Alonso/Andretti for 2020 Indy?

Michael Andretti admits he’s talked to Fernando Alonso about running the 2020 Indianapolis 500, but right now it’s a long way from being a done deal.

“We’ve talked about it and I’d love to have him drive for us again. But a lot of things would have to happen,” said Andretti, who gave the Spaniard his first IndyCar ride at Indianapolis in 2017.

“He has to decide what he wants to do and he could still end up with McLaren; but there’s other stuff,” Andretti added. “It’s a possibility, but not a good possibility.”

The “other stuff” is, of course, the Honda roadblock. After referring to his Formula 1 motor as a “GP2 engine” during his final year with Team McLaren, the two-time world champion fell out of favor with the Japanese automaker. In his return to IMS last May with McLaren, Alonso was in a Chevrolet because Honda refused to power either the team or driver.

And it’s believed that when McLaren CEO Zak Brown made an offer to partner with Andretti last summer for the 2020 IndyCar season, Honda of Japan was approached about forgiving and forgetting but refused to budge. Andretti Autosport stayed with Honda while McLaren’s first full-time assault in the NTT IndyCar Series next year with Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew will be with Chevrolet.

“I’d love to get back together and and try to get him his first win at Indy,” said Andretti, whose cars have pulled into Victory Lane five times. “We’ve talked about it many times — and also about him driving other things for us — but right now its just talk.”

Alonso was Rookie of the Year at Indy in 2017, starting fifth and leading 27 laps before blowing up. But he missed the show last May in McLaren’s muffed return to the Speedway.

Andretti is set to campaign four full-time cars next season, with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach. James Hinchcliffe could be in the mix for an Indy-only ride if nothing materializes full-time for The Mayor.

VIDEO: Juncos’s Indy 500 fairytale

For sheer drama, Juncos Racing’s 2019 Indianapolis 500 will take some beating. The team’s month of May opened with a plain white unsponsored car, which turned into a destroyed unsponsored car following a heavy crash during practice. The disaster could have spelled the end to the team’s Indy campaign. Instead, it served as a rallying point: the team scrambled to put another car together, found the backing to keep it running, and completed the fairytale by infamously bumping Fernando Alonso’s McLaren out of the race.

Now, that story is being told by the team itself (in a combination of English and Spanish – turn on closed captioning for subtitles) through this new short video.

INSIGHT: McLaren begins its Indy post-mortem

On Sunday evening in the Monaco paddock, the McLaren hospitality unit was a somber place. What should have been a tense and nervous few hours with hundreds of eyes glued to the nine massive screens that stretch up over three levels ­– and potentially a big celebration at the end of it all – was a non-event.

Ten people sat around watching the Indy 500, while the majority of the team continued with their work and the hospitality crew packed up.

The failings at Indianapolis Motor Speedway a weekend before meant many of the team that should have been Stateside were at home, or a lucky few in Monaco instead. The reasons for those failings had been laid bare shortly after Fernando Alonso was bumped from the 33: an unprepared team – exemplified by a lack of a steering wheel and a spare car being re-painted a different shade of orange – had not gotten everything together in time to make the show.

“When you get into things like ‘we didn’t have a steering wheel’, it wasn’t like someone forgot to get a steering wheel,” McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown tells RACER. “Just to give context, we were going to do our own steering wheel, we didn’t get it done in time. Yes, Cosworth sells them off the shelf, but getting ready for Indy, everyone’s ordered them, so it ain’t Walmart where you walk in and go ‘I’ll take one of those’.

“By the time I got the call – ‘Oh ****, we need a steering wheel’ – Carlin got us one and I got us one from Cosworth, because you need two. So while the story was raw and made us look pretty bad – which we deserved – it wasn’t like ‘****, no one got a steering wheel!’.

“And then if you look at all the problems that we had, they all came from lack of preparation, because yes, we didn’t get the gears right. The day before, had we got the ride-height right, we would have identified that we didn’t have the gears right. Why didn’t we get the ride-height right? Because we changed set-up that we were rushing on. Why were we rushing on it? Because we didn’t do Thursday…

“It’s like the late Bill Buckner – it’s the final mistake and everyone remembers that, but they did lose two games before the ball rolled through , and he ain’t the only guy who had made an error. It was just one of the final moments.

