INDIANAPOLIS – The challenge was accepted. If not for a mechanical failure with 20 laps remaining in the race, it might have been successful.
Fernando Alonso’s attempt to win the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil went up in a puff of blue smoke today late in the 200-lap race. That’s when the promising run ended in his No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda after the Spaniard led 27 laps – the third-highest total of the day – and was in contention for the lead through much of the race.
While it didn’t end the way Alonso hoped, seeing his number atop the famous scoring pylon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a thrill he won't forget.
“I was passing the tower and saw the 29 on top of it,” Alonso said. “I was thinking at that moment that if someone from the team was taking a picture of the tower, I want that picture at home. It was an amazing experience.”
It was the first attempt at the historic race by Alonso, the two-time Formula One world champion. He skipped today’s Monaco Grand Prix to compete in the Indy 500, part of his dream to complete racing’s career triple crown – winning the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Asked if he would try it again, Alonso confirmed it is on his radar.
“If I come back here, at least I know how everything is,” Alonso said. “It won’t be the first time I do restarts and pit stops (in the INDYCAR format). We’ll see what happens in the following years. We’ll obviously keep pursuing this challenge because it’s not completed.”
Alonso was running seventh when he suffered an apparent engine failure on the frontstretch. As he climbed out of the car, a crowd estimated at nearly 300,000 roared its appreciation. Alonso waved back to the crowd, then shook fans’ hands in the pits.
“Not many race car drivers in the world are brave enough to do what Fernando just did, and not just from a physical standpoint,” said Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group, which helped bring him to Indianapolis. “The whole world was watching Fernando today, so he put himself out there and exposed himself and delivered the goods. That isn’t a surprise to anyone who has watched Fernando race.”
Alonso started fifth, fell behind on the start but quickly worked back to the front. On Lap 29, he pitted from second place. Eight laps later, he had the papaya orange No. 29 in the lead, where he stayed for six laps.
After losing the lead to teammate Alexander Rossi for five laps, Alonso regained the top spot and stayed there for his longest stretch of the race – 13 laps – before Rossi passed him. Alonso led twice more – Laps 130-135 and Laps 136-139 – and was running seventh when his race ended early.
“There were some better moments in the race, but I felt competitive all through the race,” Alonso said.
Disappointed? Yes. Disheartened? Not in the least.
“I knew that I could be as quick as anyone in an F1 car, (but) I didn’t know if I could be as quick as anyone in an Indy car,” Alonso said. “It was nice to have this competitive feeling and be able to lead the Indy 500.”
Even though he didn’t win, Alonso delighted the media when he ended his post-race news conference by taking a drink of milk from a small carton. Not exactly the same as doing so from a bottle in victory lane, but he savored the moment.
"Thanks to INDYCAR, an amazing experience," the 35-year-old Spaniard said. "Thanks to Indianapolis, thanks to the fans. I felt at home. I'm not American, but I felt really proud to race here."