IndyCar drivers are honoured by the prospect of racing alongside one of the "greatest living racing drivers" when Fernando Alonso contests the Indy 500, according to last year's pole winner James Hinchcliffe.
Alonso has completed four days of the opening week of practice for his first Indy 500, which he is contesting in a McLaren-Honda entry run by Andretti Autosport. The two-time world champion has had an encouraging start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, finishing fourth in on Wednesday and Thursday's practice sessions.
When asked what the reaction to Alonso's participation has been like among the 32 drivers he will contest the Indy 500 alongside, Hinchcliffe told ESPN: "Just huge excitement to have a guy with his credentials and following to come here. He's one of the drivers that is in the conversation for greatest living racing drivers.
"To be able to say you shared the race track with him is an honour in a lot of ways. To get to show him our world a little bit, something very, very different to what he's used to, is something we're very excited to do."
Honda's disastrous start to the 2017 Formula One campaign paved the way for Alonso's entry into the event and his decision to miss the Monaco Grand Prix. Though there are mitigating circumstances behind his entry to the Brickyard, Hinchcliffe says it is huge for the iconic oval race that Alonso will be competing on May 28.
"It's incredible for us to have a driver of his stature, still actively racing in Formula One and missing their crown jewel event to come race ours, in some ways justifies what we all say about how much the Indy 500 means to the racing world, and it certainly attracts a whole new audience. If you're a racing fan but never had a chance or a reason to tune into IndyCar, and now you do, I think you're going to leave a lifelong fan.
"We're all very passionate about this race and the series in general, not just the 500, so to share that with someone who is a student of the sport and the sport's history is a great thing."
Hincliffe hopes a successful race by Alonso will open other top drivers' eyes to the prospect of competing at Indianapolis in future.
"The fact of the matter is it's a unique set of circumstances. There's not a lot of drivers who would be willing and able to miss races in their own championships to come do this. Fernando's situation is very unique.
"That said, if you find a guy with a gap in his schedule or for whatever isn't running full-time in a given season, hopefully this puts the idea in a drivers head that maybe it's something they should do to. Especially if he comes out here and runs well, I think that will make a lot of drivers evaluate or investigate trying to get into the car for the 500 [in future]."