“So at the end of the day, we weren’t prepared for Texas and never rang the bell, which is my fault because I saw it but was assured that everything was under control, and it wasn’t. And you saw the result.”

While Brown was on the ground at IMS to see the final stages of the attempt unravel, he then spent the following weekend in Monaco. A full post-mortem will now be carried out to identify things like when the spare car was sent to be re-painted, who made the call to do so, and why concerns weren’t voiced earlier.

Bob Fernley was head of the McLaren Indy project and his departure made him an immediate scapegoat, but his contract only ran until the 500 regardless. What Brown really wants to know now is the finer details of what tripped his team up.

“I know what I saw, I know what wasn’t done, but what I don’t yet know is the minute-by-minute,” he said “I want to know. I don’t want to just generally know why it wasn’t ready, I want to know who made those decisions, who was consulted, why were those decisions made… I want to do a full post-mortem instead of a half-story.

“We want to go back. Until we do the post-mortem and then sit around the table and go, ‘What did we learn? What would we do differently next time?’. Then the conversation becomes that we want to do it, is there anything that we find we should have done differently but we can’t right now for whatever reason?

“So that will be the sequence: What happened? What would we do differently? Do we want to go back? We want to go back. We will go back. Will we go back in 2020? That will depend on what went wrong this year – can we make sure that’s not going to happen next year?”

An obvious piece of the puzzle that Brown says is already in place is Gil de Ferran. The sporting director was hands-on in F1 when work began on the team’s Indy program, but with Andreas Seidl now installed as team principal and James Key as technical director, all of Brown’s players are on the field.

“I would have liked Gil de Ferran to be involved from the word go, but he was heavily focused on Formula 1,” he said “So that’s one thing that I know I would want to do differently, and he’ll be able to do that from now on.

“So my gut is, we’re going to be in a much better position. We’ve done the learning, we’ve bought the cars, we’ve got the equipment, so much of what you would need to do to go has been done. Now it’s about learning where we made the mistakes, and fixing those.”

Now with a car at the factory and Fernando Alonso about to be free from his WEC commitments, entering a race later this year might have been attractive to both McLaren and the Spaniard. Brown insists that won’t happen, and while a race or two in early 2020 is much more likely than a full-time program Brown says the project does not center around Alonso’s involvement.

Still hungry for the Triple Crown, Alonso felt the car McLaren had given him by the end of Bump Day would have been a real contender once the gear ratios were adjusted, and in that there is hope he will still be behind the wheel of a future McLaren entry. After all, the team missed out by one spot on each of Saturday and Sunday – by 000.02mph and 000.019mph respectively – when the closest field in Indy 500 history was set.

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” Brown says. “In a public sport, you put yourself out there, and you’re going to have your supporters and your critics. I recognize that, I acknowledge that, I accept that.

“There are a lot of uninformed opinions. I see something like ‘I can’t believe they only did one test day’. That’s all we were allowed to do. There are certainly a lot of people that don’t understand, but then there’s also people who say ‘you’re McLaren and you have an expectation and not qualifying is not acceptable’, and I agree.

“So I think what we took on was a big task, it was brave, we got it wrong and we’ll come back fighting. Some people – which I appreciate – recognize that, and then some people don’t recognize that, don’t want to recognize that, aren’t fans of ours and therefore take shots at us.

“That’s the nature of ; whether you go to a football match and you’ve got one guy who is cheering for a team and another guy who is screaming at the quarterback because he threw an interception… I’d like to see him try and throw a touchdown pass. But that’s sport, you have to accept it’s that type of environment.”

Even in the face of such criticism, Brown is confident the members of McLaren’s executive committee share his hunger to return to Indianapolis. A final call on 2020 is likely to be made in the coming weeks, and even if there are roadblocks to an immediate return, it’s clear the 500 is now unfinished business to more than just Alonso.

“We want to go back and I’d like to go back,” Brown insists. “If we’re going to go back next year, we’ll want to make a quick decision so that we’ve got maximum preparation, because a lack of preparation is what got us where we are this time.

“I don’t want to predict that we’re going to go back. I’d like to go back. All the reasons why McLaren should be at Indy are still valid reasons, and we’re not quitters. We’re racers.

“Even though this was the lowest point in my career and a massive high-profile failure, you’ve got to get back on the horse.”