View from ESPN commentary box: Alonso set for Indy 500 baptism of fire

ESPN commentators Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear offer their views on Fernando Alonso and discuss how the rookie will fare at Indy 500.

Stuart Appleby
by Stuart Appleby
27th May 2017

article:27th May 2017

Ahead of the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’, experienced ESPN commentary duo Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear have had their say on the man everyone’s talking about – Fernando Alonso.

Former F1 driver and IndyCar specialist Cheever feels the Spaniard, who will be driving #29 Chandon Honda for McLaren Honda Andretti in the 101st edition on Sunday, is one of the best drivers of all time – but says the challenge of IndyCar racing is as tough as it gets.


Alonso, who is set to make his rookie bow in Indianapolis, finished fifth in Friday’s final practice – with three-time champion Helio Castroneves of Team Penske taking top spot.

Cheever, who will be one of the key experts calling the action from the ESPN Indianapolis Motor Speedway commentary box this weekend stateside, believes Alonso has created a new buzz around the sport.

But, he has warned the 35-year-old about the difficulties of racing in IndyCar’s showpiece event.

He told Sport360: “The race will be full of surprises and Fernando’s participation has just added to that, I think it will be one of the biggest sporting events of 2017.

“What Alonso can do in a racing car is beyond genius – there’s certain drivers that are just capable of doing more than any other race car drivers. That pains me to say that as a former Formula One driver but over the years I’ve came to acknowledge that.

“Notwithstanding that, Fernando has no idea of what he’s getting into. You cannot explain the Indy 500 race to anyone – I couldn’t even explain it to my son (Eddie Cheever III) – even if I told him everything I’ve learnt over many Indy 500s,” the 59-year-old said.

“There’s the rolling start, the traffic at the beginning, there’s the turbulence, there’s running in the pack, there’s a different change in conditions, there’s full tank, there’s low tank, there’s coming into the pits under a yellow flag when 33 cars are trying to find their pits, it’s leaving the pits at the same time and then if you get through all those stations and problems there is the last five laps.

“They are indescribable. It’s like being in a tornado. Is it better to be second with three corners to go or first? Is it better to be fourth? What do you do? Everytime we’ve been in the television booth we’ve never really been able to call who’s going to win the race.”

Will Alonso deliver in Indianapolis?

Meanwhile, Cheever’s ESPN commentary colleague, Scott Goodyear – the famed former IndyCar driver – says he admires the respect Alonso has shown the sport.

The 35-year-old star has certainly left no stone unturned ahead of the race and has been working meticulously with his team in Indiana to ensure his preparation has been as good as it possibly could have been.

“Watching him, listening to him and speaking to him, you understand how serious he is about this,” Goodyear said.

“When he says he’s watched 25 to 30 Indy 500s before he even got here you know that he’s going to be a man that studies it and does everything he can to the best of his ability.

“His team Andretti put a purpose on being good at the Indy 500 and I think he’s arrived here driving for the best team.

“With multiple drivers in the Honda team you have such an opportunity to learn so much from the other drivers, I think he’s in one of the best places he could be at.”

The action gets away on Sunday May 28 at 12.19pm local time (8.19pm in the UAE).

COMMENTATOR BIOGRAPHIES

Former Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever joined ESPN’s auto racing team in 2008 as an analyst for ESPN and ABC’s coverage of the Verizon IndyCar Series. One of the most recognized names and faces in motorsports, Cheever won races all over the world in many different forms of race cars during his 30-year driving career.

The Arizona native made 132 starts in Formula One from 1978-89, the most by any American driver in the history of the sport. He returned to the United States in 1990 to pursue his dream of winning the Indy 500, racing in the former CART series and then in the IndyCar Series when it launched in 1996. He won the first race with the IndyCar Series’ new engine and chassis formula in 1997 and in 1998 won the Indianapolis 500 as a driver-owner.

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Behind the scenes: Sport360 in the ESPN production studios at Indy 500.

Former IndyCar standout Scott Goodyear has been the expert analyst on ESPN’s coverage of the IndyCar Series since 2002.

Goodyear, who last raced professionally in 2003, brings more than two decades of racing experience to the broadcast booth. He raced for four years in the IndyCar Series, winning three races and recording one top-five and two other top-10 finishes in the season point standings.

Prior to the formation of the IndyCar Series in 1996, Goodyear raced in the CART Indy Car Series, winning his first race in 1992 at Michigan International Speedway. That same year he was involved in the closest-ever Indianapolis 500 finish when he chased Al Unser Jr. to the line and finished second by just .043 second. He also finished second in 1997 to Arie Luyendyk.

Goodyear’s last of his 12 consecutive starts in the Indy 500 was in 2001 when he suffered a broken back in a crash on the eighth lap. After recovering from the injury, he decided to retire from Indy cars and join the ESPN team for 2002. He drove in some sports car races in 2003 when his TV schedule allowed and took a Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series victory at Watkins Glen International.

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