Fernando Alonso has nothing to prove in racing but it’s his drive to accomplish more that makes the Spaniard one of the true greats of his generation.
It says something for the measure of the man, a two-time Formula One world champion, that he is prepared to take a step into the unknown and put everything on the line to compete in Sunday’s Indy 500 – the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’.
For drivers, it is the ultimate test – throttling speeds exceeding 235mph around the famous but extremely challenging Indianapolis Motor Speedway circuit. And get this; they’ll be 300,000 spectators at the venue as well as millions watching worldwide.
Will Alonso triumph? Who knows – but in truth – the F1 star, who skipped this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix to contest the midwestern state’s stellar race – has already won – even if he doesn’t cross the finish line first after completing 200 laps of the 2.5mile-long track.
For Americans to show so much interest in a non-American driver, a man who is taking a huge step out of his comfort zone, tells you something about Alonso’s stellar reputation in racing.
While Alonso, who will be competing for McLaren-branded Andretti Autosport, is very much the centre of attention in Indianapolis – the other drivers and teams aren’t fussed about the cameras not focusing on them.
Alonso may just stand at 5ft 5 inches – but he is a totemic presence here.
The McLaren star has injected a new lease of life into the sport and catapulted the buzz of Indy500 to new levels beyond the United States. The public stateside have taken him in, almost, as one of their own – they appreciate his commitment to a national treasure of a race.
Indeed, there can’t be too many occasions where this has happened before. Crossing sports for a second, David Beckham didn’t even come close to having the same impact on this side of the Atlantic.
Alonso is serious about this, it’s no marketing gimmick – his running in the 101st billing of the race was a long time in the making.
Fernando Alonso is the name on everyone’s lips and IndyCar should be grateful that he’s ready to conquer Indiana.
Whilst the threat of rain could cause havoc on Sunday’s race schedule in Indiana, the 35-year-old knows sitting in the IndyCar driving seat is the best place for him at the moment.
After a difficult season with McLaren, skipping Monaco has turned out to be a blessing in disguise and his Indy bow could well open the door to a full campaign next term in the format.
Cool and unflustered, he has dealt with the fanfare surrounding the switch very much in his stride. For a man who has been in the spotlight so long, he makes it look like it’s just another day at the office – but this race means so much more.
He will start eleventh on the grid and will be looking to follow Damon Hill in winning his first Indy 500 as a rookie after exchanging engine sizes from Formula One.
Perhaps, Alonso is targeting the clean sweep – an Indy 500 title and a future tilt at the esteemed Le Mans 24 Hour – a race he has made it widely known he admires.
Alonso would love to make it a hat-trick and add these two titles to his F1 gongs – only Hill has done that previously. As a keen scholar of the sport – the veteran is aware of the weight of history.
It’s an event which has helped him get the racing butterflies back and feel like he did as a youngster breaking into Formula One back in 2001.
The Indy outing won’t truly define Alonso’s career by any stretch, but a formidable drive will certainly capture the imagination of the many fans worldwide who are tuning in to follow his progress.