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From Bahrain to Barber: Alonso set to head Stateside for Indy prep

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Despite another valiant effort to get into points-scoring contention in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso and his McLaren Honda once again came up short, again courtesy of another engine issue in the back of his car.

Alonso was distraught despite his efforts Sunday, where his battles with Jolyon Palmer’s Renault and Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso in particular stood out despite the power deficit at his disposal. The Spaniard entered the pit lane with just two laps remaining in the 57-lap race to mark his third failure to finish, and second within the final five laps, in three races this season.

“It was so frustrating!” Alonso lamented to NBCSN’s Will Buxton after the race. “We have a big straight line speed deficit. On the straights we lost so much ground. We were close to the points at parts of the race but we never had the pace as China or Australia. We need to keep improving to be better in Russia. The power is quite important in Russia. We know the weakness of the package.”

Of teammate Stoffel Vandoorne’s inability to even start the race, Alonso responded, “This weekend he had so much bad luck. When you can’t even start the races, it’s amazing.”

But the second Buxton shifted the topic to Indianapolis in May, Alonso’s otherwise dour facial expression turned into a big ‘ol smile.

His upcoming trip to Birmingham, Ala. later this week will be the start of his process over the next few weeks to prepare for his Indianapolis 500 debut, in the McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport jointly entered car.

Alonso confirmed his trip to Barber during Wednesday’s pre-Bahrain Grand Prix teleconference with international reporters:

“Yeah, the program is still not yet defined. Still some conversations about this possibility of testing in the simulator either in Italy or in Indianapolis, together also with some seat fitting that is required in Indianapolis in Andretti’s factory. Yeah, let’s even talk about some possibility of testing the car before the three practice.

“As I said, still very open. The only one thing that is confirmed is that I will attend to the race next weekend in Alabama. Is not an oval, but I will go there to see the race behind the scenes and have the first touch with the team, to have a great atmosphere when Indy comes. Yeah, try to learn as much as possible and maybe have the help from someone or ex-drivers, like a coach or something, you know, to have as many conversations as possible in these couple of weeks.”

Alonso expanded on that during his post-race interview with Buxton on Sunday.

“Yeah I’m looking forward to it. From tomorrow, we’ll start … being in contact with Andretti’s team. Hopefully on the weekend we can see some action, meet the guys and prepare for the 500.”

There’s going to be a lot of Alonso-to-Indy stories to come over the next few weeks. Obviously, there’s going to be his arrival to Birmingham, a place fellow F1 veteran Max Chilton has hailed as “pristine” and how he takes in the environment.

Then there’s the seat fitting, the possible simulator work, and the potential of his first test day at Indianapolis separate from the rookie orientation program on Monday, May 15.

Alonso still has two more Grands Prix before the two weeks of action between that Monday and the race on Sunday, May 28. The Russian Grand Prix is next on April 30 and then Alonso will head home to Spain for the start of the traditional European races with the Spanish Grand Prix from May 14.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.