CHICAGO • Fernando Alonso shrugged off searing temperatures to post the fastest rookie time during practice for the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday.
The two-time Formula One world champion, who jetted into the United States less than 24 hours after finishing 12th in the Spanish Grand Prix, completed 36 laps on the famous oval at a best average speed of 221.63mph (356.6kmh).
The Spaniard admitted he had feared the blazing hot sunshine and temperatures around 32 deg C might be a problem before climbing into his McLaren-Honda-Andretti.
"I was a little bit concerned about the temperature, as it was much hotter today than at the test we did here on May 3," he said. "But the car felt as good as it did at the test, and I was able to make some set-up changes without losing the confidence in the car."
Under Indy 500 rules, practice sessions and qualifying are governed by top average speed. The opening session is for rookies and returning drivers who have not raced in the event for a significant time.
Alonso, who is skipping the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indy 500 on May 28, is due to practise all week before entering qualifying at the weekend, hoping to reach Sunday's Pole Day.
His session was interrupted by a suspension glitch which denied him the opportunity to practise driving in traffic.
"Everything went very smooth. The last half an hour maybe we had some issues with the rear suspension, and we could not complete the programme that we had planned to run a little bit in traffic at the end of the day," he said.
Alonso also had a chat with 77-year-old Mario Andretti, the only driver to have won an F1 world championship, an Indy 500 and the Daytona 500.
He said: "We were talking for more than 11/2 hours, so we went through many, many things, from Formula One to talk about the tyres here, how they perform, to talk about the tyres in Formula One."
While Alonso prepares for his maiden Indy500 race, his former McLaren team-mate Jenson Button is preparing for his one-off return to F1, taking Alonso's place in Monaco. The 37-year-old Briton did not rule out a full-season comeback with the team in 2018, saying: "I have a contract with the team to race next year, so definitely I would not rule anything out."
A move to retain his services again may be an option for the troubled outfit, if they fail to convince Alonso to stay on after the season.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS