Two-time Formula 1 world champion Alonso announced last month that he would be skipping the Monaco Grand Prix so he could enter the Indy 500 with McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.
Alonso enjoyed his first test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 3, passing the Rookie Orientation Programme, and will commence his official practice running on Monday following the Spanish Grand Prix.
Chilton raced on the grid in F1 with Alonso in 2013 and 2014 before moving to America when opportunities dried up, securing a seat in Indy Lights. The Briton then moved up to IndyCar for 2016 with Chip Ganassi Racing, making his ‘500 debut last May.
Having made the switch from F1 to IndyCar recently, Chilton is aware of the challenge that Alonso will face, and said that the sheer amount of seat time in such a short period will come as a shock.
“Obviously they call it the month of May, and it is basically that you’re in the car for a month,” Chilton explained. “You start off with the grand prix, and then you have the 500 which is basically eight days straight, which includes two days of qualifying the weekend prior to the race.
“As a driver, it’s very rare that you’re in a car for that many days straight. Luckily I had done Indy Lights the previous year, won at Iowa, and I’d done Phoenix at the start of the season.
“To come in as a rookie straight into the 500, he’s up against it, but he’s a multiple world champion. I’m a huge fan of Fernando, I’ve always said he’s the best driver out there. I have no doubt he’s going to do well.”
Chilton said that completing fast laps at speed in practice and qualifying would not be the challenge for Alonso, instead believing that the real battle will come in the race itself and negotiating the pack.
“It’s not really the aspect of going flat out and setting your lap time. It’s the racing aspect that’s the difficult thing,” Chilton said. “Trying to time a pass when you’re following a car, when you’ve got no downforce on the car, basically doing 230 mph through a corner, it takes skill. You ideally want to go through the corner flat, but you’re behind them with no downforce. It’s all about timing and precision.
“Looking at Fernando’s quotes when he got out of the car, he said he never realised that his right foot had its own brain, and it’s exactly what I said. You’re there, mentally focused, especially when you’ve got Dario [Franchitti, Chilton’s coach] going ‘come on, this is your run to go flat’, you’re like ‘right, I’m going to do this’.
“Then you get to the corner, and your right foot as has its own mind! It doesn’t want to do what your mind is telling it to do. It’s very mentally-draining as a rookie, that’s the thing I would say. It’s more the mental aspect.”