Rinus VeeKay: “We are ready for the 500”

Rinus VeeKay image courtesy of IndyCar

The first time I took notice of this young Dutchman, he was leading the F3 Asian Winter Series competing with the likes of Williams test driver Dan Ticktum and F3 heavy-hitters David Schumacher and Ye Yifea. I didn’t know much about him at the time, but I was mightily impressed with his performances ultimately dominating the championship twenty nine points ahead of his nearest rival.

Now, he is starting fourth in the Indianapolis 500, the highest placed rookie.

It has been a whirlwind twelve months for Rinus VeeKay to say the least, a name he adopted after coming to compete in the US, his real name: Rinus Van Kalmthout. Since his incredible performance in the Indy Lights series he has been catapulted into motorsport stardom with the Ed Carpenter Racing team for the NTT IndyCar series for the 2020 season.

For the Netherlands, it is a seismic moment. The first Dutch driver in top tier American Open wheel racing since Robert Doornbos in 2009. Doornbos and only four other Dutchman have ever raced in IndyCar including two time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyundyk Sr, his son Arie Luyundyk Jr, Cornelius Euser and Jan Lammers.

Having waited so long for another star in the IndyCar series, they were treated to a miraculous sight last Sunday, seeing Rinus blasting through turn one of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway clocking in at just over 240mph. One of the fastest unofficial speeds ever recorded at the Indy 500.

The previous day he knocked many big names out of the ‘Fast Nine’ shootout, including the likes of Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Fernando Alonso to name but a few. This is no mean feat. However, rather than let the pressure get to him, he put in a fantastic four-lap average (230.704mph) during the ‘Fast Nine’ to start on the fourth row alongside Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchliffe.

I was fortunate to sit down with Rinus on Wednesday 19th August, four days before he is due to take the starting grid in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in the World’. The aim: to get an insight into the nineteen-year-old Dutchman, to reflect on his fantastic performance so far.

Adam (Q):

Hi Rinus! How are you feeling? Are you OK?

Rinus VeeKay (R):

Yeah, I’m feeling great. It’s been a crazy few days, but I’m very happy with the result and it’s been a crazy weekend, but it’s also been the best weekend.

 Q:

So Rinus, first of all, congratulations on such a magnificent performance at your first Indy 500. Through to the ‘Fast Nine’, starting fourth, the highest placed rookie. That is the highest starting position for a Dutchman in 21 years since the 1999 Indy 500, which was your mentor, Arie Luyendyk, who started on pole that day.

That must be something you are immensely proud of. How do you reflect on such a fantastic debut performance?

R:

Yeah, I’m really proud of it. Of course, I did not really expect it. Of course, I knew we had a good car, but the Hondas were looking strong and I was really happy to make the ‘Fast Nine’. But then, yeah, having such a good qualifying run; that almost front row was possible was amazing.

Q:

Absolutely and you’re the only Chevrolet powered car through to the ‘Fast Nine’, which is incredible as well. Many have commented on the lack of speed by Chevy and that you guys were running a low downforce set up in order to negate the power of the Hondas. However, you hit 240 miles an hour going through into turn one.

My question has two parts here. One, what was it like running at such an incredible speed? Have you experienced anything like that ever in your career?

And secondly, would you be running a similar low downforce set up during the race? And what can you expect to get out of the race with that?

R:

Well, it was amazing touching 240 miles per hour, that’s kind of a dream come true. It’s amazing speed, of course, I had a bit of a tailwind. It was cool, turning in to turn one staying flat to 240 miles an hour. Never experienced that before, but this definitely is my land speed record.

For the race, you need more downforce to run in traffic in the race, and the tyres will not last if we keep it on that low downforce. So yeah, we will go for more downforce on a kind of race trim that everyone will be on. And yeah, we have a really strong race car. I know that. And we are ready for the 500.

Q:

Fantastic. You seem to have had quite a lot of success at the Motor Speedway. You came third here at the Freedom 100 in Indy Lights and you seem to done well at the road course in both Indy lights and IndyCar. What is there about the Motor Speedway you find so special?

R:

It’s super special, it’s like the racing mecca. The feeling driving here, if you just drive through the gates, it’s just like heaven.

