Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 bid proving a story worth the attention

Forrest Mellott/IndyCar

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

SPEEDWAY, Ind. – There’s a large portion of the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock that are sick of hearing about Fernando Alonso – or ‘Alonsomania’, as some are calling it.

But we have to face it, the Spaniard’s living up to the hype.

When announced as a shock entrant for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 in a new McLaren Honda Andretti entry last month, Alonso quickly became the top story in the field, and for good reason – his announcement is a once-in-a-generation level story.

A two-time world champion in Formula One, Alonso is the largest fixture from the global series to contest the Month of May in many years – and the first to skip the Monaco Grand Prix in favor of a spring visit to Indiana in decades.

It took a multitude of variables lining up to make the opportunity happen.

Alonso’s experienced a torrid 2017 campaign in F1, making his leave for a race of little consequence. The Spaniard has added incentive as one of just a handful of active F1 drivers with a chance to score a second piece of the “Triple Crown of Motorsports” – wins in Monaco (F1), Indianapolis (IndyCar) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (FIA World Endurance Championship). The Honda connection, sacrifice from Stefan Wilson and ride with Andretti Autosport allowed Alonso an opportunity to make the leap, and both his team (McLaren) and host of sponsors supported the drive.

Since arriving the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for his first test on May 3, Alonso has continually impressed and improved. While a ‘rookie’ in the traditional sense of the race, the 35-year-old shoe has proven capable of wheeling the Dallara DW12 on the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

The more he succeeds, the more Alonso’s story continues to elevate into the stuff of IndyCar legend.

The hype, which first began to build during his test, increased dramatically as the Alonso slowly moved up the practice charts in each day of the Month of May’s first week. It then rose into a fevered pitch last weekend, as Alonso elevated himself further into IndyCar lore by outdriving a host of drivers – including Andretti Autosport teammates and perennial Indy contenders Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay – to a fifth-place performance in qualifying.

While he was nowhere near Scott Dixon’s mega 231.164 mph average – the fastest speed seen at IMS since Arie Luyendyk’s 1996 track record run – the fact that Alonso was even within the conversation in his first tour of Indianapolis is noteworthy.

As race weekend approaches, Alonso’s ability to exceed expectations has only served to increase said expectations for the race itself. What once appeared to be a delightful one-off opportunity has quickly evolved into a fervent plea from many to see papaya orange and checkered stripes in marriage after 500 miles of racing.

Whether fair or not, Alonso’s ability to meet or come close to the hopes passionate fans and impressed critics have fostered on Sunday will likely be what’s remembered best from his trip to Indianapolis.

Alonso has done nothing but inspire in the buildup to ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’ Now the moment is approaching for the 35-year-old to prove whether or not the burgeoning hype surrounding him is worth the time invested.

For the sake of the Indy 500, future prospects for similar series swaps and the overall health of motorsport, one can only hope the story proves worth the investment.

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