|Will Alonso make IndyCar drivers look inferior on Sunday? If he wins F1 fans will never let IndyCar live it down. But the Indy 500 itself will get a huge boost, and in the end that is all the 'family' cares about.|
If two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso wins the Indy 500 on Sunday in his first try it will solidify in the mind of the 300 million F1 fans that F1 drivers are superior, to IndyCar drivers, as they have maintained for years.
And make no mistake, even though this is Alonso’s first foray into IndyCar and oval racing, when it comes to Sunday’s race, he’s in it to win it. And some of the drivers he’ll challenge for the ‘500 win are well aware of that.
"Obviously, selfishly, for a lot of us, we hope he doesn’t," Rahal said with a smile to NBC sports.
"But I’m not going to lie to you, he’s driving the same car Townsend (Bell) drove last year, which was one of the favorites to win until the pit lane accident. So it’s a fast car, it’s a good machine, I’ve worked with some of his mechanics in the past.
"They’re quality guys. It wouldn’t surprise me. He’s going to be in the hunt. But I hope it just continues to draw more eyes. I think he’s had a great time here this month. It would be great to have him continue to come back, amongst others. Clearly, we hope one of the regulars wins this thing, there’s a lot of guys that deserve a lot of credit and maybe have been overlooked this month, but that’s just part of it. We’ll see what happens Sunday."
The problem is he isn't coming back to race fulltime in IndyCar in 2018, or the rest of 2017 for that matter.
So a win by Alonso on Sunday will light up the airways as big news, and the Indy 500 will get a lot of big PR, but for the rest of the IndyCar series, Alonso will be gone after Sunday and they will be left with a PR nightmare the rest of the year having to reverse the world's opinion of IndyCar drivers as inferior.
James Hinchcliffe knows Alonso brings an additional dynamic to the table that is kind of a mixed blessing.
"That’s one of those bittersweet situations," Hinchcliffe said with a chuckle. "Obviously, it would be a tremendous amount of coverage for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500, but if a rookie comes in and wins it on pace, it just makes us look a bit silly."
Indeed it does.
"Now, if you’re going to be made to look silly, if it’s going to happen at the hands of Fernando Alonso, you’ll sleep a little bit better at night because he’s pretty much the greatest living racing driver.
"The fact of the matter is he’s got a really good shot at it, man. He’s been incredible. There’s a lot of difficult situations that you get put into during a 500-mile race here or in practice and we’ve watched him handle them like a seasoned veteran. It’s been very impressive, honestly. He’s in one of the best cars, he’s starting near the front (middle of Row 2), he’s got as good a shot as anyone."
"He’s super down to earth, very friendly and has really embraced this experience," Hinchcliffe told NBC Sports. "The IndyCar paddock is a very different world from the F1 paddock.
"I know for a fact that there are a lot of (F1) drivers that wouldn’t handle the atmosphere here very well, but Fernando hasn’t been like that. He’s embraced the whole experience, the fan interaction we have, which is a massive degree higher than what you see in F1. He’s been an awesome addition to the field. I hope it’s not the last IndyCar race that we see him at."