Fernando Alonso’s Indianapolis 500 debut next month will see Michael Andretti as his strategist and Eric Bretzman as race engineer.
Andretti, who last year called strategy for son Marco, and has in the past fulfilled that role for his resident series champion and 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, had not assigned himself to any of his four full-time drivers for 2017.
He has revealed that he will strategize for Alonso, while the two-time World Champion will have the team’s technical director Eric Bretzman as race engineer. Bretzman ran Scott Dixon’s car for the first three of his four IndyCar Series championships, and his 2008 Indy 500 win.
Alonso is due to attend the Barber Motorsports Park IndyCar race next weekend, then have time in Honda Performance Development’s simulator and visit the Andretti Autosport race shop in Indianapolis.
Andretti, who raced for McLaren in F1 in 1993, said that he expected the two-time World Champion to be up to speed very rapidly.
“One good thing is about this is that we know how to deal with rookies, and we’ll have to consider Fernando a rookie,” said Andretti, who never won the Indy 500 as a driver, despite leading one more lap than four-time winner Rick Mears. “But we know what a talent he is, too, and he’ll be up to speed very quick, running right there with his teammates.
"Then the next step as you said will be getting him in traffic. We’ll do that when he feels comfortable running by himself, and we’ll work from there.
“The advantage that he has is a lot of teammates there to help him out, if he’s got any questions. The four veterans that are on the team will be more than happy to help him and will go out of their way to help him.
“So I’m not worried about it at all. I mean, we did it with Rossi last year. The first oval he ever saw was Phoenix, and then his first high-speed oval was Indianapolis and you saw what happened… So I think he’s going to be in the thick of things in my opinion.”
Asked if there were any contingency plans, given the potential for rain in Indianapolis during May, Andretti replied: “We’re looking at getting him in the car before the Month of May. We’re still working on that. But it’s going to be what it is and we’ll have to deal with it as it comes. I don’t see that we’re going to get any extra time, and we’ll adapt to whatever the weather will give us. Let’s hope it’s going to be a dry month…”
Andretti said that simulator time would not be an ideal substitute for genuine track time.
“Simulators for ovals, you’ve gotta be a little careful with,” he said. “It can give you a little bit of a different feel from the reality of the situation. So I’m a little wary of putting him in a simulator – we’ll talk about it when I next speak with him. Let’s wait and see.”