside McLaren Racing, which organisation runs our McLaren-Honda Formula 1 team, McLaren Automotive also produces some of the world’s fastest, most capable and most desirable high-performance sports cars, and our McLaren Applied Technologies operation is also growing both rapidly and profitably. Indeed, McLaren Applied Technologies supplies ECUs [engine control units] for motorsport series all over the world, including all current Formula 1 cars and indeed all current IndyCar cars, including the McLaren-Honda-Andretti car that Fernando will be racing at Indy next month.
“Unsurprisingly, the US is one of McLaren’s most significant export markets, and North America is one of our most important business development regions too. So, quite apart from my natural excitement about Fernando’s imminent participation in this year’s Indy 500, I’m also delighted that in so doing he’ll be further enlarging the ever-increasing size of McLaren’s awareness footprint in the world’s largest economy.”
Mansour Ojjeh (Executive Committee Principal, McLaren Technology Group) said:
“Even though I’ve been a major shareholder and director of McLaren for more than 30 years, I arrived after our first IndyCar era had come to an end [in the late ’70s]. Nonetheless, I’ve attended the Indy 500, and I came away hugely impressed by the scope and scale of this enormous and well-organised event, and the sheer enthusiasm of the hundreds of thousands of fans in attendance.
“McLaren first entered the Indy 500 in 1970. We didn’t do well that year – it was the year of the sad and sudden death of our founder Bruce McLaren of course – but at Indianapolis the following year, 1971, Mark Donohue qualified his McLaren M16 in pole position. The next year, in a privateer M16B operated by Roger Penske, Donohue became the first man to win the Indy 500 in a McLaren. Johnny Rutherford would repeat the feat in both 1974 and 1976, both times in a full-works McLaren, resplendent in papaya orange.
“So, more than 30 years later, I’m pleased and proud that we’re about to embark on a new IndyCar era for McLaren, this time with Andretti Autosport and Honda. The Indy 500 is the only IndyCar race we’ll be entering this year, but we may possibly repeat that in years to come and it’s just possible that we may even run a full-works McLaren IndyCar operation at some point in the future. We’ll see.
“Equally, we may potentially enter the Le Mans 24 Hours again some time – we won it outright in 1995 with our iconic McLaren F1 GTR – but to be clear we have absolutely no definite plans to do so at this stage.”
Mark Miles (Chief Executive Officer, IndyCar) said:
“The entire IndyCar community – competitors, fans, media, everyone – are delighted and excited at the prospect of a driver as brilliant as Fernando making his debut in our series. Even better, he’ll be making that debut in the greatest race of our year: the world-famous Indy 500. And which car will Fernando be driving this year? That’s right: a Honda-powered Andretti Autosport car – the same package that won last year’s race. Could history repeat itself? Stranger things have happened.
“But, whether or not Fernando wins this year, I’m thrilled that the name of McLaren will be returning to Indianapolis. Three times in the 1970s the Indy 500 was won by a driver at the wheel of a McLaren – one win for Mark Donohue and two wins for Johnny Rutherford – and I’m sure Johnny will be at the Brickyard again this year to cheer on his old team.
“Last but not least, we should all remember Bruce McLaren, the team’s founder, a brilliant driver-engineer-entrepreneur who was tragically killed while testing a McLaren M8D Can-Am car at Goodwood 47 long years ago, and who was finally and rightfully inducted to the Indianapolis Hall of Fame only this year.”
Follow McLaren.com, the McLaren App and McLaren’s official Indy 500-focused Twitter feed @McLarenIndy for all of the build-up and live insights from the team.