A mea culpa on Alonso in Indy 500
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There has been a lot of public support for Fernando Alonso's plan to race in the Indianapolis 500. He is being welcomed at every level.
Everyone, it seems, is thrilled the two-time Formula One champion is heading to the Brickyard.
I'm not against Alonso running at Indy. My mea culpa, though, is that I questioned Alonso's announcement a week ago by asking what it would do for the IndyCar Series. That was a mistake.
Incorrectly — naively, even — I wondered what Alonso would do to help a series fighting an uphill battle . IndyCar tries so hard, and it deserves nice things every so often, my thinking went, but how would jetting over a two-time Formula One champion from Europe improve the health and wealth and future of the series? The whole thing was received with such fandom that few seemed willing to ask if it made any sense.
I have come to the realization that I was asking the wrong questions because the race itself matters above all else. The Indy 500 is the golden child; the series as a whole is secondary. The truth is, IndyCar is living off a trust fund bankrolled by the 500 and the series simply just needs to stay out of trouble and be a part of the show every May.
My mistake was believing that IndyCar had been on its very best behavior of late, making everyone proud with small steps toward improving itself. I was looking at an IndyCar that features the best racing, the most accommodating drivers and some very dedicated car owners — a series on the way up.
That is why Alonso wasn't good enough for me.
Not because I didn't know who he is, of course. And not because — as some readers apparently believed — I thought his slug of a Formula One engine would be plopped into his Andretti Autosport ride for the 500. And it wasn't because I concluded he's an F1 has-been or questioned the motives of his McLaren boss, Zak Brown, in placating an expensive and unhappy driver.
My problem was thinking too much about the series when, really, only the race matters. Though I wanted something bigger, at the moment it is clear there is no bigger thing than Alonso running the Indy 500.
Fernando Alonso talks with the media as Michael Andretti looks on. Photo / AP
Most of the people who know that statement to be true were already planning to watch the race.
My concern remains how to get people who have little idea about the biggest day in racing to actually plop down on the couch and watch IndyCar on TV. Maybe Chip Ganassi counters the Alonso move by entering Kyle Larson in the 500. And Roger Penske enters Ryan Blaney. IndyCar CEO Mark Miles should pay for it all, because adding a couple NASCAR drivers is an investment, and if this is going to be a show, then why stop with Alonso?
Truly make it the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
That might be enough to get non-Indy fans to check it out, maybe even teens. Larson and Blaney are social media rock stars.
Be mad at me all you want, and cling to your romanticized version of racing, but the game today begins and ends with attracting kids to the sport. If they don't watch racing or care about racing or, worse, don't care about cars, then there's not going to be any money for anyone to race.
So back to those qualms I still think about:
Will fielding six of the race's 33 cars stretch Andretti Autosport too thin?
With Alonso, Honda has to be thrilled at the chance to wash the F1 egg off its face on a worldwide stage. But what about Chevrolet, which must sit idly by as Andretti gets a full day test session with Alonso at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month? Does no one think this could give Andretti and Honda at least a slight edge for the race itself?
I've spoken with many people who insist that Alonso will be amazing, that he will need just a day or so to figure out the 2.5-mile track, that he has winning pairings with Andretti and Honda. Plus, his teammates include past 500 champions Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, as well as Indy expert Marco Andretti. His team owner, Marco's father Michael, is the greatest driver at Indy to never win Indy.
So, yes, absolutely, Alonso should do great and very well could win the Indy 500.
If he does, where does IndyCar go from there? Alonso won't be at Detroit the next week, or Texas, or help the series' television ratings as the season goes on.
But maybe that isn't as important as I thought it was.