The first thing McLaren Racing’s Fernando Alonso learned today during his first outing on the daunting high banks of Texas Motor Speedway was glaringly obvious: it’s nothing like the comparatively flat Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he made his IndyCar debut in 2017.
“It was great, obviously,” he said after completing 105 laps in the No. 66 Chevy. “It’s only the first couple of laps with the car. We are taking care of everything slowly with the speed. It’s good to be back on the oval with a very specific setup. This car that turns left ‘self-steering’ a little bit. So, again, some weird feeling for me to try to get used to with the speedway, especially with a lot of banking on the corner, especially Turns 3 and 4. It’s different than Indianapolis, but hopefully a good preparation for us.”
Shaking down the brand-new chassis built at McLaren’s U.K. base was also part of the exercise for the two-time Formula 1 world champion, who’ll take his second shot at winning racing’s ‘Triple Crown’ in May.
“For myself, obviously, it’s just about getting comfort in the car,” he said. “It’s a new car, new team so in terms of seat position, headrest, pedals, steering wheel preferences I think all these things we can start now the work. For the team, I think it is quite important to set up everything as a team, who does what in the team, also the pit wall, the facility is completely new for everyone (and) try to solve as many problems here and at the open test on the [April] 24th (of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway) and getting ready for the 500.”
Part of the learning process for Alonso involved adapting to the new-for-2018 Universal Aero Kit, which offer similar downforce in speedway trim, but features more drag and behaves differently than the manufacturer-based Honda aero kit he used two years ago at Indy.
“So far it’s too early to say because I am not up to speed,” he said of comparing the aero kits. “I guess, listening to everyone in the last year, there will be less downforce. They can be more trickier to drive, especially following. Today’s not a problem because I am alone. But I guess it’s going to be challenging, especially this year I am not with the Andretti, let’s say, environment. It’s all by ourselves this year.”
Having one Indy 500 experience to draw from is meaningful for Alonso on his upcoming month of May spent with McLaren’s new IndyCar operation.
“I feel quite a lot more prepared,” he said. “At least I know the race, the atmosphere of the 500, the drivers’ parade, I know the formation laps. I know a lot of things that you spend energy on your first time there because everything comes as a surprise. I think that energy I can save it now. I know how it goes so I can go into the rhythm of the race, come into qualifying with a little bit more energy and more concentration, but I take this race as if I was starting from zero. I don’t want to take for granted anything. I want to review every single race from the past, start from zero with engineers and everything. I want to go to the simulator as I did when making the first start, every pit stop. I want to make much preparation as possible.”