Indy 500: Why is Fernando Alonso driving the #66 car?

Fernando Alonso, Arrow McLaren SP, IndyCar, Indy 500 (Photo credit: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images)
Fernando Alonso, Arrow McLaren SP, IndyCar, Indy 500 (Photo credit: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images) /

Sam Schmidt explained why Fernando Alonso is behind the wheel of the #66 Chevrolet for Arrow McLaren SP to run this year’s Indy 500.

Two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso made his third Indy 500 qualifying attempt last weekend, and for the second time, he qualified for the race successfully.

Alonso made his Indy 500 debut in 2017 and had plenty of speed driving for McLaren via a partnership with Andretti Autosport, qualifying in fifth place and leading 27 laps around the four-turn, 2.5-mile (4.023-kilometer) Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in Speedway, Indiana before ultimately being forced to retire with an engine issue.

But driving for McLaren last year, he failed to qualify for the race.

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This year, the 39-year-old Spaniard is again competing for McLaren, the team with which he spent five seasons in Formula 1, but this time around, McLaren are full-time competitors in IndyCar as Arrow McLaren SP after forming a partnership with the team formerly known as Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had been known simply as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports before Arrow signed a title sponsorship deal ahead of the 2019 season. In 2018, Robert Wickens was a rookie driving the #6 Honda, but he was left paralyzed from the waist down following a horrifying crash at Pocono Raceway in August of that year.

After that wreck, team co-owner Sam Schmidt stated that Wickens still has a seat with the team if he is ever physically able to return to IndyCar competition.

Asked about whether or not this promise still holds true now that the team have partnered with McLaren and switched to Chevrolet engines, Schmidt maintained that the #6 car is his.

That also happens to be why Alonso is driving the #66 Chevrolet, Schmidt told Beyond the Flag earlier this week.

“We have the rights to 5, 6 and 7, and that number 6 is reserved for him, which is why we’re running 66 for Fernando this next week,” Schmidt stated.

Alonso did run the number 66 last year as well when his entry wasn’t associated with Schmidt’s team. With that being said, Schmidt’s team ran a third car via a separate partnership with Team Stange Racing in last year’s Indy 500, and that entry also did not use the number 6; Oriol Servia drove the #77 Honda.

Patricio O’Ward and rookie Oliver Askew are the full-time drivers of the #5 Chevrolet and the #7 Chevrolet, respectively. These two numbers had been used by the team for several years before Wickens arrived as a full-time driver in 2018 and the number 7 was scrapped for the number 6.

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NBC is set to broadcast the 104th running of the Indy 500 live from Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginning at 1:00 p.m. ET this Sunday, August 23. Alonso is set to start in 26th place while O’Ward is set to start in 15th and Askew is set to start in 21st.