Fernando Alonso arrived in Russia Thursday morning after his whistle stop tour of the USA saw him take in the IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama and visit the Andretti team shop in Indianapolis.
Alonso, whose return to Europe was delayed by the cancellation of his flight via New York due to bad weather, said he had learned a lot on the trip.
“Everything is different there,” he said on arrival in Sochi. “The paddock, the people, the fans around the car, around you, the way you interact with the team, with the competitors, the drivers’ briefing. I was invited to the drivers’ briefing, and there were things that were definitely different compared to here.
“It was quite an intense weekend, then from there I flew to Indianapolis for a seat fitting on Monday with the team to go through some of the stuff on preparation for the race, and on the Tuesday, I think, I was into the simulator in the morning just a couple of hours, three or four hours, also to have the first touch on those cars, on the ovals, etc.
“Of course the real car will be very different, because in the simulator it is easy to go 370km/h and not lift in the corners because nothing will happen, I think the real car will be a little bit more difficult, but at least I had the possibility to see the car to see the efforts that you need to do in the corners.”
LAT ImagesMichael L. Levitt
Alonso admitted he was amazed by the the reception he received.
“I walked in the airport in Indianapolis, in Chicago, and everyone is stopping me and shaking my hands, wishing me good luck, so it was like being in Spain for a moment. Definitely a big change in America for this race. I saw also the audience on television was 50 percent more share on that race, so definitely a bigger impact than what I thought in the beginning.
“But in terms of the challenge of the race itself, I remain very open of how difficult it will be to drive those cars and drive at those speeds in traffic etc., and also the random factor of the yellow flags and safety cars. So an extremely difficult task, but I am ready to learn as much as I can, and hopefully be competitive.
“As I said, the biggest surprise of this weekend or the last five days was the impact of this news and how many people recognize me in those moments, and in the airport. I am used to walking in America quite relaxed and I used to spend holidays in the U.S. because no one recognized you and you had some privacy, and it was not like that in the airports at least.”
LAT ImagesRainier Ehrhardt
Working with Andretti
Alonso has already begun to build a relationship with team boss Michael Andretti.
“He was very, very warm with us, welcoming us in a proper way from the first day, he organized a mini barbecue for us, we arrived with all the drivers, he has so many experiences, the Indy 500, and so many good moments, that he will be a fantastic help. He will be running my car on the strategy. I talked to him a lot, we had every opportunity, lunch, dinners together, on those days, and he’s been a big part of the project so far.”
LAT ImagesMichael L. Levitt
Back to F1
Intriguingly, Alonso noted that his Indy 500 program has “reset” his mind and will benefit him when he returns to F1 duty this weekend.
“I think in a way it helps in terms of learning new things. So you reset a little bit your mind, and you are again a rookie in a sense, so you start learning things and being very open to engineer discussions and things like that, and driving techniques in a simulator to gain 0.1 or 0.2 of a mile in a lap. It requires very small differences in lines, and things like that.
“That is quite new and quite interesting, so the two weeks from Bahrain to here, instead of thinking and rethinking about the disappointment of Bahrain and things like that, I have been very busy there.
“So you arrive here with a motivation to do well here, hopefully finish in the race, hopefully score the first points of the season. But definitely the days between races are quite busy now so it is good for the head.
“I think coming back here is not too difficult, you know the routine here, you know the car, you know how to push to the limit, you know the tires, all the improvements we have for this race, all the things that you talk with the engineers, the strategy meetings, everything’s just normal, so it’s like a normal day.
“So it’s not difficult at all to jump in the car tomorrow and give 100 percent after lap three or lap four. The big challenge is to go back there next week, and drive fast there. I’m looking forward, it’s a good test for myself as well, it’s what is really motivating.”
LAT ImagesSteven Tee
Preparing for Indianapolis
Regarding the challenge ahead, Alonso said: “I remain very open until I test the car, I don’t know exactly how tough will be the challenge to drive those cars. But what is for sure is the impression of how big is the Indy 500, it has increased in my opinion after these days, how the people get super excited about the race there, how important is the race there for everyone.”