Andretti team "deeply impressed" with Alonso’s approach
Andretti Autosport team manager Rob Edwards said that Fernando Alonso’s first day of testing an IndyCar confirmed not only his talent but also his completely professional approach – and determination to win the 101st Indy 500.
Alonso breezed through his Rookie Orientation Practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and went on to complete 110 laps, with a best average of 222.548mph in his McLaren Honda Andretti entry. He also acclimatized to several elements of oval handling adjustment and how to compensate for running on used tires.
But Edwards said Alonso’s adaptability was to be expected and that it was his whole methodological approach that has left the biggest impression so far.
“He was great to work with,” Edwards told Motorsport.com, “as he has been from the very first interaction, exchanging emails between Fernando, Eric Bretzman [race engineer], Neil Oatley of McLaren and myself. Right from the get-go, the detailed nature of his questions revealed the detailed research he had done. We've been deeply impressed.
“As for his personality, I’d say that reputation of F1 people being aloof or difficult to work with is 100 percent not the case with him; he’s just a nice, good person to be around with a good sense of humor.
“But he’s also intense because we all share the same goal which is to win Indy. That’s why he’s here; he’s not looking to be just a part of the event. He fully intends to win the race.”
Edwards said that the day of testing at IMS had confirmed the team’s belief that Alonso has a strong chance for victory on May 28, although he believes the best approach is not think in those terms.
“The way to make sure he is a contender is not to be confident about it,” he said. “We need to continue to think, ‘What could trip us up? What could stop us?’
“What I will say is that I’m confident in Fernando’s attention to detail and the attention to detail of everyone in our group on that car.
“The satisfying thing about today was that we did enough to not only answer a lot of Fernando’s questions, I think we covered enough bases to give him plenty more questions to ask, interesting things to think about.
“Now having more than a week ahead of practice to go away and digest that will be a big help to him. I’ve no doubt there will be an email from him in the morning and then copious emails over the next 10 days! That’s the kind of professional he is; he wants to get everything right and take full advantage of this opportunity.”
Edwards explained that Alonso having the Speedway to himself had been key to the amount of progress he had made.
“He was able to practice running under yellow behind a pacecar at around 90mph, and then restarting. He was able to use the pitlane entry that we use on raceday, coming right in off Turn 4, instead of the long pit-in we use during practice. And he practiced braking hard down to the pitlane speed-limit line. These are normally things you only get to try on Carb Day.”
One he had passed his very regulated Rookie Orientation Practice, the team had Alonso try different trim levels, and made mechanical adjustments too, to get him used to the changes that can be made to fine tune an IndyCar’s handling.
“Part of the process was getting him tuned into feeling those aero changes, the mechanical changes, and the tire degradation,” said Edwards. “I mean, the guy is a two-time F1 champion, hugely experienced in racing, but he’s never experienced an asymmetric car before, so making changes around that asymmetry was valuable.
“We worked through a program, got him through ROP, and had two sets of sticker [new] tires, and we tried two trims, one for each set of stickers. Then when we had to go back on used tires and made some mechanical changes, we put some downforce back in for that and added the wicker. I don’t have the figures to hand but I think we let him run on tires that had 20-25 laps on them, which is almost a stint – admittedly with a reasonable amount of downforce.”
Edwards said that the next stage for Alonso, following the Rookie and Refresher two hour period on Monday 15 May will be getting the #29 car running in traffic.
“The group running, which is part of the traditional Andretti approach to preparing for Indy and preparing its rookies, is going to be the next challenge for him,” he said. “I think we all know, as does Fernando himself, that will be the biggest challenge, but familiarizing himself with it will also be key to being competitive in the race.”
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