Jenna Fryer’s comments on Alonso’s “publicity stunt” has created unpleasant reactions among international racing fans
We’re less than a month away from the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, Indiana and the story going into the race is the exciting announcement of two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso opting out of the Monaco Grand Prix, a race he’s won twice, to run IndyCar Series’ biggest event.
Alonso’s team, McLaren Honda, is supporting Alonso by joining forces with Andretti Autosport.
The one race-deal meant Alonso is one of six Andretti Autosport drivers who have a shot to win the 500-mile classic.
Alonso’s temporary teammate, Alexander Rossi, won last year’s race as a rookie. The first to accomplish this feat since Helio Castroneves in 2001.
As far as his Formula One ride, 2009 world champion Jenson Button will return after taking a sabbatical this season.
While the announcement has created positive buzz around the world, one columnist wasn’t welcoming Alonso with open arms.
In an AP column titled “So What That Alonso Is Racing The Indy 500?,” Jenna Fryer had different opinions and if her 13-year-old daughter doesn’t know him, he doesn’t matter.
Are American Drivers the End-All-Be-All?
Fryer listed Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick as bigger names than the “publicity stunt” machine Alonso.
Stewart and Patrick have already run Indy with their last being 2001 and 2011 respectively.
Those names are relevant in the United States but they’re not in the same magnitude of Alonso when talking about international value.
While Stewart is arguably one of the best versatile drivers over the past 25 years, he has no desire of racing IndyCar again.
Stewart said last year he wasn’t sure if he’ll fit in today as the sport has seen drastic changes his last full-season in 1998.
“(Indy) still has a magnetic pull, but I don’t know where I’m going to fit it into that equation,” Stewart said. “It’s still a blank spot on the top of my to-do list. I wish I was 40 pounds lighter and 15-20 years younger so I could go back and really … the thing about Indy is, it’s so competitive now. You can’t just come in in the month of May and expect to outrun the guys that are running there full-time. It’s a compliment to that (IndyCar) series that it has come such a long way.”
Patrick only has one major motorsport victory and that was almost a decade ago.
Patrick is in her sixth season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and has struggled miserably. Even her new Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer has outshined her already with four top-10s in seven races to Danica’s zero.
Patrick has a nice fan base with females and children but it doesn’t match the fan status of a Formula One driver.
Outshining Alonso’s Name Value
The only driver that will outshine Alonso in terms marketability and casual race fans is ex-teammate and three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.
Fryer sees it as a better name value which is true but there’s one problem. Hamilton is the top guy in Formula One, competing for race wins and championships. Alonso and McLaren are anything but contenders.
There’s no way Mercedes will allow Hamilton to miss a race for any rhyme or reason because of the demand of winning the championship.
Maybe if Formula One moves Monaco to a different week, the issue could be eliminated but don’t count on it of happening.
Fryer also insisted the Taylor brothers (Jordan and Ricky) will spark interest among racing fans.
The Taylor brothers are 3-0 this season in the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship including wins at the Rolex 24 at Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring, America’s most important endurance races.
They’re excellent sports car drivers but they don’t spark worldwide interest.
Outside of the United States, they’re not fully known in the motorsports world like the Rodriguez’s (Pedro and Ricardo). They have a bit of ways to go of becoming one of the best siblings in motorsports history.
None of the drivers Fryer mentioned matches or surpasses Alonso’s value except Hamilton.
One country against the world is one sided in this argument.
Fryer’s Unjust Towards Alonso
The Indianapolis 500 has always had a flare of international drivers since its first race in 1911.
Frenchmen driver Jules Goux was the first foreign driver to win Indy in 1913, the third 500-mile race in history.
Fryer’s comments reminded me of how Alonso doesn’t get an appreciation from casual open wheel fans.
Before Sebastian Vettel, he was breaking records as youngest winner and world champion in his first stint at Renault from 2002-06.
He’s the only driver that conquered Michael Schumacher’s monstrous run in the early 2000s. If that’s not convincing, I don’t know what will.
Even past his prime, he’s been one of the better drivers in terms of making unreliable cars from nothing into something. That’s what I’ve admired about Alonso, he’s done a nice job of making the most of his cars.
Fryer’s comment that “he has yet to score a point in three races this year,” is god smacking.
McLaren has struggled completing a race run without their cars breaking down.
They were terrible during pre-season testing and little improvement has been made to prevent those issues.
It’s what’s keeping Alonso out of the points. Not his lack of skills.
Stating that Alonso will be driving a Honda at Indy was unnecessary.
Alonso understands he’s driving a Honda, that’s the engine McLaren drives in Formula One. It’s called obligations.
Just because Alonso is driving a Honda at Indy doesn’t mean he’s going to struggle.
Andretti Autosport is a high-caliber Honda team that’s been successful over the years.
