HPD celebrates 20 years with Indy, ALMS drivers

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Honda’s IndyCar drivers for the 2013 season made an appearance in Honda Performance Development’s headquarters in Santa Clarita, Calif., earlier this week, to celebrate HPD’s 20th year since its 1993 founding. Tweets rolled in from the IndyCar drivers and American Le Mans Series drivers (Lucas Luhr, who won the ALMS Long Beach race in a Muscle Milk HPD prototype) throughout the day.

Takuma Sato’s win must have featured some celebration because fellow Honda driver Ana Beatriz posted an Instagram photo of the Long Beach winner passed out in a car en route to HPD. Simon Pagenaud, Justin Wilson and Josef Newgarden were also amused onlookers.

At St. Petersburg, Honda premiered a “big head” campaign (pictured) – where they took the Honda drivers’ headshots and blew them up onto giant cardboard cutouts that were on display first in the pit lane, and later in the grandstands. The tradition has been popular at college basketball games in years past.

Honda joined IndyCar in 1994, won its first race with Andre Ribeiro at Loudon, N.H. in 1995, and its first championship with KV Racing Technology co-owner Jimmy Vasser, then driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, in 1996.

Vasser’s title set of a streak of six consecutive Honda titles in CART, won by Alex Zanardi (1997-98), Juan Montoya (1999) and Gil de Ferran, a new HPD ambassador (2000-01) before they moved to the IRL ranks in 2003.

Honda won its first Indianapolis 500 with Buddy Rice in 2004, also the same year it took its first IRL title with Tony Kanaan. From 2006 through 2011, Honda served as the sole supplier of engines for IndyCar – which dropped the beleaguered IRL moniker ahead of open wheel unification in 2008.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/