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F1 driver Fernando Alonso preparing for Indy 500 for 1st time

SAKHIR, Bahrain — With a grin of excitement, Fernando Alonso explained how his crash course for the Indianapolis 500 will include watching old footage on flights between Formula One races.

The two-time F1 champion will compete in IndyCar for the first time next month, and skip the prestigious Monaco Grand Prix in order to do so.

That does not give the 35-year-old Spaniard much time. He has three F1 races for McLaren — in Bahrain, Russia and then Spain — before he makes his IndyCar debut on May 28 in Indianapolis.

“On the planes I will try and look at some videos and races from the last years. I’m not ready at the moment, but the next couple of weeks I’m confident I can adapt,” Alonso said Thursday at the Bahrain GP. “I’m not in my comfort zone driving those cars or thinking of those cars. But I’m not afraid of trying.”

Alonso’s motivation is part of a wider ambition that also includes the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race.

“If I want to win the triple crown I have to make the first step this year. It’s a win-win situation. It’s good for Formula One and this big market in North America we’ve been pursuing for many years,” Alonso said. “It’s good to go to America and showing this respect to IndyCar. Inside the McLaren team, to be racing at the same time in Monte Carlo and Indy 500 it’s an amazing thing.”

Alonso is still widely considered among the best drivers in F1, despite the fact he has not won the world title since 2006 and not even won a race since 2013. Insiders credit that to him not having a good enough car, rather than no longer having the skills.

Alonso, who has 32 grand prix victories, didn’t earn a point in the first two races of the 2017 season — in Australia and China — and McLaren is struggling to be competitive, just like last season. Despite his advancing age and the ongoing frustrations, Alonso still has a burning ambition to distinguish himself as one of the best drivers of all time.

“There were two options. The first is to win another six F1 titles, one more than Michael (Schumacher), and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Alonso said, laughing. “The second one is to win different series in different years. That’s very challenging and very attractive.”

Alonso is not yet sure when he will take up the Le Mans challenge.

“As soon as I can,” he said. “I don’t know if it will be next year or the following years.”

McLaren is back in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in 38 years with Alonso’s entry, a Dallara DW12 chassis run by Andretti Autosport. Team owner Michael Andretti is a former IndyCar champion who raced in Formula One for McLaren in 1993.

Andretti’s team won at the Brickyard last year with Indy 500 rookie driver Alexander Rossi, the former F1 test driver.

Alonso’s hectic preparations begin as soon as he steps out of the F1 cockpit after Sunday’s race in the sweltering heat of Bahrain.

“I will be next weekend in Alabama, just vising the race, meeting the team members,” he said. “I will do the seat testing on Monday.”

McLaren is run by Zak Brown, who had an Indianapolis-based marketing firm for years before his gradual move into Formula One.

“Zak is a man who has a bigger vision than other team principals or bosses that I had. He sees motorsport differently,” Alonso said. “He sees McLaren bigger, not just concentrated on Formula One. He’s a true racer. I think it’s great that McLaren and Zak joined forces last year.”

Alonso, however, is realistic enough to know that, under better circumstances, he would have been racing in Monaco.

“If the car was competitive this year, you could not afford to lose 25 points in one race,” he said.

Alonso’s decision to try another series is not totally unique. In 2015, F1 driver Nico Hulkenberg won Le Mans with Porsche.

Three-time F1 champion Lewis Hamilton, who drives for Mercedes and has 54 career race wins in F1, sounded a little envious of Alonso.

“I think us drivers should be able to do more than one series,” Hamilton said. “It would be so much different for us to do that: How the car is set up, the banking, how much you lift, how much you use your tires.

“It’s not an easy thing to do in one go,” Hamilton said. “But you’ve got one of the best drivers in the world there.”

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