DiZinno: Rosberg’s retirement is baller in a year full of racing shock

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My colleague and teammate on MotorSportsTalk, Luke Smith, sent me the Facebook message just after 7 a.m. my time.

“Rosberg’s retiring!!”

“Wait,” I slowly thought in my “trying to process the magnitude of this message while not having had coffee and rolled out of bed” state. He can’t be serious… this is still a weird dream.

The transitionary line from me was as you’d expect.

“What?!?” I naturally, incredulously reply.

“He’s announced it in Vienna. I’m working it up now,” Luke follows, because this is what Luke does: he is on it all the freaking time, often times more than me.

Then the texts started following. Some of them with all caps. Some with expletives. Some with both.

This isn’t happening.

Unless it is.

The first round of stories start hitting the Internet, because that’s how Internet posts work in this age of motorsports journalism. News travels quickly. We await the actual Rosberg statement he posts himself, because it’s not enough to be right anymore, just, like Internet commenters, first.

The Rosberg statement follows. It isn’t a facade. It’s real.

“When I won the race in Suzuka, from the moment when the destiny of the title was in my own hands, the big pressure started and I began to think about ending my racing career if I became World Champion,” Rosberg wrote on his Facebook page in the announcement.

“On Sunday morning in Abu Dhabi, I knew that it could be my last race and that feeling cleared my head before the start. I wanted to enjoy every part of the experience, knowing it might be the last time… and then the lights went out and I had the most intense 55 laps of my life.”

Social media is abuzz.

Lewis Hamilton is known for his social media presence.

Yet it’s Nico Rosberg who’s the Mercedes driver that went “Hammer Time” on him, and broke the racing Internet.

The fact that literally no one saw this coming – in an age when announcements are known days, weeks and months before they actually officially happen – is both a genuine shock and a welcome surprise, and that’s why the magnitude of both the announcement and the timing is as large as it is.

This is not the first time this has happened this year in racing, in a year full of shocks.

Alexander Rossi wasn’t really going to make it home with 36 laps on fuel in the Indianapolis 500. The fuel window is 32 or 33 laps, max.

Yet he did – strategist and team co-owner Bryan Herta’s now-famous radio call of “clutch and coast” has entered the vernacular – and Rossi became a rookie winner at Indianapolis.

Jaw dropped, because the fact it was the 100th Indianapolis 500 wasn’t monumental enough.

Then, Toyota wasn’t really going to lose a near certain first win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. We go back to my friend and colleague Luke here, because 10 minutes prior to the race finish, Luke had a rare moment where he wasn’t “on it.” “Toyota’s surely got this…” he tweeted.

Naturally, they didn’t. As Kazuki Nakajima slowed so painfully coming out of the Ford Chicane in the final six minutes and stopped on the front straight, and the Porsche blew past, the hearts stopped once more.

Jaw dropped again, because the fact Toyota had lost its rightful and deserved win was now reality.

And now finally, in a year that really hasn’t had that many jaw-droppers in F1, Rosberg’s beat them both with this news.

So, the quick, first reflection begins with Suzuka. The moment when Rosberg’s teammate Hamilton blew the start in Suzuka in mid-October is now the beginning of the end of Rosberg’s career. Few if any knew it at the time.

Maybe Rosberg did. It appears he has.

Suddenly the metronomic, icy exterior makes all the more sense.

“One race at a time.”

The five words that defined Rosberg’s public persona this season, and hid his inner desire for this moment to be achieved, suddenly loomed larger.

If he took it one race at a time, he’d be one day closer to the end of his career.

The Rosberg that raced just six days ago in Abu Dhabi was not the Rosberg we saw for the bulk of now his 11-year career. He was aggressive, as witnessed by that pass on Max Verstappen. He was calculated; knowing that even as Hamilton was backing him up to try to force him into making a mistake, he knew all he had to do was stand his ground.

And the emotion that was released upon finishing the race? That wasn’t robotic Rosberg. That was human Nico.

Human Nico is now who he can be for the rest of his life. A husband. A dad. And now, a World Champion.

No one can take that away from him.

But, Nico, I do have one final request.

Can you make the rounds to pick our collective jaws up off the ground?

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.