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Q&A: Luis Michael Dorrbecker prepares for SPM test at Sebring

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Although only one rookie, Ed Jones, is set to graduate into the Verizon IndyCar Series for 2017, another may make his debut at some point this year. Luis Michael Dorrbecker, a 24-year-old Mexican who also has German heritage, will make his IndyCar test debut with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on March 1 at Sebring International Raceway’s short course.

Dorrbecker won the 2016 Auto GP open-wheel championship with 10 race victories. He’s also raced in F3 and Formula Renault 2000 internationally and prior to that, had a brief stint in Skip Barber race competition in the U.S. in 2010. He won once in six starts.

He made his first visit to an official IndyCar event at this past weekend’s Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway. NBC Sports caught up with Dorrbecker to gauge his reaction to the oval test and go over his preparation for his IndyCar test debut at Sebring.

MotorSportsTalk: So you’ve never been to an oval before. What are your instant reactions?

Luis Michael Dorrbecker: “It feels amazing. I watched every corner. You get the feeling these cars have a lot of grip. These cars seem very fun to watch. I’m so excited to get in at Sebring, and maybe be able to race on an oval.”

MST: What’s your first reaction to meeting Sam Schmidt and the rest of the SPM organization? 

LMD: “I was actually talking to people that came with me. You don’t feel like an outsider. You feel at home from the word go. It’s a very pleasant experience. Anyone that’s met Sam knows he’s a very unique person with the way he approaches his racing and racing team. He has people with the same philosophy. It makes that ambiance in the team very family-like. It’ll be a real pleasure to work with.”

MST: Have you done any Sebring simulation or other key prep work? 

LMD: “No. We fly back to Indianapolis so I can do the seat fitting and everything. I’ll get some time in the sim. I’ve raced there in Skip Barber! So I remember how the track was. But it’ll be different in these cars. From the data I’ve seen, it’s more like a street course than a road course. The team has a couple cars available and all of them should be the same!”

MST: In recent years, Mexico’s racing involvement has had a bit of a resurgence. What has that been like for you to witness? 

LMD: “In Mexico, we’re very passionate about our sports. We’re national people with a lot of national pride. Other people kind of embrace it. We have a history of loving racing and in the last few years, we didn’t really have anyone to root for.

“When I was a kid, my generation grew up watching Adrian Fernandez in CART, Champ Car and IndyCar. I remember back then they’d fill the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez with 120,000 for the Champ Car races! The whole motorsports world in Mexico needs an IndyCar driver again. It’s been since 2004 I think (Note: Fernandez and Michel Jourdain Jr. raced their last full seasons in 2004; Mario Dominguez ran most of 2008 while Jourdain’s 2012 Indianapolis 500 start is the last time a Mexican driver started an IndyCar race – Ed.).

“So it’s been a long time coming. I hope to be the first one back. Once IndyCar has another Mexican driver, it’ll only be a matter of months to sort something to bring the series back to Mexico.”

MST: Provided the test goes well, are you targeting the month of May or a later program of several races?

LMD: “We obviously have the month of May (in Indianapolis) as the biggest race in the season. Commercially, it’s very big to get sponsorship.

“But we’d hope to do more than one race at the end of the season. It depends how the test goes. Our goal is for 2018 to race the whole championship.”

Rossi charges to fifth after starting 18th at Barber

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Alexander Rossi has had a black cloud hanging over his head in each of the first two races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. Last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner suffered an ill-timed caution at St. Petersburg that hurt his team’s strategy and then dropped out at Long Beach after an engine failure when he was running in the top three.

That misfortune continued on into Saturday, as he and the Andretti-Herta Autosport team couldn’t find the speed in qualifying, leaving him 18th on the grid for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

However, everything turned up roses come race time and Rossi had arguably the drive of the day. Rossi was immediately on the charge and used a combination of strategy and speed to run seventh after the opening sequence of pit stops. He hung around the top five the rest of the day, eventually moving up to fifth after Charlie Kimball and Will Power made late-race pit stops.

All told, it was a remarkable run for him.

“It’s good considering we started 18th,” Rossi told NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt. “We were pretty disappointed yesterday. We were on the verge of desperation. We had to diagnose what happened Saturday.”

The result vaulted Rossi all the way up to 10th in the championship standings, one point ahead of Tony Kanaan. He trails points leader Sebastien Bourdais by 57 markers heading into the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

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Bourdais hangs on to points lead after Barber

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Sebastien Bourdais’ drive to eighth is not quite the headline-maker to match his win at St. Petersburg or his second at Long Beach, but it was still a championship-caliber drive on a weekend where he and Dale Coyne Racing didn’t quite have the pace they had in the opening two races of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Bourdais advanced out of his Round 1 qualifying group, but went no further after turning the 12th fastest time in Round 2, leaving him 12th on the grid for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

However, he managed to weather the storm and keep his nose clean, taking home an unspectacular but respectable eighth.

