Fernando Alonso, McLaren-Andretti, IndyCar, 2017

Yes Alonso can win: But so could a dozen other drivers

2017 Indianapolis 500 preview

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Can Fernando Alonso win the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday? Of course he can. But so can at least a dozen other drivers.

Alexander Rossi, who won the race as a rookie last year, is the best example of how Alonso has a chance to win. Rossi’s victory last year wasn’t just his first Indy 500, it was his first race on a superspeedway. Alonso is in the same position, yet none would argue he isn’t a more accomplished driver.

Alexander Rossi, Ed Carpenter, Scott Dixon, Indianapolis 500, 2017
Dixon (right), Carpenter and Rossi share row one
Pole sitter Scott Dixon has won this race before and is a renowned master of balancing speed and fuel economy. That is often the key to Indy 500 victory: Rossi’s win was an example of this in extremis.

Between Dixon and Rossi on the three-car front row is Ed Carpenter. The local driver only participates in IndyCar’s oval races, which account for six of this year’s seventeen rounds, but is a specialist at this kind of racing.

Alonso took little time to get comfortable with the dizzying speeds of Indianapolis and has parked his car on the second row of the grid alongside fellow Andretti driver Takuma Sato (fourth) and Carpenter’s team mate JR Hildebrand (sixth). Alonso might have started even higher had he not experienced a slight overboost problem during his four-lap run.

Of course in a race that lasts 500 miles it matters little to start with only four cars ahead of you and the other 28 behind. But it should increase Alonso’s chance of avoiding a first-lap crash. IndyCar’s only other oval race so far this year – on the much slower Phoenix course – saw five drivers wiped out at the first turn. And there are 50% more cars on the grid for Sunday’s race.

Sato and Hildebrand can tell Alonso plenty about how high the stakes are at Indianapolis. Hildebrand was on course to score a shock win in 2011 as a rookie when he hit the barrier at the last corner. A year later Sato dived down the inside of race leader Dario Franchitti at the beginning of the final lap, but crashed out:

Tony Kanaan, another of field’s six former Indianapolis 500 winners, starts seventh. He’s joined by Marco Andretti, another of Alonso’s team mates, who came within a few hundredths of a second of winning the race on his debut as a teenager in 2006. Will Power, an IndyCar champion who won the curtain-raising race on the Indianapolis Grand Prix track two weeks ago, completes row three.

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Alonso’s motivation to shun Monaco for Indianapolis this year is rooted in the continuing problems McLaren have had with their Honda power unit. But the Japanese engines ran well at Indianapolis in qualifying and have taken all bar three of the places on the front half of the grid.

Gil de Ferran, Fernando Alonso, Andretti, IndyCar, Barber Motorsports Park, 2017
Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran is coaching Alonso
But Alonso’s victory chances will rest on whether the Honda is as good in race trim as the Chevrolet. Last year Chevrolet-powered cars won every IndyCar race except Indianapolis and Texas Motor Speedway – another high-speed track.

Other Honda-powered victory candidates include former winner Ryan Hunter-Reay – another of Alonso’s five team mates – and last year’s pole sitter James Hinchcliffe. He starts in front of two of Chevrolet’s strongest drivers in this race. Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya have five Indianapolis 500 victories between them and the might of Penske behind them.

Their team mates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud lead them in the championship at present, but expect these two drivers to come to the fore on Sunday as well. Keep an eye out also for Carlos Munoz who has proved utterly fearless at Indianapolis in the past. His two second places in this race were by far his best showings in this championship, discounting his somewhat fortunate win at Detroit two years ago.

One victory contender who won’t be on the grid is Sebastien Bourdais. The ex-F1 driver crashed heavily in qualifying on Saturday, suffering rib and pelvis injuries which are likely to keep him out of action for several months. Occasional IndyCar starter James Davidson will take his place.

Bourdais’ accident is a stark reminder of the risk Alonso is running by taking on this event. It’s one several of his Formula One rivals have said they don’t intend to take. But for Alonso, with further F1 victories unlikely at the moment, pursuing the Triple Crown of Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans 24 Hours and Indianapolis 500 wins has spurred him on.

He hasn’t made a single wrong step since he first slid into the cockpit of his Dallara DW12. But the serious challenge is yet to come: Mastering millimetre-perfect race craft at speeds of up to 385kph (240mph) against drivers some of which have been doing this for decades.

Start, Indianapolis 500, 2016
Indy’s three-wide start is unique
As the huge numbers of curious F1 fans who are expected to watch the race for the first time on Sunday are about to discover, the opening phases of the Indianapolis 500 can be a cagey affair as drivers take advantage of the periodic pit stops to fine-tune the car’s handling to the conditions of the day. While F1 races tend to be decided in the first few hundred metres, this race often comes down to the final lap.

