INDIANAPOLIS – There’s honestly no doubt about it, Fernando Alonso and McLaren Racing missing out on the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network) is arguably one of the biggest racing stories of the year thus far.
See, anything Alonso and McLaren related will generate a ton of buzz. But, when it’s them going for the triple crown and all the hype that surrounding them leading up to this month, it’s a big deal.
So, when they don’t make the show and how they didn’t make the show at that, it will create some big storylines. When a small team that consists of less than 50 total employees with a shoestring budget who just lost their primary sponsor on Monday and crashed their primary car on Friday bumped McLaren and Alonso out, it’s a huge deal.
Fernando Alonso practice at Indy – INDYCAR Media Site
But, how much of an impact will this have on not just the NTT IndyCar Series, but the Indianapolis 500 moving forward?
Yes, this is mega for the bumping storyline. This result will be talked about for decades. The only two instances this big in Indy 500 qualifying history is Bobby Rahal missing the show in 1993 and Team Penske in 1995. There are ton of positives for this happening in terms of buzz and how hard making this race really is.
But, what about the drawbacks because there are some.
Seeing David slay Goliath is always fun to see right? We love Cinderalla’s in the NCAA Tournament. It’s fun to see Duke, Kentucky, UCLA and other blue bloods get beat in the first round. It’s fun to see those 12/5 upsets. We cheer when it’s 13/4 or 14/3 in the tourney. But, what we don’t like is when we get a Sweet 16 of two small schools. Is it really that much better watching a 13 seed play an 8 seed?
We want upsets but when it comes to the later rounds, we want the blue bloods again. Same here in Indy.
Juncos celebrates making the Indy 500 – INDYCAR Media Site
We like to see Juncos Racing and their underdog story knocking out McLaren Racing on the final qualifying attempt of the Last Row Shootout. The emotion. The joy. Everything is the drama we search for.
But, what happens when it’s done. Tomorrow, we may talk a bit about Alonso not making it. Tuesday, we may talk a little more. Wednesday, the chatter diminishes. By Friday, it’s not a story anymore. For race day, it’s not a storyline at all.
Roger Penske agrees.
“I think a lot of people were anxious to see (Fernando) Alonso run,” said Penske after winning his 18th career Indy 500 pole as an owner. “That’s the only disappointment I have certainly is that the whole of Formula 1 world would have been tuned in for this race, so that’s a shame, obviously, for the fans, but more important I’m sorry to see those guys not make it.”
How high would the ratings have been to see if Alonso could win the triple crown next Sunday? How much world wide attention is now lost. While we want to talk the storyline on how tough this series is and it honestly is the best series in the world right now. Do you think the outside world really cares?
Doug Boles said ticket sales were exponentially high from Europe, especially Spain this year because they had more time to plan a trip to see Alonso race at Indy this year. See, Alonso announced his Indy deal much earlier than he did in 2017. Now, he’s not even in the race.
Spain has a TV deal for the series this year. Do you think those fans are going to be paying as much attention on Sunday as they would be if Alonso was in the race?
No matter if you like McLaren/Alonso or not, you sure as hell followed him around a lot. His garage stall was always flooded with race fans. His pit lane was filled to the max. They’re polarizing.
It originally looked like McLaren would be eyeing a full time expansion to the series. That’s a new full time entrant which is huge for Indy Car’s growth. When it’s a team like McLaren, it’s the best news they could have heard. But, McLaren also said that their full time plans for 2020 depended on Indy.
Now, they’re not in Indy. They’re future plans for the series is now in question.
“I think from my perspective, we’ve certainly learned a lot of lessons here that will carry that forward, that possibility, still in consideration,” said McLaren Sporting Director, Gil DeFerran.” But no decision has been made.”
Alonso, is mum on coming back himself. Do I think he eventually does? I do. But, he wouldn’t fully commit on Sunday either.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Alonso said after missing the show. “Right now I think it’s difficult to make any promise.”
So while it’s a great story for McLaren missing the show and Juncos making it in, how big will the story now be if McLaren isn’t in Indy Car at all in the very near future and Alonso doesn’t come back? How big of a ratings and worldwide attention loss is this?
Plus, Alonso handled this with grace. He is a world wide superstar that isn’t used to this kind of fan interaction in F1. See, in Formula One, you can’t get close to their drivers. In Indy, the fans can walk up to you practically at any time.
When Alonso climbed out of his car after the final gun sounded to end the day on Saturday and Alonso knowing he wasn’t locked into the ‘500, he hopped out of his car, stormed past media and his team and went directly to….sign autographs and take pictures with fans.
While he was waiting on pit road to learn his fate during qualifying? He signed more autographs.
This is a classy guy with a classy attitude. Here’s what he said an hour after it soaked in that he’s not going to be in this race.
“I still feel proud. Obviously I’m disappointed now because we will not be in the race, but as I said, even for McLaren, they will be a bit thin in the next day or next two days, and then everyone will forget. But the next two days it will be maybe hard for the team. I feel unfair a little bit if things goes on that way. We didn’t do the job. We were not quick enough. Simple. The others, they did better. We congratulate them. But at the same time, I think only McLaren is the only team in motorsport that won the Indy 500, won the Le Mans 24-hour, won the Formula 1 championship. You can only do that if you try. If you stay only in one series and you concentrate there for all your history or your organization is only racing in one series, maybe you can succeed, you can have good seasons, bad seasons. But you are in that small world.”
This is the guy Indy Car needs.