ALONSO GETS UP TO INDY SPEED

Spa­niard passes first test in pur­suit of ‘Triple Crown’

New Straits Times - - Sport -

MARIO An­dretti sees the same spark in Fernando Alonso that drove him to take on all com­ers at race tracks around the world and said he be­lieves the Spa­niard is a threat to win the In­di­anapo­lis 500.

Alonso set the mo­tor rac­ing world abuzz last month when he said he had been granted clear­ance by his McLaren For­mula One team to miss the Monaco Grand Prix and race in the 101st Indy 500 on May 28 in pur­suit of the sport’s famed ‘Triple Crown’ — a For­mula One ti­tle and Indy 500 and Le Mans wins.

While Graham Hill is the only driver to achieve the feat, An­dretti also stands alone as the only driver to win a For­mula One world cham­pi­onship, an In­di­anapo­lis 500 and Day­tona 500.

“I em­braced the chal­lenges that’s why I did it be­cause I was cu­ri­ous,” An­dretti said be­fore Alonso set­tled into the cock­pit of an IndyCar for the first time on Wed­nes­day.

“Some driv­ers are very happy spe­cial­is­ing. I wasn’t. I see the same spark in Alonso.

“I com­mend him for do­ing this. I know how he feels be­cause this was al­ways my chal­lenge to go into some­body else’s sand­box and see if I could win at their own game.

“There’s noth­ing bet­ter than that.”

De­spite Alonso hav­ing won 32 grands prix and two driv­ers cham­pi­onships, the 35-year-old was re­quired to un­dergo IndyCar’s rookie ori­en­ta­tion pro­gramme on Wed­nes­day in or­der to get used to the unique en­vi­ron­ment of oval rac­ing at the famed 4km Brick­yard course.

“Here you have con­stant high speed on a su­per speed­way and it is in­cred­i­bly dif­fer­ent from what his (Alonso’s) spe­cialty is which is ba­si­cally road rac­ing,” added An­dretti.

“It’s not that he is go­ing to be for­eign to 350kmph plus but what he is go­ing to be for­eign to is cor­ner­ing at 350kmph plus.

“That’s the part that ob­vi­ously he is go­ing to have to deal with and learn how to ap­proach it.”

McLaren will en­ter the race with a Honda-en­gined Indy car run by An­dretti Au­tosport, owned by for­mer McLaren driver Michael An­dretti, who put to­gether a de­tailed game plan for Alonso that be­gan in a sim­u­la­tor.

Alonso im­pressed on Wed­nes­day as he quickly got up to speed with a fastest lap of 356.825kmph but An­dretti said there was still a lot for him to learn.

“As you get closer to qual­i­fy­ing then he is go­ing to have to start flirt­ing with the limit of the car. That’s when it gets pre­car­i­ous,” said An­dretti.

“At these speeds when you’re flirt­ing with the lim­its of the car and ready to go then you have to have a pretty good feel.

“That’s when you’ve got to watch so you don’t get too spooked. A lot of el­e­ments will come into play at that point.”

The en­tire IndyCar ex­pe­ri­ence, which in­volves mas­sive fan in­ter­ac­tion with the driv­ers, is also likely to be a cul­ture shock for Alonso, who will also have the added dis­trac­tion of spot­ters through­out the race.

Spot­ters, who are perched on the roof of the grand­stands, pro­vide a run­ning com­men­tary to keep driv­ers ap­praised of po­ten­tial trou­ble spots and dan­ger.

“I think the tough­est thing for him will be able to feel com­fort­able enough with a spotter in his ear,” said An­dretti.

“To un­der­stand all of that and take ad­van­tage be­cause he has never had a spotter in his ear when he is driv­ing.

“It can be an­noy­ing.

“As a driver, I would tell my en­gi­neer you know what keep the com­ments down, just let me drive.

“I want just enough information. I didn’t want information over­load.

“Spot­ters some­time go blah, blah, blah.” Reuters

AP PIC

Fernando Alonso pre­pares to drive for the first time at the In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way on Wed­nes­day.

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