After an absence of 38 years, McLaren is to return to the Indianapolis 500 next month, using Honda engines.
On May 28th 2017 McLaren will enter a single car in the 101st Indianapolis 500, powered by Honda. The car will be run by the Andretti Autosport team, headed by founder, owner and Chief Executive Officer Michael Andretti, a former IndyCar champion who raced in Formula 1 for McLaren alongside the legendary Ayrton Senna for a single season (1993) and is the son of three-time IndyCar champion and one-time Formula 1 champion Mario Andretti.
The McLaren-Honda-Andretti entry, a Dallara DW12 chassis as used by all IndyCar teams, will be driven by current McLaren-Honda Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso, who has started 275 Grands Prix, has won 32 of those races, has become Formula 1 world champion twice, and has been Formula 1 runner-up three times.
Its engine will be a Honda 2.2-litre twin-turbo V6, limited by IndyCar regulations to 12,000rpm.
Since the Indianapolis 500 will take place on May 28th, the same day as the Monaco Grand Prix, Fernando will not race at Monaco this year. The Indianapolis 500 will be the only 2017 IndyCar race in which Fernando will compete, however, and the Monaco Grand Prix will therefore be the only 2017 Formula 1 race in which he will not compete.
The team said that “in due course” they will announce the identity of the driver who will race Fernando’s car at Monaco.
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.
Alonso has 32 grand prix victories and 97 podium finishes in 275 F1 starts. Competing in his 15th F1 season, Alonso became the youngest champion in series history in 2005 at age 24 and backed it up with another title the following year.
Alonso strives to win the 500 as F1 champion Graham Hill did as a rookie 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,” said Alonso.
“The Indy 500 is one of the most famous races on the global motorsport calendar, rivalled only by the Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix [which Fernando has won twice, one of those victories at the wheel of a McLaren (in 2007)], and it’s of course a regret of mine that I won’t be able to race at Monaco this year. But Monaco will be the only 2017 Grand Prix I’ll be missing, and I’ll be back in the cockpit of the McLaren-Honda MCL32 for the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal in early June.
“I’ve never raced an IndyCar car before, and neither have I ever driven on a super-speedway, but I’m confident that I’ll get to grips with it fast. I’ve watched a lot of IndyCar action on TV and online, and it’s clear that great precision is required to race in close proximity with other cars on the far side of 220mph [354km/h]. I realise I’ll be on a steep learning curve, but I’ll be flying to Indianapolis from Barcelona immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix, practising our McLaren-Honda-Andretti car at Indy from May 15th onwards, hopefully clocking up a large number of miles every day, and I know how good the Andretti Autosport guys are. I’ll be proud to race with them, and I intend to mine their knowledge and expertise for as much info as I possibly can.
“I’ve won the Monaco Grand Prix twice, and it’s one of my ambitions to win the Triple Crown [the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours], which has been achieved by only one driver in the history of motorsport: Graham Hill. It’s a tough challenge, but I’m up for it. I don’t know when I’m going to race at Le Mans, but one day I intend to. I’m only 35: I’ve got plenty of time for that.”
Zak Brown (Executive Director, McLaren Technology Group):
“As an American, albeit one who fell in love with Formula 1 at a very young age, I’ve always regarded the Indy 500 as a fantastic motor race.
“For that reason I’m particularly delighted to have been able to bring McLaren back to Indianapolis in my very first year as McLaren’s Executive Director. Michael [Andretti] is an old friend of mine, and a man I respect enormously, and his Andretti Autosport organisation is one of the best in the business. Michael is a winner – indeed his team won the Indy 500 last year with Alexander Rossi, who will be one of Fernando’s team-mates at Indy next month – and I couldn’t be happier that Fernando will be making his IndyCar debut in one of Michael’s cars.
“Equally, this project wouldn’t have been possible without Honda’s support and encouragement. And our car – the McLaren-Honda-Andretti – will be decked out in the papaya orange livery made famous by our founder Bruce McLaren, and in which Johnny Rutherford drove McLaren IndyCars to Indy 500 victory in both 1974 and 1976.
“Could Fernando win this year’s Indy 500? Well, I wouldn’t be so silly as to make any such rash prediction, but I expect him to be in the mix. Put it this way: the team he’ll be racing for won the race last year, using the same Honda engine, and he’s the best racing driver in the world. That’s quite a compelling combination. So, yes, as I say, he’ll be in the mix.
“OK, equally, he’ll have his work cut out to acclimatise to running at super-speedway velocities, but ultimately it’s quality that counts in all forms of motorsport, and Fernando is very definitely quality. He’s ballsy and brave too. Also, the differences between Formula 1 cars and IndyCars are less marked now than they were in the past. Formula 1 cars weigh about the same as IndyCars these days – just north of 700kg [1543lb] – and Formula 1 cars actually develop more power than IndyCar cars do, whereas it used to be the other way around in the past.
“I’ll be at Indy to see McLaren’s return to the Brickyard, and I’ll be a happy man on that day. But I’ll be in constant contact with Eric [Boullier], who’ll be running McLaren-Honda’s Formula 1 operation at Monaco as per usual.”