It’s amazing and I really enjoy driving here. Of course, you need a bit of luck to be successful, but I love the speedway and of course, also the IMS road course has been amazing this year with my highest IndyCar finish so far.

Q:

Some of our readers may be hearing about you for the first time, but they will be eager to learn a little bit about your amazing journey into IndyCar. So, you know, I’ve got a list here of some of your accolades.

  • Second in US F2000 National Championship (2017),
  • Second in the BOSS GP series (2017),
  • Third in  the MRF Challenge Formula (2017),
  • First in the Pro Mazda Championship (2018),
  • First in the F3 Asian Winter Series (2019),
  • Second  in the Indy Lights Series (2019).

Some may be wanting to know why you chose to go round the US motorsport route rather than the European circuit and follow people such as Max Verstappen going to Formula One.

What was it that drew you to America? And I have heard that there are some perceptions that it’s more down to talent in the US. Is that a fair assumption?

R:

Yes, that’s quite fair to say. The Road to Indy is known for their scholarship program and I won the 2018 Pro Mazda Championship and because of that I had the funding to go to Indy Lights. Then it just all happened from there on. So actually that win in 2018, made possible, by The Road to Indy, just made it possible for me to drive in my car eventually.

it’s been tough to go this way. It’s not always been easy but it’s been a great few years and to make it to IndyCar in this rapid way is great.

 Q:

One question I had from one of our contributors was about your time in the BOSS GP Open series. He wanted to ask. It’s one of the more lesser known categories, one could say, but it hosts so many historical sports cars. It sounds like such an amazing series to be a part of. Did you learn anything in particular in your time in that series? And what benefits did you find in doing it?

R:

Yeah, my goal to do that was, I was 16 years old, when I did that. I did a few races there I didn’t do the full season. But to get experience at that young age with, well, I had 680 horsepower. Wow. That’s something very educational. And it’s something important to master when you’re younger. And I think that’s really helped me getting used to high power, high breaks, high downforce when I was only 16 years old.

Q:

Fantastic. Do the likes of people like Max Verstappen, Robin Frinjs in Formula E, Nick de Vries who is F2 Champion, and of course yourself. Does that give you hope that motorsport in the Netherlands is on the rise? It seems like Dutch motorsport is in a really good place right now.

R:

Yeah, it really is. We have some great drivers. Robin Frinjs who is a great driver in DTM and Formula E. Nyck De Vries who is a great driver in Formula E. Max Verstappen of course and then on the other side of the ocean, it’s me in IndyCar. It’s great to have so many drivers in the top categories of open wheel racing, and it’s just great to be part of it.

Q:


It’s like you said, you don’t get many Dutchmen in IndyCar. What is it like trying to get the attention of motorsport fans from the Netherlands to watch you in IndyCar? Do you think that you have a lot of attention right now from the Netherlands?

R:

Yeah, the attention is really getting better and better. Of course, it’s been a little tough because everyone was super ‘Formula One minded’. Now they’ve seen my qualifying performance and of course now with the internet, Twitter, everything, it rolls like a snowball. Everyone starts to get really excited. I think most of the country is going to watch the 500 next weekend, so it’s going to be really cool. I think especially the attention towards IndyCar is really on the rise now.

Q:

It certainly has been with my family we’ve been sat around the whole sofa watching it for the past few weeks. So you’ve provided some fantastic entertainment, especially during lockdown.

In the lower categories, you had a competitive rivalry with the likes of fellow rookie Oliver Askew. You two alongside Alex Palou and Dalton and Pato will be going for the Rookie of the Year title on Sunday. Do those sorts of things motivate you as a driver? And will competing well against the likes of Oliver be an extra bit of motivation for you come the race on Sunday?

R:

I’ve had a long rivalry with Oliver. He’s a great driver and he’s always been a benchmark whenever you go to the track. We have a lot of quick drivers in IndyCar now so Oliver is a quick rookie but also Alex, Patricio, Dalton Kellet, they are super quick here. We’ve got some really strong rookies this year and it feels good to be kind of the best rookie and so that gives me a huge amount of confidence.

Q:

How would you rate your IndyCar season so far? You’ve had a few unfortunate accidents here and there but on the whole your performances have been really positive and certainly the qualifying here at Indy 500 surely should give you confidence for the rest of the full IndyCar season. So how would you reflect on the season so far and your hopes for the future? 

