Veteran engineer Pappas to join forces with Graham Rahal at RLL (UPDATED)

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One of the most experienced and successful engineers in the IndyCar Series paddock will have a new home in 2014.

Bill Pappas, who has worked with some of the top teams in the sport in his 25+-year career, is heading for Rahal Letterman Lanigan to work as the race engineer for Graham Rahal and his No. 15 Honda. Neil Fife had been serving in that capacity since late July following RLL’s re-assignment of Gerry Hughes as its head of development.

“I’m very pleased that Bill is joining us,” said team co-owner Bobby Rahal in a statement. “His track record and expe­ri­ence is really second to none and I feel that he can provide a big benefit to the team and Graham.”

“I’m very honored to be offered an oppor­tu­nity to be a part of Rahal Letterman Lanigan, working for Bobby and helping Graham reach his poten­tial,” Pappas said in his own thoughts.

Pappas most recently served as the race engineer for Justin Wilson at Dale Coyne Racing over the last two seasons. That partnership yielded a surprising victory in 2012 at Texas Motor Speedway and a sixth-place finish in the 2013 championship on the strength of four podiums and 13 Top-10s.

This afternoon on Twitter, Wilson said he was “sad” to lose Pappas as his engineer but that he understood his decision:

Now, Pappas will look to raise the fortunes of Graham Rahal and the No. 15 camp, which never found a regular competitive rhythm this past year as they earned just one podium finish (Long Beach) in 19 races.

“I’m excited that Bill is joining the team,” said Graham. “He brings not only a wealth of expe­ri­ence and [Indianapolis] 500 wins as well as others, he can really help take our team and engi­neering staff to the next level.

“I’ve known Bill a long time. We have had oppor­tu­ni­ties to work together before but it just didn’t fall into place until now.”

Pappas served as engineer for Juan Pablo Montoya when he won the 2000 Indy 500, and has collaborated over his career with a veritable Who’s Who of North American open-wheel drivers such as Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Sr., Jimmy Vasser and Gil de Ferran among others.

Reports: Fernando Alonso to test on September 5 at Barber Motorsports Park

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According to a number of media stories Thursday afternoon and evening, two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will reportedly test an Indy car at Barber Motorsports Park on Wednesday, September 5.

The 2.38-mile permanent road course just outside Birmingham, Alabama, per those stories, will play host to Alonso as he reportedly tests with IndyCar’s Andretti Autosport team and Honda.

Honda Performance Development (HPD) President Art St. Cyr issued a statement late Thursday afternoon about Alonso’s reported upcoming test:

“Fernando Alonso is one of the premier racing drivers of this generation, and we very much enjoyed working with him at the 2017 Indianapolis 500.

“He has shown that he can be very competitive right off the bat, and it would be great for IndyCar if he were to decide to drive here full-time after his F1 career. Having Alonso as a driver would be an obvious benefit for any team or manufacturer.”

However, St. Cyr’s statement also included a reference to Honda potentially not being able to field a new engine for Alonso in the IndyCar series in 2019.

“Our engine lease agreements are made between HPD and specific teams,” St. Cyr’s statement said. “Several of our current IndyCar Series teams already have agreements in place with HPD for the 2019 season, and we have been operating near maximum capacity all year long to properly provide powerful, reliable engines for all of our teams.

“We have had discussions with several current and potential teams for 2019, and those discussions are ongoing.”

Rumors of Alonso potentially racing for a hybrid operation that would include Andretti Autosport, McLaren and Harding Racing have been picking up speed. But there’s one potential major hurdle: Harding’s Dallara’s are powered by Chevrolet engines.

Alonso announced earlier this week that he’d be retiring from Formula One at season’s end, saying he’s looking forward to new adventures.

Because of his loyalty to McLaren, it’s increasingly looking as if Alonso comes to IndyCar, McLaren will have some involvement – although perhaps not as much as it potentially could do if it went all-in with a full-time effort immediately in 2019.

There is no word whether Chevrolet or Harding Racing could potentially be on hand at the Sept. 5 test at BMP, even in just an observation role.

Since being part of the winning team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June, Alonso’s desire to become only the second driver to win motorsport’s triple crown – the Monaco Grand Prix, Le Mans and the Indianapolis 500 – has increased exponentially.

He’s already won the first two; just a Indy 500 triumph remains on his bucket list.

The late Graham Hill is the only driver to have accomplished the triple crown feat to date.

Alonso, who turned 37 on July 29, has made just one prior IndyCar start, in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. He led 27 laps of the 200-lap event and appeared to have a car strong enough to win before it suffered engine failure with 21 laps remaining.

Instead of what likely could have been a top-five finish, if not a win, Alonso’s first foray into IndyCar racing ended disappointingly with a 24th-place finish.

In addition to being courted by IndyCar, NASCAR has also jumped into the Alonso sweepstakes, saying he’d be welcome to race in the 2019 Daytona 500.

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