Leftover Papaya, Enough to Make a Meal

Fernando Alonso. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

Fernando Alonso. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

by Allan Brewer

Papaya orange, the bright orange hue that has graced the shoulders and flanks of McLaren Automotive’s most successful racing designs for over 50 years, is still trying to get back on-track at Indianapolis.

McLaren’s relatively new team of IndyCar mechanics and engineers worked deep into the night on Wednesday and all day long on Thursday to turn Fernando Alonso’s back-up car into a qualifying contender for the May 26th Indianapolis 500 race. But the day was cut short by inclement weather that rolled over Speedway, Indiana 90 minutes short of the planned 6PM Eastern close of the track.

The work was complicated by the discovery of engine damage to Alonso’s Chevrolet V-6 turbocharged engine that necessitated replacement.

Needless to say, none of the toil and turmoil was planned (although at Indy it must always be anticipated). The team and its twice-Formula 1 champion were sidelined after only a handful of laps on the famed 2.5 mile oval Brickyard on opening day Tuesday by a faulty alternator. Again, after only a smidgen of what was planned for Wednesday, Fernando lost control of the car in Turn 3, smacked front and rear into the concrete barrier and slid to a halt about halfway through Turn 4.

“You never want to plan for a crash,” said McLaren sporting director Gil de Ferran, “but in a way, you have to.”

Review of the crash video clearly shows another car swept up into the path of Alonso, taking aerodynamic downforce from the front wing and tires. The pursuing car drifted up into the wall and Alonso lost control as it dived to the inside of the turn into another barrier.

The car built in England in McLaren’s shop was for all intents destroyed—scavenged now as a spare-parts bin for the hastily-drafted back-up car.
Fernando was unharmed.

Alonso’s best lap around the Speedway was 225.433 mph on Tuesday, in his primary machine. The car had previously posted a fastest lap of 218.690 mph during an IndyCar open test on April 24 at the Speedway.

The back-up car has never turned a lap before at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, though it was on-track in April at a special IndyCar test day at Texas Motor Speedway near Dallas. The team never released speed, lap detail for the test, claiming it was a new venture for a new car, and the particulars were irrelevant to the company’s overall project goals.

“Not running Thursday was a serious setback to our Indy 500 program,” lamented de Ferran, “but all is not lost. We should have a full day of practice and preparations on Friday.”

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