R:

Yeah it’s been a weird season. Of course with COVID to start off with and then my first race at Texas was very immature, very rookie, but I really learned from that. It was one of my biggest lessons in my career. And then from then on, as a driver I made huge steps.

Of course after that we had Indy IMS Road Course where I had my first top five finish. That was great with a great strategy. And then at Road America we struggled a little, I also had some engine issues in the race so that was unfortunate. And in Iowa we were on our way possibly to a victory in race 1 until, well you know what happened with Colton. That was very unfortunate. In race 2 we had some pit lane issues so it’s not been the luckiest year. But, well let’s hope we can make a turnaround from here.

 Q:

For all your prospective fans out there as I am sure after this weekend you will have many. What can we expect from you come this Sunday?

R:

I’m gonna just give it my all. I know we have a great race car. Of course a lot of the race is about strategy, so that will be important, a lot of thinking. But I think we can make the people at home, make then sit at the top of their seats and enjoy the race. I really want to make sure that this year, when there are no fans, they still really enjoy it.

Q:

And that’s another good point that there will be no fans this year at the 500. Does that feel a little bit strange do you think that’s going to be weird come Sunday?

R:

It feels a little strange yeah. You are so used to having so many fans here at Indy. The fans make the event what it is and you miss that. You can feel that the atmosphere is not like that. Of course, it’s still the 500, you still have the speed and the sensation but yeah the fans are a gift when they are here.

Q:

I mean I’m sure that even though they are not going to be there there’s going to be thousands more at home tuning in watching at home live so don’t worry there’s going to be lots of people supporting you back at home.

I think that’s pretty much all we have time for that’s the fifteen minutes. So thank you so much Rinus it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you for giving up some of your time to speak to us. We wish you so much luck for the race on Sunday and we really hope you have a good turnout and a good result come this Sunday?.

R:

Thank you very much. I’ll make sure everyone will enjoy the race, and me too and hopefully drink the bottle of milk at the end!

 

 

Indianapolis 500 U-turn, closes doors to fans

The 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 will take place without fans for the first time in its history. This will arguably be the biggest impact “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has seen since the series of cancellations between 1942 and 1945 during America’s intervention in World War Two.

The US has been significantly effected by the Coronavirus pandemic, and while federal laws try their best to limit the spread of the disease, state laws can take matters into their own hands. It seems this is what has happened.

A few weeks ago, it had been reported that the 500 was to happen with spectator capacity capped at 50%. The speedway then lowered that number to 25%, releasing an 88-page document detailing the safety procedures that were to be implemented.

The seating capacity of the speedway holds upward of 250,000 people. Given this, the upward trajectory of fans would have been close to 62,500 people, not including staff, teams, media and drivers.

The Indiana State Department of Health on Tuesday reported an additional 836 cases and 14 deaths from Coronavirus, bringing the state’s totals to 69,255 cases and 2,794 deaths.

Indiana’s seven-day moving average positivity rate was 7.3% compared to earlier averages of 5%. Therefore, discussions were held between local and state governments and the speedway took the decision to remove the prospect of fans in the speedway so as to mitigate the risk of transmission.

Chris Owens / IndyCar Media

Roger Penske, owner of the circuit, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the U-turn was:

“The toughest business decision I’ve ever made in my life.” “We didn’t buy the Speedway for one year, we bought it for generations to come, and it’s important to our reputation to do the right thing,”

This will be financially devastating, as the circuit makes most of its revenue from the 500 and will inevitably come under economic pressure as a consequence.

Penske continued by saying: “We need to be safe and smart about this, obviously we want full attendance, but we don’t want to jeopardize the health and safety of our fans and the community. We also don’t want to jeopardize the ability to hold a successful race.”

It was clear how the situation would unfold when IU Health, the state’s largest health care system and a partner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, publicly criticised the attendance of fans at the raceway.

“Until we sustain better control of this virus and its spread,” IU iterated, “we strongly encourage IMS to consider an alternative to running the Indy 500 with fans in August.”

This follows a wave of schedule alterations, including the cancellation of Portland, Laguna Seca and the postponement of the Mid-Ohio race scheduled for the weekend of the 8th August, with many races including at Road America and Iowa already holding races with fans in attendance, but at a reduced capacity.

