When Fernando Alonso’s plan to run Indianapolis with Michael Andretti fell through last month, the two-time F1 champion turned to his business partner and friend of the past few years and made a deal. That’s how Alonso ended up at Arrow McLaren SP for the month of May.
“Clearly, Fernando was deep in conversations with Michael,” said Zak Brown, the CEO of McLaren Racing who was Alonso’s boss in his most recent run in F1, and brought him to IMS twice. “If you are Fernando Alonso and you want to win Indianapolis, then Andretti is on your short list. We had a strong desire to run him too.
“He didn’t want to make a decision until after the Dakar Rally, but he had two good opportunities. We kept him informed of our off-season moves like securing (engineer) Craig Hampson, and when he was ready to make his decision, he chose to move forward with us.”
Ruoff Mortgage, which sponsored Takuma Sato when he won Indy in 2017 for Andretti, is going to sponsor Colton Herta in a half dozen races for Andretti in 2020 and was negotiating with Michael to back Alonso this May.
“Michael is a good friend of mine, we’re partners in Australia (Supercars), and I knew he was talking to Ruoff Mortgage,” said Brown, who also had a personal services deal with Alonso that ended earlier this year. “But when he and Fernando couldn’t put a deal together, Ruoff asked Michael if they could go with us, and he gave his blessing. So we cut a deal with Ruoff to sponsor Fernando at Indianapolis.”
Alonso’s third attempt to win Indy will be much different than 2017, when he was surrounded by veterans like Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti, or last year, when he was all by himself on McLaren’s ill-fated one-off effort that ended in a DNQ. This time the 38-year-old Spaniard will be the sounding board for rookies Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward while getting up to speed with one of the best engineers in the IndyCar paddock.
“We’ve always wanted to run a third car at Indianapolis, Craig will be his engineer and we’re going to throw everything at this,” said Sam Schmidt, co-owner with Ric Peterson. “We’ve got two exciting rookies, and being around Fernando will elevate their game. They’ll be able to tap into his experience.”
Added Brown: “A three-car team is better than one or two, and I think it takes a little bit of pressure off our rookies. They’re excited to race alongside him; they’re Fernando fans.
“We’ve got a good long history with Fernando, and I’m glad we could to put it together.”
Alonso supposedly had talked to Andretti about running more than Indy, but Brown said that his Arrow McLaren SP deal is currently only for one race.
“Right now he’s going to be laser-focused on the Indy 500,” Brown said. “The door is open, but no plans [for] racing beyond Indy at this point.”
Schmidt added: “We talked about the Indy GP in preparatory fashion, but we need to find funding. So right now the plan is to run April 30 Open Test at the Speedway.”
As rookie of the year in 2017 after qualifying fifth, leading 27 laps and running in the lead pack until blowing his engine late, Alonso looked like a natural on his first oval. Then he never turned a lap in 2019 after missing the show.
“Alonso needs to be in the Indy 500 and have the opportunity to win,” said Schmidt. “Now with Chevy, we feel like we can get it done.”