The Spanish legend was announced yesterday as driver of the #66 Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet sponsored by Ruoff in this year’s Indy 500, as he takes his third attempt at winning the Memorial Day Weekend classic.
However, he revealed that both during earlier negotiations with Andretti Autosport – for whom he raced at Indy in 2017 – and with Arrow McLaren SP, the question of participating in additional races has been a talking point.
He said: “That was part of the conversations I had with both teams – what they were thinking about that – and it’s still an open point to develop.
“Someone thinks that later in the year it can be a possibility to experience a normal IndyCar race, just to see how it feels and add some more experience.
“I have the thought that maybe that would be before the Indy 500 because it gives me a little bit of preparation, because this year I’m not doing F1 and I’m not doing the World Endurance Championship so my last race was the Dakar Rally which is completely opposite style!
“So maybe one race before or an extra test would be a help also for me, even if it’s not an oval race. So there are things that are under negotiations and something that took a role in the final decision [to join Arrow McLaren] as well.”
Asked specifically about the GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course in mid-May, Alonso repeated: “There are possibilities [but] I think it’s not up to me 100 percent.
“As I said, more test, more simulator [time], more racing – whatever I can do before the Indy 500, it can be only beneficial to my preparation, because I would like to be a little more active from now until the Indy 500.
“But there are other things that may compromise the Indy 500 car or the setup or the building of everything, so I don’t want to make any problems with that preparation. There are things that I will talk to the team about – they have much more experience than me – Sam [Schmidt, team co-owner], Zak [Brown, McLaren CEO], Gil [de Ferran, McLaren sporting director] – and we will figure out what is the best preparation.
“As I said, I am open to do more things than in the past.”
Hampson presence “very attractive”
Alonso said that Arrow McLaren SP’s off-season signing of Craig Hampson as research and development engineer and ‘third car’ race engineer had played a significant part in his decision to sign up.
Hampson, who earned four Champ Car titles with Sebastien Bourdais at Newman/Haas Racing from 2004 through ’07 was also a major factor in Dale Coyne Racing’s rise to prominence – again with Bourdais at the wheel – over the past three IndyCar seasons. The DCR cars were among the very fastest at Indianapolis Motor Speedway 2017-’19, and as R&D director at Andretti Autosport from 2013-’16, Hampson also played a significant role in making Michael Andretti’s team so strong at the Speedway in IndyCar’s DW12-IR15 era.
He also proved his chops as race engineer for Andretti Autosport’s extra Indy entry for Kurt Busch in 2014. Despite the 2004 NASCAR Cup champion’s relative inexperience of open-wheel racing, he qualified 12th, finished sixth and earned Rookie of the Year honors.
“That was one of the biggest parts of this decision,” said Alonso of the opportunity to work with Hampson. “Everyone was telling me that Craig Hampson is the man to work with, with so much experience, and making the difference in many of the races in the last couple of decades in Indy cars.
“Obviously that’s very attractive to work with these kind of people who make a difference, and I can take a lot from the driver’s point of view from the team and the engineers.”
Before concluding his deal with Arrow McLaren SP, Alonso said he had also kept track of the team’s performance in Spring Training at Circuit of The Americas two weeks ago, in which full-time drivers Oliver Askew and Patricio O’Ward finished seventh and 10th.
“I wanted to wait even if everything was more or less done and we agreed on all the terms,” said the two-time Formula 1 World Champion. “The COTA test was really a nice thing, to look at the team from the outside, how things were working together and gluing together.
“They had a very, very positive step and this was good news for me.”
Alonso says team not inhibited by inexperienced driver lineup
Brown yesterday played down the fact that, providing Alonso qualifies this year, he will be the most experienced Indy 500 driver in the Arrow McLaren SP squad in 2020, despite starting the race only once before. O’Ward finished second in the Indy Lights Freedom 100 at IMS in 2018 but last year failed to qualify his Carlin-Chevy in the Indy 500 as an IndyCar rookie. Meanwhile Askew is an IndyCar rookie this year, although he won the Freedom 100 in 2019.
Alonso, like Brown, expressed great respect for his teammates and confidence that, as a combination, they can steer the team in the right direction.
“All three of us are maybe lacking some experience – that’s a fact,” he said. “[But] we have different characteristics.
“Oliver has a tremendous talent that will help discover things for the team and guide some of the direction, maybe by his instinct, that will teach everyone else. Pato is a very brave guy, very talented guy with no fears or anything like that, so he is someone who will also be important to deal with and to learn from him as well. And I have some of the experience of many years of racing but not that kind of racing
“But at the end I think we need to help each other and we need to follow the team who itself has more experience than all the drivers together. With Sam, Craig, Gil, there are personalities that have a lot of experience in IndyCar and they have won many, many things there. So I think if we all push in the same direction we should be quite a team, quite a force.