But that slow-burning start can produce the most explosive outcomes. Last year while Rossi fuel-sipped his way to the chequered flag Munoz and a host of others had fuelled up and were setting a scorching pace as they tried to catch him. The two years before that were tooth-and-nail fights: Montoya vs Power and Hunter-Reay vs Castroneves.

No other race has consistently produced the kind of drama the Indianapolis 500 has in recent years. If Alonso gets in the mix for victory this weekend it will reach a whole new level.

Can he do the incredible and win? We’ll find out when the green flag falls at 5:12pm UK time.

2017 Indianapolis 500 grid

Pos.No.DriverTeamCarSpped in kph (mph)
19Scott DixonGanassiDallara/Honda373.631 (232.164)
220Ed CarpenterEd CarpenterDallara/Chevrolet372.826 (231.664)
398Alexander RossiAndretti-HertaDallara/Honda372.541 (231.487)
426Takuma SatoAndrettiDallara/Honda372.345 (231.365)
529Fernando AlonsoMcLaren-AndrettiDallara/Honda372.24 (231.3)
621JR HildebrandEd CarpenterDallara/Chevrolet371.579 (230.889)
710Tony KanaanGanassiDallara/Honda371.481 (230.828)
827Marco AndrettiAndrettiDallara/Honda370.911 (230.474)
912Will PowerPenskeDallara/Chevrolet370.47 (230.2)
1028Ryan Hunter-ReayAndrettiDallara/Honda372.469 (231.442)
1119Ed JonesCoyneDallara/Honda371.078 (230.578)
1216Oriol ServiaRLLDallara/Honda370.645 (230.309)
137Mikhail AleshinSchmidt PetersonDallara/Honda370.584 (230.271)
1415Graham RahalRLLDallara/Honda370.555 (230.253)
158Max ChiltonGanassiDallara/Honda370.258 (230.068)
1683Charlie KimballGanassiDallara/Honda370.077 (229.956)
175James HinchcliffeSchmidt PetersonDallara/Honda369.923 (229.86)
1822Juan Pablo MontoyaPenskeDallara/Chevrolet369.448 (229.565)
193Helio CastronevesPenskeDallara/Chevrolet369.368 (229.515)
2077Jay HowardSchmidt PetersonDallara/Honda369.205 (229.414)
2124Sage KaramDreyer & ReinboldDallara/Chevrolet369.15 (229.38)
222Josef NewgardenPenskeDallara/Chevrolet367.736 (228.501)
231Simon PagenaudPenskeDallara/Chevrolet367.079 (228.093)
2414Carlos MunozFoytDallara/Chevrolet366.802 (227.921)
2588Gabby ChavesHardingDallara/Chevrolet365.193 (226.921)
264Conor DalyFoytDallara/Chevrolet364.417 (226.439)
2750Jack HarveyShank/AndrettiDallara/Honda363.296 (225.742)
2863Pippa MannCoyneDallara/Honda362.114 (225.008)
2911Spencer PigotJuncosDallara/Chevrolet360.576 (224.052)
3044Buddy LazierLazierDallara/Chevrolet359.554 (223.417)
3117Sebastian SaavedraJuncosDallara/Chevrolet355.893 (221.142)
3240Zach VeachFoytDallara/Chevrolet355.794 (221.081)
3318James DavisonCoyneDallara/HondaNo speed

2017 Indianapolis 500 drivers

Find out more about the drivers on the entry list for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500:

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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  • 24 comments on “Yes Alonso can win: But so could a dozen other drivers”

    1. A dozen? Surely there are 32 other drivers that could win. Taking part is a guarantee of that. What if 31 cars crash out, except for Spencer Pigot (for example).

      Improbable, but not impossible.

      1. knoxploration
        26th May 2017, 22:13

        Well yes, but you could equally say that Alonso has the opportunity to win every time he enters his McLaren Honda into an event. In the real world, we all know that isn’t *actually* true, just like realistically there’s no chance of much of the Indy grid winning the race.

    2. “another of field’s six former Indianapolis 500 winners…”

      There are seven former winners in this year’s race:

      Lazier, Montoya, Castroneves, Dixon, Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Rossi

      1. Lazier doesn’t count. Yes, he won, but the field was a joke. Imagine a Grand Prix where Mercedes, Ferrari, Red Bull, McLaren and Willams (the preeminent versions of the last two, not the present messes). Sure, Sergio Perez or Nico Hulkenberg would likely win the Grand Prix, but it would be kind of a joke.

    3. It’s too bad NASCAR’s schedule conflicts the way it does with the Indy 500, there are a few drivers there who I’d love to see compete in this as well. Kurt Busch did a couple years ago and I think finished 6th place.

    4. I have a bad feeling that the winner will be running Chevy power.

      1. Honda is an bit fuel economic compared with an chevy or that is maybe biased from my side. But if McLaren supplied the orange paint then you can see last year performance but the name is different.

