DiZinno: Alonso’s test proves overkill, occasionally, is good (VIDEO)

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It’s been said before that watching testing is the racing equivalent of watching paint dry. The days are long, arduous, monotonous and more often than not, boring.

Calls to televise or stream test days are often met with a shrug or “you’re kidding” from the production staff. The reasoning is that there’s a lot more behind-the-scenes work that goes into putting the cameras up, getting the feed live and paying the production costs than is worth the ROI. You’re lucky if you hit four digits worth of people on site for a test day.

Which then makes what happened yesterday both all the more staggering, and all the more impressive.

Tens of thousands of people around the world stopped what they were doing, or multi-tasked the hell out of their days, to watch a test that wasn’t even a full test. It was one car and one driver only.

This, indeed, is the true power of Fernando Alonso and what his star power is bringing to this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

And it’s the first tangible, statistical measure that Zak Brown and McLaren’s gamble to bring the two-time World Championship-winning Spaniard over to America for a shot at the race on Alonso’s own request will indeed pay off in metrics.

Photo: IndyCar

The day began first with a social media blitz to reveal the car’s livery, similar to what McLaren did for its F1 launch in the middle of the night in February earlier this year. The drama was whether this time, with a rare second chance to get it right, McLaren would actually nail the proper color of papaya orange. These are the key details… clearly.

But the livery launch worked. Already, the buzz was going with the car going for a simpler look than the busy, Arrows or Spyker-esque, knockoff orange and black that adorns the McLaren MCL32 Honda on the Formula 1 grid this year.

That came with the full photo shoot, Alonso, the car and helmet now having been revealed in full kit to the world to know what he’d be wearing when the stream started.

Photo: IndyCar
Photo: IndyCar

The anticipation built. Before the test had even started and NBCSN’s Kevin Lee moderated the live stream, posted on INDYCAR’s YouTube and Facebook channels in addition to embeds via IMS and the IndyCar Race Control website, as well as simulcast here via the NBC Sports App, the YouTube feed alone had 34,000 viewers watching Lee host while Mario Andretti and Johnny Rutherford were adding insight and telling stories, while pitching back-and-forth with Robin Miller on pit lane.

Even in an absolute best-case scenario of 15,000 fans on site at Phoenix this past weekend for a race – and the number was likely much lower than that – that was already at least double the number of people paying to watch a race in the grandstands than were watching in whatever clothes they had on at their home or work to watch Alonso’s first crack at the Speedway, on the Internet. And that was just the YouTube figure, to say nothing of Facebook and our NBCSN feed here, which only adds to the numbers.

The number, like Alonso’s speeds as he got more comfortable, grew greater. It surpassed the 50,000 watching threshold, where it stayed most of the rest of the day. It exploded past 75,000 not long after Marco Andretti had completed his shakedown run in the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry and Alonso was set to take over for his first running.

By the end of the day, INDYCAR had sent a message saying its Facebook Live streaming coverage had attracted more than 1 million views and 800,000 unique viewers. A total number of more than 2 million hits was achieved between the YouTube and Facebook numbers. It was entirely unique circumstances, but no less staggering.

And it says something about the quality of the IMS Productions presentation and the presenters on screen – which had to have come together quickly as word this test would be streamed was only announced to the world on Monday, with NBCSN’s late add confirmed on Tuesday – that the number of viewers continued to escalate with anticipation rather than going down.

F1 teams chimed in on Twitter, even as the official F1 Twitter account was conspicuously silent.

Mercedes, Renault and Sahara Force India were but several that joked they wouldn’t dare think of releasing news now, for Alonso, McLaren and Honda – and for once, IndyCar – was winning the racing Internet.

Joking hashtags began to emerge beyond the official one of #AlonsoRunsIndy. The overkill of Alonso-mania was in full tilt.

And yet for every amount of snark offered asking how much Alonso was too much Alonso, the amount of disappointment (and justifiably) that Stefan Wilson doesn’t have a ride as a result of this, and the cries over whether a NASCAR star or the Taylor brothers might have been better for metrics, there was positivity ringing out to drown on the doubters.

Positivity? Numbers? For an IndyCar live stream?

The overkill was justified. Because for a one-day, one-car, rookie test, it had to be.

With no disrespect to the other three confirmed rookies in this year’s field, Ed Jones, Zach Veach and Jack Harvey – the last of whom is actually one of Alonso’s teammates – none has the name recognition or appeal beyond the most ardent, diehard of IndyCar fans who’ve paid explicit attention to the Mazda Road to Indy and Indy Lights where all three have won races and in Jones’ case, a championship. Where they could afford to feel aggrieved today was in seeing Alonso practice some of the procedural items – pit lane entry off Turn 4 and yellow flag simulations being two examples – since those aren’t official parts of ROP.

Alonso, however? He’s a rookie in name only, same as Kurt Busch was years earlier. He had the eyes of the F1 world watching along with the IndyCar world. And if Wednesday proved anything, it’s that the number of eyeballs from that aforementioned F1 world were locked in in a laser-focus unlike anything IndyCar could begin to generate from its own.

But while Wednesday was awesome from an overkill standpoint, with Alonso dominating all the stories, all the headlines and all the videos, the challenge from here is ensuring the overkill does not supersede the rest of the month – and how Alonso fits into it.

Photo courtesy of IMSA

As a similar and recent example, Jeff Gordon ran this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona as part of the Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi-V.R with the aforementioned Taylor brothers, Ricky and Jordan, and the retiring Max Angelelli. Gordon’s name, inevitably, drew headlines from beyond the specialist sports car media that covers the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship full-time, which was a good thing… except that it wasn’t.

