Fernando Alonso will start the Indianapolis 500 next Sunday.
Of course, in this strange year with a month of May taking place in August, all 33 entrants will take the green flag so there is no opportunity for a repeat embarrassment suffered by McLaren in 2019 when the two-time Formula 1 champion was one of three drivers sent home after Bump Day.
The "comedy of errors" leading to their DNQ was well documented: It started with the lack of a steering wheel during an April test at Texas Motor Speedway, included the two days of lost track time because the car was the wrong shade of orange and the lack of urgency on Bump Day in comparison to Juncos Racing.
McLaren CEO Zak Brown and sporting director Gil de Ferran had to wear that international distinction for quite some time.
"I think the biggest lesson we learned is don't do what we did last year," Brown said on Tuesday during a media event before Opening Day. "I don't want to rehash, but there were a lot of mistakes that obviously get made when you don't qualify for a race.
"You've got to get it pretty wrong for a team like McLaren and a driver like Fernando Alonso to not make the show."
McLaren partnered with Carlin (Racing) last year, a significant downgrade from the Andretti Honda McLaren super team that led 27 laps and came close to winning in 2017. That combination was no longer feasible because Brown and Alonso had been so critical of the Honda McLaren F1 engines from 2015-17.
Alonso told McLaren officials during the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix that his Honda powered car felt "like a GP2. Embarrassing. Very embarrassing." Honda never forgot the slight and even denied Alonso an Andretti partnership for the 2020 Indianapolis 500.
Carlin, candidly, did not have the resources or personnel to properly assist McLaren after Alonso crashed on the second day of practice at Indianapolis last year. They missed the entirety of the third day rebuilding the Carlin back-up that was finally deemed Papaya Orange enough for the decision makers.
Talk about misplaced priorities, and as a result, they never found the speed needed to bump their way into the Field of 33.
"Really it was a lot of little mistakes, predictable," Brown said. "… It really started with our first test, which we had a variety of issues at that we should have had enough time to be well-prepared for. Then when we had these issues, we didn't respond to them quickly enough, urgently enough.
"When you don't solve those issues, you continue to have them, a car gets crashed, you don't have your spare ready for a variety of reasons, all of which has been documented in some silly headlines, unfortunately. They're not quite as silly. There's an explanation behind each one went wrong, but we got it wrong."
It was the most notorious blunder in Indianapolis 500 qualifying history since 1995 when Team Penske missed the show with Al Unser Jr. and Emerson Fittipaldi.
McLaren wasn’t going to suffer such humiliation twice, even before the pandemic completely turned the world upside down. McLaren entered IndyCar full-time during the winter and merged with Schmidt-Peterson Racing to form ARROW McLaren SP with youngsters Pato O’Ward and Oliver Askew behind the wheel.
And yes, that meant providing Alonso a car and an engineer (Craig Hampson) capable of completing the motorsports triple crown – following his victories at Monaco and Le Mans.
"Yeah, he’s the man," Alonso said of Hampson.
It was important to pair the man, with the man, because it might be the last chance Alonso has at Indianapolis until 2023. That’s because Alonso has agreed to a two-year contract with the Renault F1 team.
Alonso would be 42 if he returns in three years, meaning next Sunday could be Borg Warner or bust.
"I think I approach the race knowing the next two years is going to be impossible to come," Alonso said. "I (would) have to miss qualifying weekend if I wanted to do so. I will not be with McLaren anymore next year in F1. That will not work either. I know at least for two years I will not be here.
"Look, this is the way it is at the moment. I'm here ready to enjoy the event, ready to give my best, and help the team as much as I can."
And McLaren is giving Alonso as much as it can, too.
ARROW McLaren SP is already considerably larger than Schmidt Peterson was at this point last year and its three-team effort is an amalgamation of its IndyCar and Formula 1 engineers.
"I think Fernando is as dedicated as ever in his desire to win the Indy 500," Brown said. "I think that his getting back to Formula 1 next year will mean that potentially this is the last time he has to win the Indy 500 in the near future, therefore he's never wavered during this time of COVID.
"He cleared his calendar post Paris-Dakar to come compete and hopefully win the Indy 500. He's been very focused on that. He's excited to get back in the car this week."
And with the combined strengths of McLaren and SPM, Brown believes they have put to rest the lingering ghosts from 2019, too.
"We got bit pretty hard last year," Brown said. "Let's make sure we have good practice, good qualifying. We do have two rookies in addition to a guy who hasn't done it a lot, as great as he is.
"I think we do need to kind of keep our head down. I think if we do the right things and everyone executes, we can have three cars there at the end. For that basis, it's super exciting."