    5. “Rossi’s win was an example of this in extremis.” – little error to fix, @keithcollantine

      1. ‘Tis a bit of Latin…

    6. this is really a very interesting weekend for motorsport, Indy500 vs Monaco F1. On one side of the ocean you have a race where almost anyone can win it, going at average speeds of 230mph, while only making left turns. On the other hand (or side of the pond) only one or maybe 2 drivers can win the slowest and most twisty race in the calendar. Such big differences but so entertaining to watch both, gonna be great!

      1. On the other hand (or side of the pond) only one or maybe 2 drivers can win the slowest and most twisty race in the calendar.

        I think Monaco has its own bit of unpredictability (remember a man named Olivier Panis?), except that it usually happens during qualifying, rather than the race. This year I think Red Bull’s best chance will be at Monaco and I have this feeling that Ricciardo will take victory on Sunday.

    7. Driver, car/engine, setup, pre-race strategy, in-race strategy changes, overall fuel strategy, cautions, and luck, all factor in.

      1. All true, although I think race craft is the most important factor (along with setup), which is why I think Alonso will do well.

    8. Biskit Boy (@sean-p-newmanlive-co-uk)
      26th May 2017, 16:42

      The Monaco winner is predictable before the start and will be decided after the pit stops or even the first few corners.

      The Indy 500 won’t be. It may be very near the end before we know who might win. Perhaps the last lap.

      If only F1 could be half as unpredictable and open.

      1. Perhaps even decided on or after the last corner! Indycar provides the perfect antidote to the sterile precision of F1…

    9. Alonso has more chance of winning the Indycar season than a one off event. Less ovals, more chance for his consistency to pay off, more experience of the car. If he doesn’t win the Indy 500 and McLaren/Honda don’t have a decent package for 2018 then we may see him competing for the whole season next year. Zak Brown & Mario Andretti have already paved the way for it. Maybe McLaren will keep him under a ‘drive what you want’ contract. Complete the whole Indycar season in an McAndretti and do the occasional F1 race where it fits (Spain, US, Singapore?) – the opposite of this year.

      1. He’s said if McLaren don’t have a competitive seat for him, he’s leaving. Unless we hear news of McLaren moving to Mercedes engines pretty soon, it’s safe to say he won’t be driving for McLaren in F1 next year.

        If that’s the case, where will he go in F1? Would he go to Ferrari? Would Mercedes give him Bottas’ seat? Not convinced of either and Red Bull won’t have him so his chances of getting a competitive seat are pretty limited…. If he doesn’t race in F1, where else would he go other than Indycar (including Le Mans 24h).

        After all the bad PR McLaren have had recently, it’d be a chance to have something positive to talk about. One of the most famous and popular racing drivers trying to win the 3 biggest races in the world in a McLaren. It’d certainly help them sell more cars than Alonso moaning about how far off the pace his current McLaren is every week!

    10. I think a lot of people will ridicule Alonso if he does not win but he only has 1 shot at this. You can be fastest and do everything right but get unlucky with safety car timings. As long as Alonso shows great speed and is in contention for the win thats enough for me, the random safety car moments can mean he does not win but theres nothing he can do about that. I just hope people look at the performance not just look at the final results having not watched the race and proclaim him a failure unless he wins.

    11. After all the recent Honda reliability issues at Indy, Nando’s got to be getting flashbacks. I’m actually thinking it’s going to finally be Power’s day (only Penske-Chevy ahead of the usual early incident, has momentum between last race & pit stop competition wins), and Alonso might have to dial the car more than he was hoping for to make it the full distance.

    12. Fred looked pretty shaky out there in the light traffic on Carb day. He attempted a couple of passes at speed and it didn’t quite work out. Hopefully he can beat Pippa Mann.

      1. He was making passes into 1 & 3 too late. RHR let him go one time. I imagine he got caoched up on that. The bigger story Friday was Hinch lost an engine. Honda has the superior engine, but they keep blowing up.

        Prediction: Dixon from pole. His reacecraft is unmatched in the series. He leads the points when you factor in 500 qualifying. He will we well on his way to a fifth Championship.

    13. 3 hours of fuel saving (Indycar) = super exciting
      1 1/2 hours of tyre saving (F1) = super dull
      Answers on back of postcard…

    14. @als I’ll explain it to you as simple as possible:
      when tire saving is the only possible thing to do if you wanna win=boring
      when fuel saving is only one of many possible routes to take to Victory Lane, that requires a perfect execution from you and a bit of luck, to run out at the last corner and cruise over the finish line 2 secs in front of a charging competitor who chose an aggressive strategy=exciting

      Clear enough? If not, I’d rather not waste a postcard…

      1. I think INDY CAR is way moore intressting than F 1. In F 1 everything is rather static in way of resultat from the Teams. In INDY CAR there are a huuuuuuge diffrent in the way that in every race there are at least 15 drivers with a chance of winning and it makes it faaaar moore intressting with really close combats all the times in all races. So i prefer INDY over F1 with go-cart motors 😃

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