Triple Crown Crisis (Part 1)

Fernando Alonso - Indianapolis Motor Speedway. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

Fernando Alonso – Indianapolis Motor Speedway. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

By Allan Brewer

The devolution of the plan to capture Motorsports’ Triple Crown in 2019 began in earnest today with the departure of McLaren President of Indy Operations Bruce Fernley. Fernley was an odd choice to head up an IndyCar effort from the time of his initial appointment last November, as his expertise lie in Formula 1 (most recently with now-defunct Force India).

The much more experienced, though not contemporary, voice at the team remains (for now) McLaren Sporting Director Gil de Ferran, an Indy 500 winner for Roger Penske’s team nearly twenty years ago. It was de Ferran who bore the brunt of the post-qualifying crepe-hanging at Indianapolis on Sunday evening. It is likely de Ferran who will have to conduct the autopsy and present the morbid details of this immense collapse to the firm.

The significance of McLaren’s Indy effort cannot be underestimated. Formula 1 is McLaren CEO Zak Brown’s first and foremost priority, but he made a guest appearance over IndyCar Long Beach weekend to pump up some excitement some six weeks ahead of the great race. “It was going to be very important for me to get to an IndyCar race early just to see all of you,” he said to a press gathering.” He emphasized that the Indy 500 entry from McLaren bearing the name of Fernando Alonso should, “really be able to build our brand further in North America. It’s a very important market for McLaren.”

There’s a sense of exigency in those words, perhaps informed by McLaren’s faltering reputation in Formula 1. Despite off-season changes at the team, the 2019 F1 season results have been only modestly improved. In qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix , no McLaren saw the track in Q3 for the first time this season. Drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris admitted that their pace in Shanghai was more representative of McLaren’s current performance than their showings in both Australia and Bahrain had been. “We knew this track would expose our weaknesses,” said Sainz.

There were passive stakeholders in the venture who stand to take a hit as well. Only last week Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles noted that Indianapolis will have “a larger number of folks actually coming from Spain for the Indianapolis 500 than we’ve had in the past.” He pointed out that even when Fernando Alonso was here a couple of years ago, he announced so late many potential racegoers simply were unable to make schedules work so they could attend and watch the two-time World Champion on-track. “I think we’re going to see a bigger international crowd here for this year’s Indianapolis 500 than we’ve seen the last couple years, and certainly more national interest and a broad international interest just because of who is here.”

Part 2 to follow tomorrow.

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