Alonso 19th on first day of Indy practice


After the opening day of practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500, Fernando Alonso arrived at his press conference on a motorized skateboard.

After answering nine questions, most of which could be paraphrased as such: It's great, I'm learning a lot, and I'm enjoying myself, he hopped on his skateboard and rolled back to Gasoline Alley without a care.

Thus was the introduction to the month of May for Alonso. The 35-year-old tested on the IMS oval on May 3, but today was his first run in traffic and first experience with his entire six-car team.

It didn't take long for him to adjust to an Indy car after finishing 12th Sunday in Spanish Grand Prix and jetting across the Atlantic to Indianapolis.

"It took one corner," he said. "At the (May 3) test, we were shown quite quickly. You jump in the car and have a sitting position that is quite different than Formula One. You just have to remind yourself exactly what you were driving two weeks ago. You go flat out and you know what is going to happen. It took really no time to go from one to another."

Alonso's fastest lap of the day - 223.025 mph - ranked 19th among the 32 drivers who took part in the opening-day practice that consisted of two hours for rookies and veteran refreshers followed by four hours open to all drivers.

That was 0.590 seconds off the pace set by his Andretti Autosport teammate, Marco Andretti, whose leading effort was 226.338 mph.

After participating in the two-hour rookie/refresher session largely without traffic earlier in the day, Alonso got his first experience with other cars on track during the later afternoon practice.

"The most difficult thing will be the race itself - all the things that happen in a race like this one, which are the traffic, running in traffic and learning all the little tricks to overtake," he said. "Then to use the performance of your car in which moment of the race (and) why. All these little things that only with experience and with races you can learn. I don't have that experience and I don't have that time, so I know that I will be weaker in some of these aspects. I need to learn as quick as I can in the next 10 days, 12 days."

Unlike his fellow competitors, especially later in the week, Alonso won't expend much energy on preparing for this weekend's two days of qualifying. Instead, he'll focus primarily on race setup.

"In my case, qualifying is not very important. Obviously, when you are out there, you want to be fast, but the priority for us in my garage is to set up the car for the race, to feel comfortable in traffic, to learn as much you can (about) the way to overtake, how to overtake and how to lose the minimum time possible with those manoeuvres."

During his lunch break, Alonso spent time talking to Mario Andretti, the 1969 Indy 500 winner, 1978 F1 champion, four-time Indy car champion and father of Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti.

"We went through many, many things, from Formula One to talking about the tyres here, how they perform, to talking about the fires in Formula One," smiled the Spaniard. "He's an amazing person and a true legend in motorsports, so every comment, every word that he says, is obviously very, very important for all of us."

But, more than anything, Alonso's first official day was a skate in the park.

"Today, I was happier," he said. "I felt better in the car. Definitely a much better day, much better feeling. I was able to drive the car or start driving the car today. Still a long way for me to work and to learn, but definitely I feel some good steps today."

It wasn't all plain sailing however, for late in the day the Spaniard was sidelined by a suspension issue.

"The last half an hour maybe we had some issues with the rear suspension, and we could not complete the programme that we were planning to run a little bit in traffic at the end of the day, so we missed that part, but overall it was an amazing day," he said.

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Published: 16/05/2017
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