Schmidt: Fans deserve to see Alonso in the Indy 500 again

David Malsher-Lopez

Andretti Autosport ran Alonso’s McLaren entry in the 2017 Indy 500 three years ago, helping him to qualify fifth, lead 27 laps and run in the leading pack until his Honda engine expired with 21 laps to go.

However, Alonso’s and the McLaren team’s public criticism of Honda’s F1 power units in 2015-17 period ruined the relationship with the Japanese engine supplier, and so the ill-fated Alonso-driven McLaren entry for the 2019 Indy 500 had to be Chevrolet-powered.

Similarly, McLaren’s full-time return to Indy car racing this year, which has been achieved by buying into what was known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, obliged the Sam Schmidt- and Ric Peterson-founded squad to switch suppliers from Honda Performance Development to Chevrolet/Ilmor.

However, notwithstanding Alonso’s recent ties with Toyota which resulted in his winning the FIA World Endurance Championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours for Honda’s fierce brand rival, Motorsport.com understood that a deal between Michael Andretti’s team and Alonso was close to being inked.

Less than two weeks ago it was revealed that Alonso is no longer a McLaren ambassador and the final hurdle was to be Honda Japan endorsing an Alonso-Andretti deal. That is where the plan for Alonso to enter the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500 appears to have come unstuck, although neither California-based HPD nor Andretti Autosport wished to confirm that nor comment on the matter when contacted by Motorsport.com.

Alonso thus appears consigned to finding a Chevrolet-powered ride at the Speedway. Given that Team Penske’s Indy 500 plans are to run its three full-time entries plus an extra car for three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves (as per the last two seasons), and Ed Carpenter Racing is set to run three cars (for team owner Carpenter, Conor Daly and Rinus VeeKay), ironically Alonso’s best Chevy-powered hope now appears to be Arrow McLaren SP.

Schmidt told Motorsport.com that the team has not had recent contact with the 2005 and ’06 F1 champion, but says he considers it important for IndyCar to have Alonso on the entry list for the Memorial Day Weekend classic.

“We’ve been focused on helping our two young drivers [Patricio O’Ward and Oliver Askew] to maximize their potential this season,” said Schmidt. “We haven’t made any decision about our third car at Indy, but we didn’t expect Alonso to be available.

“It’s great for Chevrolet if it turns out that for Fernando to get a ride at Indy means he’ll be in a Chevy car – but he could equally decide that he sits this one out if the right opportunity isn’t available.

“The truth is, he’s an amazing talent and I think more than anything, the fans of IndyCar racing deserve and need to see Fernando Alonso in the Indy 500. I mean, I want to see that as a fan of IndyCar myself and the guy proved in 2017 that clearly he can win the race if given the right equipment.

“But for now, we as a team are just thinking about Pato and Oliver.”

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has regularly run extra cars for the Indy 500. For example, last year, as well as its full-time entries for James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson, SPM was working with Meyer Shank Racing on Jack Harvey’s entry for 10 races including Indy, and entered another car at the Speedway in partnership with Team Stange Racing for Oriol Servia.

However, Schmidt says his squad has not entered serious negotiations with any drivers for an additional entry at Indy this May.

“No, we hadn’t really gone down that road yet,” he said. “There has been so much to do in terms of getting relationships organized on the technical and commercial side since we announced we’d joined with McLaren last August.

"We have an incredible group of people assembled now and getting everything coordinated between departments has been crucial so that we perform and fulfill our potential.”