SUPERCARS rookie Thomas Randle had a pretty unforgettable 26th birthday at Albert Park last Thursday.
The afternoon’s two qualifying sessions were sweet and sour as Randle recorded the first top 10 qualifying result of his career in the first hit out before enduring a high-speed spin that was nearly a major crash in the second.
It’s just as well Randle kept the Castrol Ford off the fence, as soon after it was back on the circuit with Randle in the passenger seat and none other than two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso behind the wheel.
Alonso was one of two high-profile guest drivers sampling Supercars in the Thursday twilight, as Sergio Perez strapped into Triple Eight’s spare Commodore a little further down pit lane.
WATCH: Randle and Alonso debrief Supercars laps
Perez’s laps marked the latest cross-over between Red Bull’s F1 and Supercars programs that previously included a passenger lap for Max Verstappen alongside Jamie Whincup in 2019.
Alonso’s appearance though was somewhat out of the blue. It came through Castrol’s sponsorship of the Alpine F1 Team, but only after an initial idea from Randle.
“It all happened really quickly,” Randle explained to the Castrol Motorsport News Podcast shortly after getting out of the car.
“Early last week I was at a Castrol conference up on the Gold Coast and they mentioned that they were trying to tee something up with Fernando, just a face-to-face Q&A kind of thing.
“I know the girl who runs the PR (digital media) for Alpine, Alex Thomson (an Australian, whose partner, Williams F1 reserve driver Jack Aitken is friends with Randle and joined Tickford for an Eseries race last year).
“I sent her a message and said we were trying to do something there (with Alonso) and it’d be cool if we could organise a hot lap or something, just throwing a thought out which I thought would be shut down pretty quickly.
“She passed it on to more people internally at Alpine, it got back to Castrol and, I don’t know the complete details, but Mitch Robinson (Tickford Racing PR) had to do his handy work as well.
“Everyone had a role to play in it happening, and I think it was one of the best PR things they’ve done in such a short period of time.
“These things can take four, six, eight weeks to plan and it was pretty cool that we pulled it off in about a week.”
While Perez was sent out in the Commodore on his own (with Broc Feeney in contact via radio), Alonso had two runs in the Ford, joined first by Randle and then his Alpine F1 race engineer Karel Loos.
WATCH: Perez laps Albert Park in Red Bull Commodore
“He actually went pretty well to be honest, he seemed quite comfortable,” explained Randle of Alonso’s time aboard the Supercar.
“He was pretty reserved, left-foot braking, I was just trying to guide him on what gears to take through a few corners because the gears we take are very different.
“Some corners he’s taking in gears (in the F1 car) that we don’t even have! For example Turn 9 and 10 is third gear for us and seventh gear for them, I don’t think he was expecting that to be third gear!
“The radio worked but it wasn’t that great, I couldn’t really hear him, and I don’t think he could really hear me, so it was just easier to do the third gear, fourth gear, second gear (hand signals).
“There were a couple of times he arrived, he was on his way into the corner and I just said ‘down one more gear’ and he’d give me a thumbs up. Then he remembered the gears after that and he was fine.
“He actually ran off at Turn 1 on his last flyer which was pretty funny. I’ve only been a passenger lap once before but this definitely takes the cake.”
Alonso said he enjoyed his experience aboard the Castrol Mustang, declaring it “between a GT3 and a NASCAR” in terms of feel, and added that he’d “never say never” about a Supercars race appearance.
WATCH: Alonso finds the grass in Supercar drive
The Spaniard had come close to driving a Supercar previously; poised to sample the Zak Brown-owned 2011 Bathurst winning Holden Racing Team VE during a test day in Spain in 2017 before it ran out of fuel.
As for whether Alonso will return the favour and offer Randle some laps in his Alpine F1 car, Randle said: “I hope so. I don’t think I’ll fit in Fernando’s seat, though!
“We had an old insert of Lee Holdsworth that we put in for him. I don’t think he was going to fit in mine…”