SPEEDWAY, Ind. — How good is two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso?
Good enough that he completed his Rookie Orientation Program at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday morning in just 50 laps, marking a rapid progression for the Spaniard as he took his first career laps on an oval at the historic venue.
The 35-year-old and 32-time winner in F1 competition will make his maiden Verizon IndyCar Series start at the end of the month, missing the Monaco Grand Prix to compete at Indianapolis.
Alonso made four total stints in completing his ROP requirements, posting a top speed of 219.694 mph on the second full-speed lap of his final run.
Rookie orientation at Indianapolis is completed in three phases:
- Phase 1: 10 laps at 205-210 mph
- Phase 2: 15 laps at 210-215 mph
- Phase 3: 15 laps in excess of 215 mph, with a top-end maximum of 220 mph
Following the conclusion of his official timed phases, Alonso returned to the paddock and spoke during IndyCar’s live broadcast of the test session about what he felt during his first laps on-track in the No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti.
“It was fun,” Alonso said of his rookie program. “I think it was a good way to start and to build the speed up for me. It was a little bit difficult, in the beginning, to reach the minimum (speed) … but then on the next stages, things felt good. Now, for me, it’s about getting more laps and starting to feel more things with the car … because at the moment, the car is driving itself; I am not driving the car!”
“I do feel more comfortable already, not just because of the speed, but because of the (number of) laps,” Alonso added. “When you get 30 or 40 laps in your pocket, you can fine-tune the lines, the upshifts, the downshifts, which gear to use in which corner … things like that. Right now, everything looks good and now, we’ll head towards the real thing.”
Alonso was allowed five sets of Firestone Firehawk tires to use over the course of his three-phase program, which was aided earlier in the morning by a shakedown run from his teammate Marco Andretti.
Wednesday’s program was overseen by both engineer Eric Bretzman and team owner Michael Andretti, who will call strategy for Alonso in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 28.
“Today was great; he did perfect,” said Andretti. “He accomplished everything he was supposed to do and got through all three phases. … So far, everything’s perfect and we can’t complain. He gets it.”
“He’s one of the best in the world, and you can see why. He was changing up his line from lap to lap to get a feel … and he fought a little bit of understeer, but he was good. I think he’s going to be really strong this month.”
“Fernando certainly met expectations,” added IndyCar race director Brian Barnhart. “This is a bit of a different program, because there’s no questions about his (Alonso’s) credentials. This day was more about familiarization, giving him an opportunity to get on the race track and get comfortable with the car.”
“He’s certainly an exceptional talent and I think he’s adapting well to it (being in an IndyCar). He got acclimated very quickly today.”
After the ROP barriers were lifted, Alonso was allowed to “cut loose” and ran a peak lap of 222.548 mph on his fourth “full-on” stint, as the team began to trim his car out aerodynamically.
Opening day for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place on Monday, May 15, when Alonso returns for additional practice along with the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series field.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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