Engine failure sours Alonso’s Indy 500 debut

Mark Long
Associated Press

Indianapolis — Surrounded by cameras and flashing cell phones, Fernando Alonso picked up a carton of milk and took a huge swig.

For much of the Indianapolis 500, it looked like the two-time Formula One champion would have a chance to perform the celebratory routine in the winner’s circle.

The 35-year-old Alonso led 27 laps in his much-hyped Indy 500 debut — the third most behind Max Chilton and Ryan Hunter-Reay — before a blown Honda engine ended his day 20 laps shy of the finish line.

It was a disappointing finish to an impressive month for the Spaniard.

“I didn’t win, but I will drink a little bit of milk,” Alonso said. “You follow me for two weeks every single minute, but I really enjoy. Thanks for the welcoming.”

Alonso announced last month he would take a break from a subpar F1 season and skip the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indy 500 for Andretti Autosport. His presence drew worldwide interest for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and surely provided a television ratings boost for IndyCar’s premier event.

He watched Monaco earlier Sunday before climbing in his No. 29 car for the 500-mile race.

“Before coming here, some of the questions were how you can trade Monaco race for Indy 500, ‘This is the best opportunity for the team. This is the best opportunity to score points,’ ” Alonso said. “I won two times there. I won two world championships. To drive around Monaco for a sixth place, seventh place, even a fifth place. ... To be here is not possible to compare (to) that thing.”

Alonso expects better results for McLaren in the second half of the F1 season.

He also anticipates a return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After all, he wants to become the second driver to secure auto racing’s “Triple Crown,” which means winning at Monaco, at Indy and at the 24 Hours of LeMans.

“Definitely, yes,” Alonso said. “If I come back here, at least I know how it is, everything, and it will not be the first time I do restarts and pit stops and these kinds of things. It will be easier, let’s say, adaptations. … I need to keep pursuing this challenge because winning the Indy 500 is not completed.”

McLaren boss Zak Brown raved about Alonso’s first IndyCar race.

Alonso started in the third row and quickly worked his way to the front. He took the lead on lap 37 and was near the front for much of the race. He struggled a bit on restarts — no surprise since it was his first rolling starts since racing go-karts in 1997 — but was otherwise one of the best drivers in the 33-car field.

He was working his way back through the field after a pit stop and was seventh when his engine blew. It was the third Honda engine failure of the day.

“Obviously disappointed not to finish the race because obviously every race you compete, you want to be at the checkered flag,” Alonso said. “Anyway, was a great experience, the last two weeks. I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself. I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car. I didn’t know if I can be as quick as anyone in an Indy car.

“It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500, you know. … I was passing, watching the tower, saw the 29 on top of it. I was thinking at that moment if Zak or someone from the team was taking a picture because I want that picture at home.”

He for sure will get one of him chugging milk at Indy — just a few hundred yards from where Andretti teammate Takuma Sato did it as the winner.