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Alonso rejects McLaren's offer to buy him Indy 500 seat

May 20, 2019

McLaren offered to buy Fernando Alonso a seat in the Indianapolis 500, but the Formula One champion told the team he was uncomfortable replacing a driver who had earned a spot in the race.

Alonso, with McLaren, failed to qualify for next Sunday's race, a humiliation for the proud racing team. Alonso is trying to win motorsports' version of the Triple Crown and Indy is his last remaining goal. McLaren was back at the Indy 500 for the first time since it was a dominant force at the race in the 1970s.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown told The Associated Press the team would not buy its way into the 500 and was halting this year's effort. Bob Fernley, president of McLaren's IndyCar operation, was fired Sunday night after McLaren was bumped from the race on the last run of Sunday's qualifications.

The team then made a few inquiries into buying out another driver to give Alonso a spot in the 33-car field in a non-McLaren-backed effort. Brown said Alonso initially supported McLaren running a car for him if it was the right business decision to satisfy sponsor obligations. But once the Spaniard learned he'd be replacing another driver and competing for another team, he was not comfortable with that route.

McLaren had zeroed in on Oriol Servia's seat with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports because McLaren already has a partnership with Arrow.

"Fernando has done nothing wrong; he needs to be in the race and should be in the race and we do have a lot of partners who would like to be in the race," Brown told AP on Monday. "Do we buy him a seat? Well, he said 'I know what it takes to get into this race. It doesn't feel right to me to take another driver out that has earned it because my team has bought the seat.'"

"There is a lot of pride within Fernando and McLaren," said Brown, who took over as CEO of McLaren in 2016. Brown founded Zionsville-based Just Marketing International in 1995 and grew it into a motorsports marketing powerhouse before selling it to London-based communications giant Chime Communications Plc for $76 million in 2013.

The McLaren miss will likely go down as 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 never got up to speed to make the 1965 field.

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