Q: What’s your opinion of Alonso signing up, again, with McLaren for Indy? I know he had little choice, with other, more attractive, options being closed, but does he still have a shot to win that he would have had at the Indy-expert teams of Andretti or Ed Carpenter? Or will he be fighting with one hand tied behind his back at Arrow McLaren SP?
Anthony Jenkins, near Toronto, Canada
RM: First off, glad he’s coming back, and this year he’s got Craig Hampson as his engineer, so I think he’ll be quite competitive – providing his pit stops are tidy.
Q: Like most of the time when a deal is announced, the real story has got to be a lot more interesting than what we get fed. It was announced earlier this year that Fernando and McLaren were done. It’s been nice, but we’re both movin’ on, each party said. Now, after having his pissed-off old engine supplier Honda still holding a grudge and denying Fernando’s deal with Andretti, he comes back, presumably hat in hand, to McLaren and everyone’s buddy buddy again. What’s up? Why didn’t a deal happen earlier? Why did they break up, and now, what makes this deal good enough for all to agree on it? Is it as simple as following the money?
Rick M., Toronto
RM: No matter what everyone has been saying lately, the Andretti/Alonso union didn’t happen because Honda of Japan wouldn’t let it. And Zak Brown and Fernando had no falling out, so it was a natural for him to join Arrow McLaren SP.
Q: Great story about Alonso, and I agree with everything you’ve said. One question that I have yet to see anyone ask is “Are there any technical partnerships between Penske and McLaren?” The reason I ask is Gil de Ferran is running McLaren’s IndyCar program, and their switch to Chevy makes you wonder.
Jim Doyle, Hoboken, NJ
RM: Not to my knowledge. RP’s only tech partners are Team Penske.
Q: Curious about this whole Penske/McLaughlin gig. Sounds more and more like Penske will be running him in more that just one or two races this year, and maybe full-time next year. Is RP going back to four full-time cars, or is someone there on the way out after this season?
RM: Marshall has been writing for the past few weeks it could be as many as eight races, and his latest story has quotes from Tim Cindric that make it sound feasible. We know Will’s contract goes through 2021, we think Simon signed a two-year deal through 2021, and if JoNew’s original contract was three years, he’s already re-upped. Don’t think Power and Pagenaud are ready for sports cars yet, but also can’t imagine The Captain going back to four cars. But he certainly seems enamored with McLaughlin.
Q: Thanks for the updates on Alonso’s 2020 run, Penske’s ever-unfolding upgrades, and winning payouts. What is generally known about oval driving simulators used by various teams as of this season? I haven’t seen a lot of open discussion of this, and I expect it will certainly impact what we see on track in May. I noticed Alonso mention simulator use in your article. Are there multiple IMS simulators now in use? Some drivers/teams with drastically greater access? As one late Southern California based Indy 500 driver commented after his first laps around The Speedway in 1971, “All four corners are different!” That was from a very talented road-racing driver.
Rick W., California
RM: Dallara and Honda have a simulator in Indianapolis, and Alonso said he was going to Charlotte get some simulator miles in Chevrolet’s simulator.
Q: Hopefully the weather will be good for the Open Test on April 30 at IMS. It will practically be May, and Alonso will be there so chances are there’ll be a decent crowd. Any chance Mr. Penske and Mr. Boles can be talked into opening one or two sections in the lower Stand E? I know you need volunteers, so maybe charge $5 to sit in that stand. Would be $5 well-spent.
RM: I sent them your request so we’ll see, but I imagine it will be confined to the south infield bleachers and maybe Turn 2 spectator mound.
Q: Although I would prefer that he have a proper, full-season ride, I’m glad the Mayor of Hinchtown will be on NBC. How much input did you have on his addition to the telecast?
David, Waxhaw, NC
RM: Zero. When he learned he was out at Arrow McLaren SP, I sent him a text and suggested calling NBC, but he was way ahead of me because he already had. And they already know he’ll be gold (and NBC Gold) with a microphone in his hands, so I think his career path is set. I’ve offered to be Hinch’s driver, but he says I’m too old.
Q: The car count for St. Pete looks like 25, Indy GP at 28 maybe 29 and Indy at 32 already. Any update on Carlin and others? Nice to see Hinchcliffe get into the booth – as you have said many times, he is a natural. Will the Mayor restart the pit walk, and do you think he stops to chat with Zak Brown?
RM: Your numbers look spot-on for the first two races, but I’ve already got Indy with 33, not counting Juncos and extra cars at Coyne or Foyt. I hope Hinch and I get to do a grid run, and I think he’ll say hello to Zak before he does Sam Schmidt.