“Yeah not quite sure what did what. Maybe the conditions got us more in the operation of the tires,” he told NBCSN’s Kevin Lee when asked about his struggles during the weekend.

Bourdais also added that might have been able to pass Tony Kanaan for seventh in the final laps, but he couldn’t quite do enough to make a run at him.

“I really thought I had (Kanaan) there. He used the pushed to pass. I didn’t forget! I really thought I had him. He used the push to pass on the way back. Shame on me. It was a good fight. Not the greatest day but top 10 is good for the guys and the Sonny’s BBQ car.”

Bourdais leads Scott Dixon by six points and Josef Newgarden by seven. Simon Pagenaud sits 10 markers behind while James Hinchcliffe is 15 back after three races.

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A full day of Fernando: Alonso takes Barber by storm (VIDEO)

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Fernando Alonso was a busy man today at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, as he prepares for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil and made the rounds of media and promotion in doing so as part of his joint entry into the race thanks to McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.

The two-time Formula 1 World Champion arrived on pit lane for Sunday’s morning warmup and set up in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda pit, where he’d interact with Michael Andretti and the rest of the team.

Alonso had a quick sit-in in Marco Andretti’s No. 27 Honda:

Alonso then made it to the media center for a formal press conference with Andretti, McLaren F1 executive director Zak Brown and Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles, the head of INDYCAR’s parent company. Alonso was high on life through most of the press conference and had a few playful jabs at some of his competitors.

Before the race, Alonso signed some autographs for fans, who were pleased he was on site.

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From there, it was a chance to head to the grid and speak with NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell.

Alonso’s day wasn’t done, as he visited both the NBCSN booth and the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network booth for further interviews. A portion of the NBCSN interview is below.

Alonso will now head to Indianapolis with the team this week for a seat fit and further preparation for his May 3 test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his first run in the car. He’ll then be off to Sochi, Russia for next weekend’s Russian Grand Prix, which you can see on NBCSN (times here).

Dixon maintains excellent start despite another tough P2 at Barber

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Such is the brilliance of Scott Dixon that his start to his 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – finishes of third, fourth and second – can be viewed as disappointing because potential wins have gone begging.

The latest chapter of his almost-winning-but-not-quite saga to open this year’s campaign occurred at the track where he has his best results without a win, Barber Motorsports Park.

Dixon was top Honda on the day in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but alas, one spot short of a victory as he scored his seventh Barber podium in eight races – all of them either seconds or thirds.

On this occasion, Dixon did his usual masterstroke of fuel saving by running longest in the first stint, running to Lap 24 and leading two laps.

Dixon also got ahead of Josef Newgarden on the final pit stop sequence despite running behind him and Will Power on the road during the middle stint.

But after a restart from the second and last full-course caution on Lap 68, Newgarden muscled his way past Dixon at Turns 15 and 16 for third place on the inside, leaving Dixon very little room on corner exit in a forceful but not dirty passing move.

While that was for third at the time, it wound up being the pass for the win because Dixon’s teammate, then-leader Charlie Kimball, pitted from an off-sequence strategy and the would-be winner, Power, pitted with a left rear puncture.

It left Dixon high and dry but in his usual so good, yet so close, P2, with three laps led. He felt worse for Power and gave Newgarden plaudits for the move.

“I saw him late coming into Turn 15 or 16. I tried to hold him back, but I wasn’t able to hold him back. It’s deserved for him,” Dixon told NBCSN’s Marty Snider post-race.

“The NTT Data car was strong. I feel bad for Will Power. It was a false flat tire perhaps? So yeah, that and a good job to Josef.”

Dixon elaborated a bit more on the day in the post-race press conference.

“I typically hold a fairly tight line there. But, yeah, he dove it in there, with some speed. He couldn’t make the corner at the appropriate time, so we kind of both ran wide there. But, you know, it was a great move.

“Josef did a hell of a job there on the blacks. Obviously had a clean start and really had some good longevity on that stint and was able to pit short and jump on reds.

“I think, you know, I feel bad for Will obviously with the flat tire issue there, but then also left the door open a little bit in 16. Josef put his nose in there. Tried to turn down, but through that whole complex, 14, 15, 16, I was just so loose. If I turned more, would have spun out.

“Credit to Josef. Drove a hell of a race. Team Penske, congratulations to them. Seventh podium here at Alabama without a win. Good in a lot of ways, but unfortunately we come here to win and we came up short.”

Despite not winning, Dixon still sits second in the points, just six points behind Sebastien Bourdais, who finished eighth.

Dixon and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series head to the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix next weekend (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), where he has a win to defend.