Honda is also the engine provider that’s won the first two IndyCar races with smaller race teams taking the top step of the podium. If the small can win, big teams like Andretti and Ganassi Racing could too.
On the contrary, Honda in Formula One hasn’t had similar success since BAR finished second in the Constructors Championship behind Ferrari in 2004.
Fryer said it doesn’t feel right that Alonso is possibly forgoing rookie orientation and have only two weeks to conquer Indy.
IndyCar teams spend an entire month at Indy figuring out what will make their cars legitimate contenders to win the Borg-Warner Trophy.
Outside of Monaco, Alonso’s home race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain is the only race in the month of May.
In an article published by RACER Magazine writer Robin Miller April 11, President & CEO of Hulman & Company Mark Miles said that Alonso will have a private test day and practice throughout May.
Days after Fryer’s column was published, it was announced Thursday that Alonso will have a test session at Indianapolis Wednesday May 3.
The question has been answered, he will put in the effort.
Lack of Validity
Fryer’s remark of Alonso running Indy as nothing more than a publicity stunt was baffling. Fryer wrote:
“Why is it OK for one of F1’s biggest stars to skip the crown jewel of the schedule to sell some tickets for Indianapolis Motor Speedway?”
Alonso is a racer that wants a challenge. That’s what race car drivers do all the time, it keeps them going.
The announcement also had a price, it was either Alonso or Andretti’s slated driver Stefan Wilson, brother of the late popular IndyCar driver Justin.
Miles said Stefan sacrificed his ride because he saw the greater good of IndyCar by letting Alonso run the car. Fryer added:
“What kind of series leadership puts him in that position? Of course he was going to say. “Sure, Alonso can have my engine.”
Stefan was working on his program to run at the 500 but Miles told him that he could still help out the team and the racetrack will add value to his program for next year’s race.
There’s more to the story that Fryer didn’t capture in her column and that’s the process of Honda adding an extra engine.
McLaren’s Executive Director Zak Brown contacted Miles about putting a program with Alonso. Miles said he would do what it takes to make it possible and contacted several Honda teams.
Miles struggled to obtain one engine until he reached out Stefan about Alonso where he agreed to step out the car.
If it wasn’t for Stefan’s vision of what is best for IndyCar, the deal wouldn’t have happened.
Miller captured the story behind Stefan giving up the ride.
Fryer also said Alonso’s deal will have little impact for IndyCar and I disagree.
Stefan is still working his way up while Alonso is an established driver.
This is where a lot of people criticized Fryer including 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1978 Formula One World Champion Mario Andretti.
Andretti said that Alonso wants to do it for his own good, not for publicity.
“I really resent the fact that the story is giving the impression that this is just a publicity stunt,” Andretti said. “Don’t get me wrong, it is great publicity for IndyCar, but that is just a by-product of a totally legitimate and valid attempt by a great champion, Fernando Alonso, to try and win the second part of the Triple Crown (Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans).”
Only one driver has accomplished the Triple Crown and it was Graham Hill in 1972.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and 2003 Monaco winner Juan Pablo Montoya is the closest at two as he needs a win in the 24 Hours of Le Mans to accomplish this rare feat.
Andretti hit the nail in the head by saying Alonso is a racer and the fact Fryer ignored what he’s accomplished in his prime was inappropriate.
No matter how Fryer views Alonso, he will draw a huge audience and attract people to follow the IndyCar Series. It’s a win-win for the sport and motorsports fans across the globe.
Breaking the Mold In Formula One
At the end of the day, Alonso is a full-time Formula One driver that’s getting a once in a lifetime opportunity to run Indy.
Many Formula One drivers aren’t allowed to run other series during the middle of a season.
The last notable driver to race elsewhere mid-season was Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg running the 24 Hours of Le Mans June 13-14, 2015.
Hulkenberg’s Porsche 919 Hybrid went on to win the race, becoming the first active F1 driver to win overall at Le Mans since Bertrand Gachot and Johnny Herbert in 1991.
After his stint at Le Mans, his fellow F1 drivers praised his ability to compete with the best sports cars drivers in the world.
When Hulkenberg ran at Le Mans, it was during an off week while Alonso is sacrificing one race to challenge himself as a driver to run on an oval.
Fryer stated the obvious that Alonso lacks oval experience. What about Rubens Barrichello in 2012? He didn’t have oval experience either and he won Rookie of the Year.
Ovals aren’t for the faint of heart, it does require skill and smart driving to survive. Alonso has both abilities.
It’s a huge risk for McLaren allowing Alonso to race at Indy but the payoff is going to be positive.
Attempting to race the 500 will earn Alonso more respect among racing fans and get the admiration he deserves as one of the better world champions in history.
Fryer’s column came out in poor taste and should’ve considered the details instead of bickering that Alonso is a publicity stunt machine.