Tim Holle / IndyCar MediaThe 500 is still scheduled to take place from Memorial weekend to August 23rd.

Feature image courtesy of Joe Skibinksi / IndyCar Media

Indy 500 Report: Pagenaud completes May treble with first 500 win

Simon Pagenaud stunned the field to win his first Indy 500, having already taken pole for the race and the Indianapolis GP win. He becomes the first driver to ever do that sweep of May, after Will Power came close last year. Pagenaud held off 2016 Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi in a thrilling duel during the last ten laps.

The Frenchman started from pole and dominated the race in a way that we are just not used to seeing at the Indy 500. He led 116 laps, nearly 100 more than anyone else, though it was not all plain sailing. All the Chevrolets were struggling with fuel mileage and none more so than Pagenaud, who had the added disadvantage of being out front in clean air with no one to work with.

If it wasn’t for the fourth and final caution which turned into a red flag, the end of the race could’ve been a very different story fuel-wise. If and buts aside, Pagenaud ran a near faultless race to win his first Indy 500 and Penske’s 18th, writing himself into the history books and taking the championship lead with it. Perhaps his only mistake of the day was stopping his car on the yard of bricks after the race, rather than the more traditional Victory Circle… but he didn’t seem to mind!

Simon Pagenaud celebrates victory with partner Hayley and dog Norman. Credit: Doug Mathews/IndyCar

Chasing Pagenaud all the way to the flag was Rossi, who was going after his second 500 win. Early on in the race the #27 had a small problem with the fuel in his pit stop but it only cost him a second or two, so no one thought much of it at the time. However, when it came to the penultimate stops, that problem became something more major with Rossi losing a significant amount of time, making him a very angry driver.

Once the race was restarted after the third caution, Rossi was on a mission passing whoever he liked, wherever he liked and soon caught up to the leaders. He pushed Pagenaud very hard in the final laps with the leading driver always heavily defending the inside line but, despite Rossi’s best efforts, Pagenaud squeezed pass on Lap 199 and held onto the lead for long enough to cross the line victorious. He was visibly disappointed by the result saying, “nothing else matters here but winning, today will suck for a while.”.

Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi. Credit: Tim Holle/IndyCar

In amongst all that drama, the third-place finisher was nearly forgotten, but 2017 Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato gave the other two a run for their money in the final laps, only dropping back slightly at the very end. The #30 briefly led at two points during the race, though never really had the pace of fellow Honda-runner Rossi. Still, a more than respectable result moves him up to fourth in the championship.

Sebastien Bourdais was one driver who had been comfortably within the lead group until his race came, quite literally, crashing down on Lap 176 when he came together with Graham Rahal and caused the biggest wreck of the day. In taking each other out, the pair created a secondary wreck where drivers behind crashed while reacting to what was going on ahead. Felix Rosenqvist and Zach Veach’s races were ended while Charlie Kimball, Sage Karam and Scott Dixon all managed to carry on.

Graham Rahal’s car is towed away after the wreck. Credit: Walt Kuhn/IndyCar

There were some remarkable near misses to come out of that wreck with rookie Ferrucci coming off best. The #19 dived onto the grass to avoid his teammate Bourdais and the others in the wreck and, where many drivers would’ve backed off, Ferrucci floored it and gained a handful of places. He eventually finished as top rookie in seventh-place, two places better than Robert Wickens managed in his debut Indy 500 last year.

Hinchcliffe also avoided disaster in that Lap 176 wreck, though that wasn’t the only time he avoided something that could’ve been a whole lot worse. After missing out on the race last year, Hinchcliffe’s nightmare nearly repeated itself again this year however, he scrapped into the race by qualifying 32nd. From there, he could only go forwards, threading the needle through that wreck and finishing in a very respectable 11th place.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Marcus Ericsson was less fortunate. He had been running as best rookie until he lost control on pit entry on Lap 138, causing a caution and putting himself two laps down. This year was always going to be a learning experience for the ex-F1 driver, and he proved just that.

That rounds out what was an action-packed Indy 500 with more going on than could ever possibly be mentioning all at once! IndyCar are back in action in just a few days for the Duel in Detroit double-header so watch out for that.

