As we are 46 days away from the crown jewel of American open-wheel racing, it was announced that two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will compete in this year's Indianapolis 500. Alonso, who currently drives for McLaren-Honda in F1, will drive a sixth car for Andretti Autosport at Indianapolis.
The 35-year-old Spaniard will become the ninth F1 champion to compete in the Indy 500, the most recent being Jacques Villeneuve in 2014. Villeneuve won the Indy 500 and the IndyCar championship in 1995 before heading to F1 and winning the title in 1997.
Alonso, who won his titles in 2005 and '06, will attempt to become the first F1 champion to win at Indy as a rookie driver since Graham Hill in 1966. Other F1 champions who won the Indy 500 include Jim Clark (1965) and Emerson Fittipaldi (1989, 1993) while Mario Andretti won at Indy in 1969 before winning the F1 championship in 1978.
Alonso regards the Indy 500 as one of the “Triple Crown” of motor sport along with the Monaco Grand Prix and 24 Hours of Le Mans. Alonso, regarded by many to be the best race car driver in the world, has two wins at Monaco but has yet to compete at Le Mans. Hill is the only driver ever to win all three races.
Perhaps most surprisingly is the fact that Alonso will skip the Monaco race, arguably the most famous of all F1 races, to compete at Indianapolis. On the other hand, Alonso's McLaren team basically has no chance to win in F1 this season, so his chances of success at Indianapolis are actually higher.
Andretti Autosport has won four Indy 500s since 2005, most recently last year with Alexander Rossi. Andretti also fielded NASCAR champion Kurt Busch to a sixth-place finish in a one-off drive at Indy in 2014.
McLaren also has history at Indianapolis, winning once with Mark Donohue and twice with Johnny Rutherford at the wheel in the 1970s.
The enormity of this news is on par with the stunning revelation in 1993 that Nigel Mansell would not defend his F1 title; instead he would compete in the CART IndyCar Series. Mansell went on to win the IndyCar title that year, having never raced on an oval prior to that season.
Alonso has also never raced on an oval, much less a superspeedway like Indianapolis, nor has he ever raced an Indy car. On the other hand, Rossi had no oval experience before his surprise win last year and Mansell proved that past IndyCar experience was not necessary to be successful.
For me, this announcement ratchets up the excitement for this year's Indy 500 by 1000% and I can't wait to see how Alonso does. While it would be drastic to predict him to win, I imagine he will be a force to be reckoned with.