INDIANAPOLIS — Fernando Alonso did everything in his power to put McLaren in the Indianapolis 500. He drove flat-out when his car was loose, when it wouldn’t steer and when it had a punctured tire.
When his team put together a desperate final setup and no one had a clue how it would perform, he charged wide-open into the first turn at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with zero fear.
“I tried. I tried my best,” he said.
His effort could not overcome the mistakes made by McLaren in its hyped return to the Indy 500. Alonso was bumped from the field by 23-year-old Kyle Kaiser, of Santa Clara, in a dramatic last-gasp bid by tiny Juncos Racing. McLaren came to Indy with every inch of its car sold in sponsorship and guaranteed to turn a profit. Juncos Racing lost its two primary sponsors right before opening day and spent most of this week in an unmarked white car.
Juncos was the underdog from the very start, and when Kaiser crashed Friday and destroyed the car, every one of Ricardo Junco’s employees worked through the night to put together a car for Kaiser to qualify.
“We worked 48 straight hours. We couldn’t think straight,” Juncos said.
Juncos all week did everything better than mighty McLaren, the Formula One team that dominated Indy in the 1970s. Kaiser was faster than Alonso every day, and though Juncos was able to rebound fairly quickly from Kaiser’s crash, it took McLaren almost two full days to get a car ready after Alonso crashed Wednesday.
McLaren then begged and borrowed for assistance all across the paddock, threw an entirely new setup on the car Sunday morning, and it dragged and sparked along the track on Alonso’s first lap. He had to pit for a fix, got in just five more laps of practice, then rain ended the session.
Juncos, meanwhile, didn’t go on track Sunday morning in a decision the team owner believes got Kaiser into the race.
The McLaren miss is one of the biggest failures in Indy 500 history. Roger Penske missed the show with Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi in 1995, a year after dominating the race. Reigning CART champion Bobby Rahal missed it in 1993, and two-time Indy winner Rodger Ward didn’t get up to speed to make the 1965 field.
Kaiser bumped Alonso by .02 mph in the “Last Row Shootout” to set the 33-driver field.
Alonso tried to watch each driver make his or her qualifying attempt on pit lane but was swarmed by fans and media. He began signing autographs while keeping an eye on Kaiser, but once he saw the final speed, he hopped on a waiting golf cart and was driven away.
“I don’t think I can wrap my mind around what we just did,” Kaiser said.
Jenna Fryer is an Associated Press reporter.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Santa-Clara-s-Kyle-Kaiser-knocks-out-McLaren-in-13858262.php.