Full Race Results:

  1. Simon Pagenaud
  2. Alexander Rossi
  3. Takuma Sato
  4. Josef Newgarden
  5. Will Power
  6. Ed Carpenter
  7. Santino Ferrucci (R)
  8. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  9. Tony Kanaan
  10. Conor Daly
  11. James Hinchcliffe
  12. James Davison
  13. Ed Jones
  14. Spencer Pigot
  15. Matheus Leist
  16. Pippa Mann
  17. Scott Dixon
  18. Helio Castroneves
  19. Sage Karam
  20. JR Hildebrand
  21. Jack Harvey
  22. Oriol Servia
  23. Marcus Ericsson (R)
  24. Jordan King (R)
  25. Charlie Kimball
  26. Marco Andretti

Non-finishers:

  1. Graham Rahal
  2. Felix Rosenqvist (R)
  3. Zach Veach
  4. Sebastien Bourdais
  5. Kyle Kaiser (R)
  6. Ben Hanley (R)
  7. Colton Herta (R)

Championship Top 5:

  1. Simon Pagenaud
  2. Josef Newgarden
  3. Alexander Rossi
  4. Takuma Sato
  5. Scott Dixon

Featured Image Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar

Indy 500 Drama: Alonso Fails To Qualify

In pursuit of the Triple Crown (Monaco GP, Le Mans 24 Hours and Indy 500) Fernando Alonso and McLaren returned to American soil for the Indianapolis 500.

Saturday was the day where the top 30 qualifying took place, with the fast nine to qualify again on Sunday for pole position and the six drivers out of the top 30 would also qualify again on Sunday, but with a higher stake.

After the two-time F1 World Champion did not make the top 30 (he ended up in 31st) it was time for ‘Bump Day’, where the last six drivers fight for the last three positions on the starting grid. The three slowest would pack up and go home. James Hinchcliffe, Sage Karam, Fernando Alonso, Max Chilton, Patricio O’Ward and Kyle Kaiser were all in the danger zone.

First to put a time on the table was James Hinchcliffe. With an average of 227.543 MPH, he was almost guaranteed of a spot on the grid for next week’s race, having missed out on the race last year. Next in line was Max Chilton, and just like Alonso, with a Carlin car. His pace was way off, with a mere 226.192 MPH meaning his chances would be very slim to qualify.

The third driver to make his run was Alonso. His first lap looked promising for a good result, and he ended up with an average of 227.353 MPH, putting him in (at that moment) second place.

Zak Brown and Fernando Alonso watch and wait after their qualifying attempt. Credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

With three drivers to go, it would take just two of them to be faster than Alonso for the Spaniard not to qualify for the legendary race. The fact that Fernando was signing some autographs rather than watching the timings showed everything about his nerves. He just didn’t want to look, knowing full well that it would be very close.

Sage Karam surprised with a pretty quick average of 227.740 MPH, putting him on the top of the table. He pushed Alonso back to third place, just enough to qualify. But with two drivers left, tensions were rising.

Patricio O’Ward, the new Red Bull F1 junior, also drove with a Carlin built car, which showed; an average of 227.092 MPH put him in fourth, meaning he was done for this year. The last one who could attempt to qualify was Kaiser.

His first lap was the same as Alonso, but his second and third lap were slightly quicker than the Spaniard’s. With only one lap to go, Alonso once again went to sign some items of fans, too afraid of looking at the timings.

In a very dramatic manner, Kaiser – with his very small Juncos Racing team – beat the great (but new) McLaren Indy team to the last spot on the grid: 227.372 MPH. Just 0.019MPH quicker than Fernando.

Juncos Racing celebrate qualifying for the Indy 500, despite numerous setbacks. Credit: Chris Jones/IndyCar

In a reaction on social media, Alonso said: “A difficult week, no doubts. We tried our best, even today with a completely different set-up and approach, 4 laps flat on the throttle but we were not fast enough. It’s never easy to drive around here at 227mph+, and want more speed… We tried our best and we’ve been brave at times, but there were people doing a better job than us. Success or disappointments only come if you accept big challenges. We accepted.”

