One of Formula One's most popular drivers will be a part of this year's Indianapolis 500.
McLaren announced Wednesday that it will partner with Andretti Autosport to field an entry for two-time F1 champion Fernando Alonso. It will be Alonso's first attempt at the Indianapolis 500 and the first time in 38 years that McLaren has been part of the race.
The British-based team had a hand in three Indianapolis 500 victories during the 1970s. The first of Team Penske's record 16 wins came in 1972 with Mark Donohue behind the wheel of a McLaren. Johnny Rutherford won twice -- 1974 and '76 -- in papaya orange McLarens. Alonso's 2017 entry will carry the same orange livery in a nod to the team’s storied history.
Alonso will face a steep learning curve when he gets to Indianapolis. It will be his first time in an IndyCar and his first laps on a superspeedway. But those involved in the endeavor believe the extra track time drivers get in May will allow the 35-yar-old Spanish driver to get up to speed, and he agrees.
"I'm confident that I'll get to grips with it fast," Alonso said. "I've watched a lot of IndyCar action on TV and online, and it's clear that great precision is required to race in close proximity with other cars on the far side of 220 mph. I realize I'll be on a steep learning curve, but I'll be flying to Indianapolis from Barcelona immediately after the Spanish Grand Prix (May 14), practicing our McLaren/Andretti car at Indy from May 15 onwards, hopefully clocking up a large number of miles every day."
Alonso joins a short list of drivers who have entered the Indianapolis 500 with a world championship under their belts. Jim Clark won his first F1 crown in 1963 and then won both Indianapolis and the world championship in 1965. Graham Hill won the 1966 Indy 500 as a rookie four years after his first F1 championship. Nigel Mansel came to Indianapolis as the reigning F1 champion in 1993 and finished third.
Jack Brabham, Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti and Nelson Piquet also drove in the 500 as one-time world champions. Alberto Ascari, Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt and Jacques Villeneuve won F1 titles after competing in the 500.
Alonso will have to skip the Monaco Grand Prix, one of F1's most historic races, which is the same day as the Indy 500. He's won in Monaco twice, and has stated publicly that he strives to complete auto racing's "Triple Crown" by winning the Indianapolis 500 and LeMans 24 hours. Hill -- with five wins at Monaco, the 1966 Indy 500, and 1972 Le Mans 24 hours -- is the only driver to have ever accomplished that feat.