Tag, ‘Dinger add extra intrigue to IndyCar title tilt at Fontana

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For all of its flaws and foibles, the IZOD IndyCar Series hasn’t had to worry about its championship lacking excitement in quite some time. And so it goes again for this year’s duel between two-time series champion Scott Dixon and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves.

With Dixon now ahead of Castroneves by 25 points after last weekend’s Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader, their respective teams have now called in strong ‘reinforcements’ for the season-ending MAV TV 500 on Oct. 19 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Dixon’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing squad has tabbed Alex Tagliani to replace the injured Dario Franchitti in the No. 10 Target Honda, while Castroneves’ Team Penske camp will roll out its third machine, the No. 2 IZOD Chevrolet, for A.J. Allmendinger.

With Ganassi adding Tagliani, the numbers game for Fontana is square, as both teams will field three cars each in the 2013 finale. Tagliani has been out of the No. 98 Barracuda Racing machine since late July and has kept busy running sports cars. But his knack for driving the big ovals should make him a suitable wing man for Dixon, and we should remember that if not for a late engine failure, ‘Tag’ might have been the one in Victory Lane last year at Fontana.

Charlie Kimball, the third Ganassi driver who has made considerable strides in performance this season, has also had his own success on big ovals this year, with a Top-10 at Indianapolis (ninth) and a runner-up performance at Pocono. In summary, Dixon should be covered fairly well at Fontana.

Ditto for Castroneves, who will have in his corner both a surging Will Power (two wins in the last four races) and Allmendinger, who has made five IndyCar starts this season for Team Penske and finished seventh at the Indianapolis 500 – the lone oval start he’s had this year in open-wheel.

Allmendinger has made nine Sprint Cup starts on the 2-mile oval (best finish of 14th, 2008 and 2011), but has never faced Fontana in an IndyCar before. Still, he’s a wild card that Dixon, Tagliani and Kimball will have to think about throughout the championship weekend.

Then there’s Power, who will certainly be motivated to avenge his disastrous crash there last year that opened the door for Ryan Hunter-Reay to swipe the championship from him.

But from the Penske standpoint, it’ll all come down to Castroneves’ ability to bounce back from a chaotic weekend in Houston in which his car suffered mechanical problems in both races (finishes of 18th and 23rd being the outcomes). After a consistent campaign that had him completing every lap of every race through Baltimore, things finally went pear-shaped for the Brazilian and now, he must rally.

And there’s one more thing we must consider: The battle between Chevrolet and Honda for the manufacturer’s championship, which has turned into a ‘winner-take-all’ scenario after the two marques split victories at Houston (Honda’s Dixon in Race 1, Chevy’s Power in Race 2). Both sides have nine wins on the season; the next one for either side clinches.

All things considered, Fontana is shaping up to be a hell of a race.

Fernando Alonso completes first test with United Autosports

Photo: United Autosports
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Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso enjoyed his first outing with United Autosports, with whom he will contest the 2018 Rolex 24 at Daytona, in their Ligier JS P217 LMP2 chassis.

The McLaren Formula 1 driver completed the test at Motorland Aragon in Spain alongside co-driver Phil Hanson, who will be a teammate with Alonso at next year’s 24-hour Daytona enduro. Filipe Albuquerque, a former GT class winner at the Rolex 24, was also on hand to help Alonso and the team ahead of Alonso’s first run in an LMP2 car, which comes only a couple days after he made his LMP1 testing debut with Toyota. Albuquerque races with Mustang Sampling Racing in IMSA, but will return to United’s European Le Mans Series program for all but one race in 2018.

“I had a great first test with United Autosports. Obviously, we are on a really tight schedule between now and Daytona, but it was nice to jump in the car for the first time,” said Alonso, who will rejoin the team at the official Roar Before the 24 test on January 5-7.

Alonso added, “There’s quite a few switches and things to study so it was important to do this initial shakedown before Daytona, so I could fully learn about the car. I’m happy with everything – the car felt great and the team were fantastic. The atmosphere here is wonderful, like a big family, so today has been amazing. I cannot wait for Daytona.”

Team owner Zak Brown, who also serves as executive director of McLaren Technology Group and helps lead the McLaren Formula 1 effort, shared Alonso’s enthusiasm and was not surprised he was able to acclimate himself relatively quickly.

“Fernando’s first test with United Autosports went awesome as expected. He is a world champion and it is a pleasure to have him in our car,” he said of Alonso’s debut with the team.

Alonso is currently schedule to contest the Rolex 24 with the aforementioned Hanson and McLaren test driver Lando Norris.