Gil de Ferran, McLaren sporting director, apologized to Alonso, the team and fans. “This has been a very emotional and difficult experience, I think, not only for me but for the whole team”, he said. “I want to take this opportunity to apologize and thank the fans, not only here in the U.S. but globally, who have been following our progress.  So you know, this is in my 35 years of racing – actually a few more – the most painful experience I’ve ever had.”

Even though Alonso will not be there, the show still goes on. The only Carlin car to qualify for the Indy 500 was Charlie Kimball in 20th. Meanwhile, Simon Pagenaud took pole and got a cheque of $100,000, with Ed Carpenter and Spencer Pigot lining up next to him. There will still be a fantastic race and all fans of motorsport should definitely watch it.

Simon Pagenaud accepts his pole award for his first ever Indy 500 pole. Credit: Chris Jones/IndyCar

(Featured Image Credit: Shawn Gritzmacher/IndyCar)

Fernando Alonso named as McLaren Racing ambassador

McLaren have announced the continuation of their relationship with double world champion Fernando Alonso, naming the Spaniard as a McLaren Racing ambassador.

They also revealed that Alonso will drive alongside Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris in selected tests over the course of the 2019 season to aid in the development of this year’s car, and also of the 2020 design.

“Becoming a McLaren ambassador is a true honour,” Alonso said. “It is a special team, and despite the challenges we have endured recently, it remains so. I said before I stopped racing in Formula 1 last year that I see myself with McLaren for a long time to come, so I am delighted at this new role and the ability to stay closely involved with the team I feel is my spiritual home.”

Fernando Alonso, McLaren, in the pit lane | LAT/McLaren

Speaking of the announcement, McLaren Chief Executive Zak Brown said, “For any race team, having someone of Fernando’s class on hand to provide support through his experience is of huge value. His insights and perspective will be welcomed by both our drivers and engineers alike, while his stature and character remain highly appealing to our partners and fans.”

Alonso retired from F1 at the end of last year with two titles and 32 race wins to his name, four of which came during his first stint at McLaren in 2007. He rejoined the team in 2015, where an underwhelming Honda power unit put a stop to any hopes of adding to his tally.

As part of his pursuit of motorsport’s Triple Crown, Alonso will make his second Indy 500 appearance later this year, having first competed at the event with McLaren in 2017.

“We have the Indianapolis 500 in May of course, which I am looking forward to immensely,” Alonso said, “but this is just the beginning of many things we can do together. I am particularly passionate about nurturing young talent, whether that’s with my own team or helping the new generation of Formula 1 drivers at McLaren unlock their true potential. This is important to both the team and myself, so will be an especially rewarding part of my role.”

 

[Featured image – Steven Tee/McLaren]

Fernando Alonso: What’s Next?

Image courtesy of Pirelli

Motorsports After coming perilously close to drinking the milk at the end of the 2017 Indianapolis 500 race, speculation over whether Fernando Alonso would take the leap from Formula 1 to the Verizon IndyCar Series began to spread across the paddocks on both sides of the pond.

It was confirmed in November of this year that Alonso would throw his hat into the ring once again driving for McLaren, working with Andretti Racing, in the hopes of obtaining the unofficial ‘Triple Crown’. There is much speculation as to whether Alonso would be interested in becoming a more permanent fixture in what some motorsport fans consider the ‘American Version’ of F1, however, nothing has been set in stone.

Talking with journalists following his last race in Formula 1 at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Alonso is in no hurry to make plans: “I needed a break and I need to find motivation again.

“For 2020, I don’t know exactly what I will do or what will be the plan. I am open to different things – maybe a full season in IndyCar, maybe a full season in F1 again.”

Alonso wouldn’t be the first Formula 1 driver to make the transition. He would be following iconic drivers such as Rubens Barrichello, Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Pablo Montoya, and with the interesting mix of street and oval circuits, the series offers a new challenge for Alonso after 18 years in F1.

In the run up to the end of the Formula 1 season, Alonso signed himself up to a mixture of endurance races. He is scheduled to complete the remaining 3 races in the World Endurance Championship, finishing in Le Mans, before heading to Indianapolis for the second time to hopefully take the win.

Not long after reaching the chequered flag in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Alonso was back in the driving seat, this time having swapped cars with NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson. It was thought that Alonso’s interest was in testing Johnson’s car in preparation for the Daytona 500, which he has since confirmed he will be a part of.

