INDIANAPOLIS — After a 38-year absence, McLaren’s legendary brand will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ has attracted two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso to its storied field.
McLaren announced Wednesday morning that Alonso will compete in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28, running with the full support of McLaren and Honda in collaboration with Andretti Autosport.
As such, Alonso will forego competing in this year’s Monaco Grand Prix, held on the same day as the Indianapolis 500. The driver of Alonso’s McLaren-Honda for Monaco will be announced in due course.
The Andretti team has won the Indianapolis 500 four times, including last year’s race with Verizon IndyCar Series rookie Alexander Rossi at the wheel of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda-Dallara.
Alonso becomes the ninth driver to enter the 500 with a world championship on his resume. In recent years, Nigel Mansell’s participation in 1993 as the reigning F1 champion was the most celebrated, with media interest at a fevered pitch. Mansell finished third in that event.
McLaren’s return to Indianapolis and Alonso’s addition to the field adds to the momentum of the race and the Verizon IndyCar Series. Last year’s 500 was sold out for the first time in history and broke attendance marks. The Verizon IndyCar Series has seen television ratings increases each of the past three years, a combined 55 percent, and Alonso’s participation should provide an even greater spotlight on the Month of May.
“The entire INDYCAR community — competitors, fans, media, everyone — is delighted and excited at the prospect of a driver as brilliant as Fernando making his debut in our series,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Verizon IndyCar Series. “Even better, he’ll be making that debut in the greatest race of our year, the world-famous Indy 500.”
Alonso has 32 grand prix victories and 97 podium finishes in 275 F1 starts. Competing in his 15th season, Alonso became the youngest champion in series history in 2005 at age 24 and backed it up with another title the following year.
His goal is to win the 500 as a rookie, just like F1 champion Graham Hill did in 1966. Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti and Nelson Piquet also drove in the 500 as one-time world champions, while Alberto Ascari, Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt and Jacques Villeneuve won F1 titles after competing in the 500.
“I’m immensely excited that I’ll be racing in this year’s Indy 500 with McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport,” Alonso said. “The Indy 500 is one of the most famous races on the global motorsport calendar, rivaled only by the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix.”
McLaren has a storied history in the Indianapolis 500. Company founder Bruce McLaren fielded a car in the 1970 race, although he failed to qualify in it. The next year, after McLaren died, Mark Donohue qualified a Penske-entered McLaren in the second position but completed only 66 laps and finished 25th. In 1972, Donohue won the 500, the first of a record 16 for Team Penske and the first of three McLaren victories at IMS.
Johnny Rutherford won the other two 500s for McLaren, with those wins coming in 1974 and 1976.
This appearance in the 500 comes 38 years after McLaren’s most recent attempt at IMS, and Alonso’s car will carry the same papaya orange McLaren livery that the team is known for, as well as many of McLaren’s grand prix partners.
Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti has a link to McLaren, too. He raced for the F1 team in 1993 alongside Ayrton Senna.
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