After a nearly four-decade absence, McLaren announced it will return to the Indianapolis 500.
The team will enter a single car in the 101st Indy 500. That car will be run by Andretti Autosport under the watchful eye of Michael Andretti. Honda will provide the engine.
Current McLaren-Honda Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso will drive the car. The Spaniard is a two-time F1 world champion and three-time F1 runner-up.
Since the Indy 500 is scheduled for May 28, Alonso will skip the Monaco Grand Prix, which is set for the same day. The racing team said the 500 would be the only IndyCar race Alonso will participate in this season, meaning he won’t miss any more F1 events.
McLaren hasn’t announced which driver will replace Alonso at Monaco.
“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,” Alonso said. “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.”
Even though he’s never driven an IndyCar, Alonso said he watched IndyCar on TV and online, and has an appreciation for the drivers and fans.
“I realize I’ll be on a steep learning curve, but I’ll be flying to Indianapolis from Barcelona immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix, practicing 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,” he said.
“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,” said Zak Brown, executive director of McLaren Technology Group.
Brown, who’s in his first year in his position, said he’s “delighted” to work with the Andretti team.
“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,” Brown said.
“I want to thank Zak [Brown], Honda and McLaren for this tremendous opportunity,” Andretti said. “We’ve been working very closely in the planning of this new partnership and I believe we’ve laid the foundation for a successful month of May. We’re looking forward to giving Fernando an effort in reaching one of his biggest career goals of winning the Indy 500.”
Andretti said Alonso’s lack of experience at super-speedways didn’t concern him. He believes the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a great place for rookies to get started because they have so much practice time on the track.
“Alonso is a great talent and I have full confidence that he will represent very strongly for McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport,” Andretti said.
IndyCar CEO Mark Miles said bringing in an F1 talent like Alonso is a great thing for the race. He pointed out that Alonso will drive for the same team and Honda-powered package that won the race last year.
“But, whether or not Fernando wins this year, I’m thrilled that the name of McLaren will be returning to Indianapolis,” Miles said. “Three times in the 1970s the Indy 500 was won by a driver at the wheel of a McLaren – one win for Mark Donohue and two wins for Johnny Rutherford – and I’m sure Johnny will be at the Brickyard again this year to cheer on his old team.”