Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will start fifth in his Indianapolis 500 debut next weekend. He finished with a four-lap average of 231.300 mph in qualifying Sunday _ after making an engine change.
The Spaniard was the first driver to top 231 on all four laps. It’s the first time he’s competed on an oval. “He’s proving why he’s one of the best in the world,” Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi said afterward.
Rossi ended Alonso’s hopes of becoming the first rookie to win the pole. For a few minutes, Alonso was on top of the IndyCar world.
As the third of the nine drivers to make an attempt in the pole shootout, he became the first driver all weekend with a final speed over 231. That was the fastest qualifying run since Helio Castroneves won the pole in 2002 at 231.725.
It only survived through one more attempt. Rossi went 231.487 to briefly take the top spot. That number held up through one more attempt and then New Zealand’s Scott Dixon’s before took the pole with the fastest qualifying speed (232.164) in 21 years.
But for Alonso, who’s crew had only two hours to install a new engine and put the car back together before making the technical line deadline, it was an incredible afternoon. “There’s nothing really to say about it because everything felt normal,” Alonso said when asked about the engine.
It sure didn’t give him any trouble. Neither did Indy’s usually tricky track.
After only his eighth day on an oval, Alonso managed to put himself in contention for next weekend’s race win _ with a chance to claim the second jewel in racing’s triple crown from the middle of the second row.
He was hoping to become the first rookie to win the Indy pole since Teo Fabi in 1983.
Former IndyCar driver Tony Stewart started from the pole as a rookie in 1996 after Scott Brayton, the pole-winner, was killed in a practice crash.