McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown has announced plans to challenge next year’s Indianapolis 500 with retiring Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso to take the wheel.
Alonso will make his highly anticipated return to the Brickyard with an even greater chance of claiming the Triple Crown after winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans earlier in June on his first attempt with Toyota.
The Spaniard last appeared in the 500-mile event in 2017 as a rookie where he led on numerous occasions before suffering an engine failure in his McLaren-Honda-Andretti entry.
“I’ve made [it] clear for some time my desire to achieve the Triple Crown,” said Alonso.
“I had an incredible experience at Indianapolis in 2017 and I knew in my heart I had to go back if the opportunity was there.
“I’m especially glad to be returning with McLaren. This was always my first choice if the team decided to do it, so I’m delighted they’ve decided to go ahead.
“It’s a tough race and we’ll be up against the best, so it will be a huge challenge. But we’re racers and that’s why we race.”
Brown revealed the McLaren outfit will run only one car in the May 2019 event rather than commit a full-time entry to next year’s IndyCar series as was speculated before the announcement.
“We are relishing our return to the Brickyard and this incredible race. McLaren has a long and fond relationship with the Indianapolis 500 and it’s a case of unfinished business for us with Fernando,” added Brown.
“No Indy 500 is a cakewalk; it’s a massive challenge. We have the utmost respect for the race and our competitors. So, we are under no illusions. But McLaren are racers first and foremost, as is Fernando. We’re going for it.”
Zak later expressed his delight in appointing former Force India Deputy Team Principal Bob Fernley as head of McLaren’s IndyCar project with immediate effect. The 51-year old, who’s holds previous experience in North America and IndyCar, will lead the team’s development into next year’s major campaign.
“[Fernley’s] experience and leadership will be essential for us on this project,” Brown continued.
“He is particularly talented at putting effective teams together and extracting maximum performance with finite resources. Bob is a fantastic operator and someone I respect greatly. I’m delighted he’s on board.”
“Work starts now for the month of May,” pushed Fernley.
“Heading back to The Brickyard will be a very special experience for me and I am proud to be leading this McLaren project and team. The 500 is a hell of a challenge and we have incredibly strong competitors to overcome if we’re to be successful.”
With fast inroads starting to take shape for next year’s 500, Brown stressed that their IndyCar activities will not hinder their Formula 1 program after enduring another struggling season towards the rear-end of the grid.
“This will be done by McLaren Racing,” he furthered. “It’s a whole separate racing team that will be created and we are a large racing team with a lot of resources and I am extremely confident, or we would not have entered, that we can give maximum effort in our F1 effort as well as Indy without one compromising the other.
“It is going to be people that are not currently on our Formula 1 team. It will be built up from relationships that we have. It’ll be a new McLaren entry.”
McLaren is no stranger to Indy 500 success having won the great race on three occasions from eleven races. Their first taste of success came in 1972 as a private entry supplying Penske Racing before becoming a works team in 1974 to claim another two race wins in their first three independent years.
The 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 in May next year will see McLaren’s return as a factory-backed competitor for the first time since 1979.
Images via McLaren Racing and Andretti Autosport