The Wednesday test day, created specifically to give the two-time Formula 1 world champion a first taste of oval driving prior to the start of official practice on May 15, gave the Spaniard a chance to sample the massive 2.5-mile track on his own terms.
Freed from the speed restrictions of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Rookie Orientation Program, Fernando Alonso pushed his Andretti/McLaren Dallara DW12-Honda Indy car to 222.548 mph during his first day of running in preparation for the 101st Indy 500.
With a limited number of made available by the series for test days, Alonso worked through the mandatory ROP process in 51 laps as he set consistent laps in specific ranges from 200-220 mph with ample down force applied to create a safe and stable platform to learn the art of turning left.
Once ROP completed, the McLaren-Honda F1 driver was given a taste of free lapping as the Andretti team trimmed down force from the car and bolted on a fresh set of Firestone slicks. Alonso immediately responded with a fast first lap out of the pits at 221.923 mph, followed by the peak 222.548 mph and for more laps between 221-222 mph before pitting.
Facing the specter of rain and increasing winds, Alonso’s day of competitive running came to an end with about 100 laps in the books around a half-race distance for what he’ll experience across 200 laps and 500 miles on May 28 when he takes the green flag for the biggest race in the world.
“It’s a little bit gusty now; the wind picked up the last couple of runs,” he said. “It’s good information as well to have some difficulties out there. Everything went fine. We ran out of tires already so we’re debating what to do next. The main concern now is the rain. If it doesn’t rain we’ll [do] some more runs.” Alonso would venture out for a few more laps, pushing the tally to 110, before rain brought a conclusion to the day.
Compared to his McLaren MCL32-Honda F1 car where cockpit-adjustable suspension tuning devices are banned by the series, Alonso took some time to learn how the Dallara-Honda’s front and rear anti-roll bar adjusters and the weight jacker a hydraulic device that can increase or decrease diagonal load from a rear tire across to a front tire to influence cornering during his latter outings.
Clearly enjoying himself, Alonso wore a big smile while admitting it took some time to work up the courage to take Turn 1 flat at speeds approaching 230 mph.
“At the beginning, I have to be honest: the right foot has his own brain, his own power; it was not connected to my brain, so I wanted to be flat out but the right foot has its own life,” he said. “Right now, I’m in more control with my body and control with the car so I’m able to be flat out.”
Fernando Alonso’s first experience around the four most lethal corners in motor racing was nothing short of impressive. When he returns to take part in practice, qualifying, and the race, there’s every reason to believe the F1 great will be a contender for victory.