Interestingly enough, Johnson’s contract with NASCAR team, Hendrick Motorsports is set to end in 2020 and having already expressed an interest in IndyCar. Though it is highly unlikely Johnson would ever drive in F1 (apart from the one-off car swap), taking an open-wheel car out for a spin has given him a new outlook on his abilities:

“What I take away from that F1 experience is I climbed in an unfamiliar car and environment and did really well. My natural instincts, my ability to drive, my ability to scare myself and challenge myself hasn’t gone anywhere.” Perhaps the pair are beginning to lay the foundation for a standalone McLaren team in the Verizon IndyCar Series?

It’s probably best not to get carried away just yet, as Alonso has also confessed his departure from F1 might be short lived: “I’ve been doing this my whole life. Maybe next year by April or May I am desperate on the sofa, so maybe I find a way somehow to come back.” Perhaps he will follow in ex- Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa’s footsteps in announcing retirement, before returning unexpectedly to race another season.

Only time will tell, but for now keep an eye on Alonso, his career certainly isn’t over yet!

McLaren abandon IndyCar 2019 plans but leave door open for Indy 500

McLaren team principal Zak Brown has admitted that the team have been forced to put their plans for a full-time IndyCar entry on hold after engine negotiations stalled. The failure of the deal is a partial legacy from the explosive McLaren-Honda relationship in F1, with Honda reluctant to supply the team that criticised them so heavily during those turbulent years.

Admittedly, it was all getting a bit late in the day for a new entry anyway, given that there are only a few months until the new season gets underway in March next year. If McLaren were serious about being in IndyCar full-time, a deal would have been sorted out months ago. They have, instead, made the decision to focus on their F1 project, which certainly needs some sorting out!

Earlier in the year, it was said that the McLaren shareholders were less than keen on the team entering IndyCar for 2019, again based on the fact that they need to get their F1 performances back to a respectable level before they allow themselves to get distracted by IndyCar.

Even with all of McLaren’s internal problems, the biggest issue for them was always going to be engine supply. IndyCar has just two engine suppliers: Honda and Chevrolet. The dawn of the universal aero kits has brought the two closer together than ever before, but Honda have rather stolen a march on their American counterparts, taking the drivers championship and nearly locking out the top ten with only Penske getting a nose in for Chevrolet.

This means that, in an ideal world, McLaren would want to team up with Honda, especially given that they are the suppliers of Andretti, who McLaren were looking to do some sort of partnership with. However, all the aforementioned F1 shenanigans has made that nigh on impossible. A Chevrolet deal hasn’t proven any easier, because the only team that realistically has enough resources to accommodate McLaren is Penske, and they’ve said that they’re not interested in such a partnership.

That has left McLaren in a tight spot and, despite some rumblings about a potential Harding link-up or even buyout, they’ve been forced to put their IndyCar aspirations on the shelf, at least for now.

Zak Brown has, however, not ruled out the potential for an Indy 500-only entry for Fernando Alonso, presumably in association with Andretti again. This would be no mean feat for the Spaniard though. It will not be as easy for him as it was in 2017 because of the universal aero kits which have closed the field up and made it much more difficult to jump in and be fast straight away.

Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, Montreal, Canada
Sunday 10 June 2018.
Fernando Alonso, McLaren.
Photo: Steven Tee/McLaren
ref: Digital Image _1ST0758

To win the mystical ‘Triple Crown’ Alonso would realistically have to look at a full season of IndyCar, and even that holds no guarantees of Indy 500 success, something that any IndyCar driver would agree with.

All of this really begs the question of just what Alonso will do in 2019. He’s yet to make any announcement or even drop a cryptic clue on Twitter about it, leaving everyone guessing. If he is to do IndyCar it won’t be with McLaren, but surely McLaren wouldn’t be talking about doing an Indy 500 entry if they knew Alonso was going to another team. Maybe he isn’t going to do a full IndyCar season after all?

If it’s not IndyCar, then the sky’s the limit for Alonso. It really is anyone’s guess as to what he’ll do next season, but it’ll probably be more than one series, given that he’d race every weekend if he could!

Anyway, while 2019 may be off the table for McLaren, they have reiterated the fact that they do want to do IndyCar at some point in the future. The time just isn’t right for them yet, but hopefully it will be soon.