By Gordon’s presence existing at the Rolex 24, it allowed the focus for some to be only on Gordon instead of fitting Gordon into a greater editorial plan. And perhaps, that’s by design. However the story of the Taylors’ win was not about Gordon’s presence in the car, but rather it was the Taylors’ breakthrough after years of heartbreak and in particular, Ricky Taylor’s star turn on his own. And with three other class winners, including Chip Ganassi’s Ford GT in its second straight 24-hour race and two youthful lineups in the pro-am classes, there were plenty of other great stories to write as well.

Alonso actually said it well yesterday in the post-practice press conference when he described how he fits into the overall sphere of the race.

Photo: IndyCar

“At the moment I’m coming to have a great experience, that’s for sure. You cannot lose that perspective and that target. It’s one of the best races in the world and you’re one of the 33 drivers on the grid. After that, when you close the visor on Sunday or in qualifying, you don’t like when you are in second.

“It’s the same in every sport. NBA players, they’re doing the playoffs. Sure they enjoy they’re in, but if they lose the game, they’re trying to recover for the next day. First priority is to enjoy the experience and the event, but we are all competitive drivers. We are here to do the best we can.”

Alonso is one of 33 drivers. He is the mega star in this year’s race and provides a massive bump to the race’s worldwide interest, but he is not the only story line. We’ve had four winners in four races to kick off the year, plus we have at least six past Indianapolis 500 champions in the field.

Over the course of this month, ensuring Alonso doesn’t hog the spotlight but is highlighted along with the stars of the full-season championship, and his other trio of rookies, will be key to the overall success of this race beyond May itself.

Alas, Wednesday was his day to be singularly under the spotlight, because no one else was there to take it away.

Photo: IndyCar

Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean to launch cookbook

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Haas Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean may be one of the sport’s most promising talents on-track, but he also has a burning passion off it: cooking.

Grosjean may have been spent a good part of this year cooking his brakes, but you’ll now be able to cook bakes instead…

F1’s resident foodie is set to release a cookbook alongside wife Marion Jolles in the coming weeks, as announced on his Facebook page.

Grosjean currently sits 13th in the F1 drivers’ championship with 18 points to his name, helping Haas to match the points total from its debut season after just 10 races in 2017.

Mercedes F1 engine chief warns against underestimating Honda

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Mercedes Formula 1 engine chief Andy Cowell has warned against underestimating the threat of Honda despite its ongoing power unit struggles, tipping the Japanese manufacturer to bounce back in the near future.

Honda returned to F1 as a manufacturer in 2015, supplying V6 turbo power units to the McLaren team, but has struggled for either performance or reliability through that period.

The struggles have led McLaren – currently sat bottom of the constructors’ championship – to consider cutting ties for 2018 given how far adrift compared to the other three engine suppliers Honda has been.

Mercedes has been the benchmark for engine performance since the change in regulation for 2014, but Cowell feels that Honda could make up ground quickly, with the removal of the token system for 2017 helping performance to converge through the field.

“I think collectively we’ve helped with convergence in Formula 1 in the opening season, performance development through the year,” Cowell said.

“But then the opportunity to do a big change with Honda coming in, we all agreed that Honda could have that same opportunity to change everything in the first year and then the request came from manufacturers in addition to Honda saying ‘please can we take this crazy token table away because it’s bad for the sport?’

“It’s bad if somebody can’t train to get better and so we agreed, yeah, take the table away because it’s better for the sport because it means that you can innovate, you can introduce whatever you like.

“I think none of us should underestimate the technical prowess of Honda and of McLaren and I think my money is on that combination coming good and coming good pretty quickly. No pressure…”

Williams happy to ‘hold off’ on 2018 F1 driver decision

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Williams is happy to “hold off” on making a decision on its Formula 1 driver line-up for 2018 as it focuses on improving its on-track displays after a tough start to the season.

Williams currently fields Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll, a mix of experience and youth, but has failed to keep up with midfield front-runner Force India through the first half of the year.

Force India sits fourth in the constructors’ championship with more than double the points of Williams, who leads a tight-knit group down to Renault in eighth place, 15 points adrift.

While Stroll looks set to continue with Williams and Massa has hinted he may look to continue through to 2018 despite initially planning to retire at the end of last season, deputy team boss Claire Williams has confirmed that no decision about next year’s line-up will come any time soon.

“There’s a lot of talk already isn’t there, about drivers across the paddock. For us, we’ve decided we’re going to hold off a bit on our driver decision,” Williams said.

“We’ve got a fight on our hands on the race track at the moment and to be distracted by those kinds of conversations isn’t something that we want to be happening at the moment.

“[Force India’s] got a nice points haul on us at the moment we need to focus on, rather than anything else.”

Nico Rosberg visits Stanford University, considering study options

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2016 Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg is considering study options at Stanford University after visiting the college earlier this week as part of his tour around California.

Rosberg sensationally announced his retirement from F1 just five days after winning his maiden world title last November, wanting to spend more time with his young family.

The German has been enjoying his retirement, recently embarking on a tour of Silicon Valley and California that saw him hold meetings with electric car giant Tesla, among other companies.

In a video posted to his Twitter account on Sunday, Rosberg spoke warmly about a visit to Stanford, revealing that he is considering some study options in the near future at the historic institution.

Rosberg was previously offered a scholarship to study engineering at Imperial College London when he was younger, only to turn it down in order to embark on a racing career. He also reportedly holds the highest ever score on Williams’ engineering aptitude test.

Should Nico sign up to a course at Stanford, we imagine he’d take things one class at a time…