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McLaren driver Fernando Alonso was an interested observer at the Indycar championship round at Barber Motorsports Park this past weekend as he counts down to his Indianapolis 500 foray in May.
Alonso tried out an Andretti Autosports Dallara for size and spoke to media at length during a press conference with McLaren chief Zak Brown.
Alonso told reporters, “It has been an amazing week or 10 days from the announcement – I’m really excited about this opportunity. For any racing driver in the world to compete in the best races is the main goal, against the best drivers and the best and fastest cars in the world. This is what I’m trying to experience with the Indy 500 adventure.
“It’s going to be a very difficult challenge for me to get used to the car, get used to the superspeedway and all the techniques that are unique to be on top of it, but I have the best team around me, I have amazing people that will help me to speed up this process and it’s so challenging that it’s exciting at the same time.
“I need to go through different steps in this learning, I need to do it in two weeks’ time, no more than that, and that’s quite exciting.”
“With Alexander [Rossi], with Takuma [Sato] as well, they can give me some tips [on how to adapt], but I think that the whole team, the environment that Andretti puts on for the race will be the most beneficial part. I’ve been working already, exchanging some emails with engineers and looking at some data.”
“Winning is something really big, you need a lot of things to come to you, but I take it more like an experience, very open. I know that if the race was tomorrow, I’m not ready to do it because I know nothing about it. But I will go step by step trying to learn, do some simulator laps … and then as good as anyone else as traffic when it comes time. I want to be as prepared as anyone else.”
Asked what he feels will be his biggest challenge when making his Indycar debut in the wrold’s biggest race, Alonso replied, “Everything. It’s different, it’s challenging. The traffic I think, the level of downforce, feeling with the car, running with a car that’s not symmetric on the straights, on braking. Traffic is a big thing from what I’m hearing.”
“Let’s see if I can learn as quick as I can. I think the restarts, strategies will be different as well. I’m with the best team possible for this type of lessons. Also with coach Gil de Ferran, which I’m sure will be very useful for all these new things. We will be prepared.”
“With the level of professionalism and commitment in the last two decades of motorsport, it’s difficult to jump from one series to another in the same season. … the last drivers to attempt something similar, they have bigger experience so they have couple of months of preparation, more tests, more oval and superspeedway tests at well.”
“This is quite a unique thing – I’m aware of the difficulty. All the fans are aware of this. But if you love motorsport I think this is good news.”
“Four or five years ago, I started thinking about how to grow up as a driver, become a little bit more complete driver; to do so you need to win the best races in the world, the most prestigious races in the world. And how to achieve that, I think is Formula 1, Indy 500 and 24 Hours Le Mans. The Triple Crown.
“That target – very ambitious target, because only one man in history did it, and it was attractive at the time – I didn’t think it was possible to attempt another race apart from Formula 1 until I was retired. To make it happen now in this year is making me very, very proud, and makes me very happy as well.”
Brown gave explained how the deal came about and revealed that Gil de Ferrarn has been drafted into help coaching Alonso, “Giving the circumstances of how we are running in Formula 1, and Fernando’s desire and our desire and Honda’s desire to win together, this created a very small window of opportunity that we jumped on.”
“McLaren is a big fan of IndyCar racing. I’ve personally been around it my whole life. We had just enough time to do this very properly, when I called Mark [Miles] and ultimately Michael [Andretti], it was good that he was already far down the road with the car, because we need to be competitive; the whole idea is to run at the front of the field.”
“We’ve brought in Gil de Ferran to assist Fernando in his way around Indianapolis, and I’d like to see McLaren here on a more regular basis. I hope we have the problem of Monaco and Indy in the same weekend and we are fighting for the championship. What happens in 2018 we’ll have to wait and see; we’re working very hard to give Fernando and Stoffel Vandoorne a much more competitive car than we’re producing right now,” added Brown.
— IndyCar Series (@IndyCar) April 23, 2017