[ngg_images source=”galleries” container_ids=”58″ display_type=”photocrati-nextgen_pro_slideshow” image_crop=”0″ image_pan=”1″ show_playback_controls=”1″ show_captions=”0″ caption_class=”caption_overlay_bottom” caption_height=”70″ aspect_ratio=”1.5″ width=”100″ width_unit=”%” transition=”fade” transition_speed=”1″ slideshow_speed=”5″ border_size=”0″ border_color=”#ffffff” ngg_triggers_display=”always” is_ecommerce_enabled=”0″ order_by=”sortorder” order_direction=”ASC” returns=”included” maximum_entity_count=”500″] Fernando Alonso was quickly up to speed at the famed Brickyard on Wednesday, blazing through his IndyCar rookie orientation to close on earning a spot on the starting grid for the Indianapolis 500.
Alonso, who has competed in 276 Formula One races and is a double world champion, is an IndyCar debutant and arrived at in Indianapolis needing to pass a rookie test which he did with flying colours by recording an unofficial top speed of 221.721 mph (356.825kph).
The Spaniard set the motor racing world buzzing when he announced he had been granted clearance by his McLaren F1 team to skip the Monaco Grand Prix and race in the 101st Indy 500 on May 28 in pursuit of the sport’s triple crown – victories at Monte Carlo, Indy and Le Mans.
Twice a winner in Monaco, Alonso’s Indy 500 bid will come with Andretti Autosport, who put rookie Alexander Rossi in Victory Lane last year.
Alonso looked right at home at the Brickyard as he slipped into the number 29 car and quickly had the orange Honda, sporting the livery of early McLaren F1 cars, turning laps of more than 200mph around the 2.5 mile oval.
The rookie orientation program was the first on-track step for Alonso. All first-year competitors in the Indianapolis 500 must complete a gradual introduction to the speeds and unique nature of the sprawling track.
Rookie drivers complete 40 laps in three speed phases, the first requiring drivers to do 10 laps of over 210 mph. Phase two requires 15 laps at 215 mph followed by phase three of 15 laps at faster than 220 mph.
The 35-year-old Spaniard will now focus on getting more familiar with his IndyCar ahead of qualifying on May 20 and 21.
Alonso said afterwards, “It was fun. It’s a good way to start, to build the speed. Probably a little bit difficult at the beginning to reach the minimum, but then on the next stages it felt good. Now hopefully we can put some laps and start feeling a little bit of the car.”
“[It’s comfortable], not because of speed, just because of the laps. With 40 laps in the pocket you’re able to fine-tune a little bit the lines, and the upshift and downshift, which gear to use in which corner, etc. At the moment everything looks good. Now we start the real thing.”
“I think the feeling on the simulator is quite realistic. You have the first touch, the first impression of how it’s going to be. But the real car is just a unique feeling, so when you have to go flat-out in the corner it’s not the same as the simulator.”
“So far it’s been good, the team is amazingly helpful, everyone, Marco [shaking down the car this morning]. Running alone is quite OK (he said with a smile), we’ll see the later on in the next weeks. It was so far a good experience. Now I think we start the real deal.”
“When you put on new tires it masks a little bit the problems, so it masks the lower level of downforce, so now we’re playing a little bit with old tires, new tires and different trims. I was able to feel all the changes. I was able to play a little bit with the front bars, weight jackers, all these new things for me, but now I really need to have a taste now.”
“[It was] not at all [easy],” he said with a laugh. “I was getting up to speed. The circuit looks so narrow when you’re at the speed; when you watch on television or in the simulator everything seems bigger and easier and when you are in the real car it’s very, very narrow, so I was trying different lines and things like that but [I was] really not as comfortable as I will be probably in a couple weeks’ time.
“At the beginning I have to be honest, the right foot, how do you say, [had a mind of its own and] was not connected with my brain, so I wanted to be flat out, but the right foot has its own life. Right now I’m more in control with my body and in control with the car so I’m able to be flat out,” added Alonso.
Team boss Michael Andretti was impressed, “He did perfect, did everything he was supposed to do and got through all three phases [of rookie orientation].”
“He gets it. He’s one of the best in the world and you can see why. He watched what he was doing with his line and was changing up lap to lap to get a feel and he had a little bit of understeer that run and he adjusted his line. He’s the real deal; I think he’s going to be really strong this month,” added Andretti.