FERNANDO ALONSO said he was satisfied with an “amazing” first day of official practice for the Indianapolis 500.
The McLaren driver, who is racing at this year’s event this Sunday instead of at the Monaco Grand Prix, was 19th on Monday with a 223.025mph average.
“Everything went very smoothly,” said the 35-year-old Spaniard, who is a two-time F1 world champion.
“The last half-an-hour we had some issues with the rear suspension and we could not complete the programme.”
He added: “We had planned to run a little bit in traffic, so we missed that part, but overall it was an amazing day.”
The two-time F1 champion flew straight from Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, won by Lewis Hamilton, to America to start his attempt to win the Indianapolis 500 on 28 May.
More than two million people watched Alonso’s first test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway earlier this month, which was basically a webcast of a single car going around a track with four turns.
Which only goes to show the level of interest the popular Spaniard has garnered since making the decision to enter into this year’s race.
For Alonso, who is missing the Monaco Grand Prix to race at Indy, this is the next step to trying to win the ‘triple crown’ of motor racing’s three blue-ribbon events.
Only one man, Graham Hill, has so far triumphed in Monaco – where Alonso has already won twice – at Indy and in the Le Mans 24 Hours.
At Indy, Alonso will have a car with which he can win, branded for his McLaren F1 team, run by the elite Andretti Autosport outfit and powered by a Honda engine – which, unlike the one in Alonso’s F1 car, is absolutely competitive.
Few would question Lewis Hamilton’s assessment that Alonso will be “the best driver in the paddock” at Indy. Less certain is whether he can adapt quickly enough to racing on a high-speed oval.
“He just won’t have the time,” Hamilton says. “It will be interesting to see how he fares against the drivers who have all this experience.”
Marco Andretti, Alonso’s Andretti Autosport team-mate, was fastest at 226.338mph on the first of five days of practice before qualifying this weekend.
“In my case, qualifying is not very important,” Alonso added.”When you are out there, you want to feel fast so it’s a question of enjoyment, not only the final position.
“But I think the priority for us in my garage is to set up the car for the race, to feel comfortable in traffic, to learn as much as I can, the way to overtake, the place to overtake, how you lose the minimum momentum in those manoeuvres.
“There are many things that I don’t know now and I need to learn quickly. So let’s see what we can do in qualifying. But definitely, the race preparation will be the first priority.”
Can Alonso follow in the footsteps of Graham Hill by winning in Indianapolis on Sunday? We’ll just have to wait and see.