No, I am not weighing in on the “So What That Alonso is Racing the Indy 500” schmozzle that is raging across the internet right now, so don’t worry. What I will weight in on is what the best case scenario is for the Spaniard’s one off outing to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Obviously, from Alonso and McLaren’s perspective, the best case scenario is a win. Alonso wants to prove he is still one of the best in the world and from his perspective, to come in to an illustrious race like Indianapolis, pull a Montoya in 200, and sweep the floor with drivers he’s never competed against would be a dream situation for him. For McLaren, they want to win mainly because they’d like to be associated with winning for a change. And as for McLaren’s partners in IndyCar, Andretti Autostports, they too would like to win once more and take back to back Indy victories.
But what’s the best case scenario for the IndyCar series? Does it really reflect well on them if some Spaniard, let’s face it, most Americans have never heard of comes in and blitzes the competition? No. It would be atrocious for a series that is finally starting to rebuild ratings and credibility after being debilitated by ‘The Split.’ For the first time in a while, IndyCar is starting to deliver the good driving and championship level competition that lured drivers like Nigel Mansell and Emerson Fittipaldi to the series in the first place. Having Alonso come in and blitz the competition would make not only the series look foolish, but would also make the drivers in the series look like amateurs. If he wins, it will no doubt solidify the opinion of many world-wide racing fans that IndyCar is nothing more than a cheap American knock-off of better open wheel series in Europe. Something it is definitively not.
No, the best case scenario for IndyCar is for Alonso to finish respectably. Somewhere around P5. Even if he rises as high as P2 and is competing for the win, it will still be okay, so long as he doesn’t walk away with the win. Basically, Alonso needs to prove that he is competitive but not so much so that he runs away with it. He can’t lose the race on brilliant strategy, either. He needs to lose by being outdriven and outraced.
If that happens, if he finished top 5, the IndyCar series will be able to hang their hat on the fact that their best beat the best that Formula One had to throw at them. Imagine the debate that could arise if Dixon, Pagneaud, or even Bourdais is able to simply outdrive Alonso. The series would be able to boast that their drivers are on par with the drivers in Formula One. Right or not, they will be able will be able to say it and they’ll have hard data to back it up. In the same car at the same track, one of IndyCar’s own was able to beat 2 time world champion Fernando Alonso.
Furthermore, if Alonso does not win, but does well, it is a very real possibility that he will try again in the future. Sure, the media hubub may not be quite as loud for a second entry into the 500, but there is also the possibility that Alonso may be able to lure over more drivers from F1, especially if (as I’ve talked about previously) Liberty decides to move the date of Monaco. Remember that in 1963 everyone thought Jim Clark was crazy to come over and race Indianapolis, but by 1966 a half dozen F1 drivers had joined him in Speedway.