The McLaren name will return to the Indianapolis 500, with the team making the shock announcement that Fernando Alonso will contest the iconic oval race as a rookie.
As a result, the two-time Formula 1 World Champion will miss the Monaco Grand Prix on May 28, with which the Indy 500 traditionally clashes.
The stunning move comes as the team struggles in its third season in its reunification with engine partner Honda, where the cars have proven well off the pace and unreliable. Alonso is known to be immensely frustrated with the team’s situation, although he has continued to publicly express his commitment to seeing out his contract with the Woking squad.
The tilt at the Indianapolis 500 could well be the carrot that senior team leadership dangled in front of the veteran driver.
After weeks of secret talks between Honda, McLaren and Alonso, a deal has been reached for him to race a McLaren-Honda entry run by the famous Andretti Autosport stable. The car, a Dallara DW12 chassis powered by a 2.2-litre DOHC V6 twin-turbo Honda engine putting out 700bhp, will be painted in McLaren’s orange livery scheme.
“I’m immensely excited that I’ll be racing in this year’s Indy 500, with McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport,” Alonso said of his new deal.
“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, and it’s of course a regret of mine that I won’t be able to race at Monaco this year.
“I’ve never raced an IndyCar car before, and neither have I ever driven on a superspeedway, but I’m confident that I’ll get to grips with it fast. It’s clear that great precision is required to race in close proximity with other cars on the far side of 220mph.”
Immediately following the Spanish Grand Prix on 14 April, Alonso will head to the United States to start his ‘Month of May’ preparations. He will have up to five days of practice with his fellow Indy 500 entered drivers on the two-mile ‘Brickyard’ before qualifying proper takes place on the weekend of 20-21 April.
As one of four rookie drivers on the provisional entry list, Alonso will also be required to successfully complete the Rookie Orientation standards to show that he has the skills to run an IndyCar on a superspeedway.
McLaren-Honda is yet to announce who will race at the Monaco Grand Prix in place of Alonso. The team’s official reserve, the retired 2009 World Champion Jenson Button, is considered the logical favourite.
Images via LAT Photographic and McLaren-Honda