Montezemolo reacts to Mercedes praise by calling Alonso “best driver in the world”

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Luca di Montezemolo has reacted to comments by Mercedes and Fernando Alonso by calling the Spaniard “the best driver in the world” and blasting those linking him with a move away from Maranello.

For some time now, the rumor mill has gone into overdrive suggesting that Alonso could leave the team after failing to win a world title since joining in 2010. In Spain, an interesting story broke suggesting that he could move to Mercedes. All parties denied this, and, as I wrote last week, it seems pretty improbable.

Earlier this week, though, Mercedes chairman Dieter Zetsche openly praised Alonso, and the Spaniard was more than happy to receive such positive feedback.

“It’s always welcome when people see your job in a good way, and respect what you try to achieve,” he said in Monaco. “It’s sometimes strange to see good comments and compliments from people from outside, and the opposite from people who are supposed to be close to you.”

In reaction to this final comment, Montezemolo has today been quoted in a statement on the Ferrari website heaping praise on the two-time world champion.

“Fernando is the best driver in the world, who always gives 200% in the races,” the Ferrari president explained. “He knows how much I count on him, even away from the race track, in terms of his contribution and the impetus he gives to the team.

“I think it’s incredible that there are still some so-called experts who don’t understand that and are always looking for a polemical situation that simply doesn’t exist.”

Montzemolo admitted that the car has not been good enough of late, and has began to take steps to bring Ferrari out of the doldrums after going over one year without a win.

“The truth is that he and Kimi [Raikkonen], another incredible driver, need a competitive Ferrari and giving them that is our sole objective.

“We are working very hard, starting with Marco Mattiacci, who knows what needs to be done and who will instigate many changes at a technical and organizational level and in speeding up the decision-making process.

“That’s what I want, as do our drivers and our fans, while all the rest is just idle chat.”

Alonso was famously quoted last year as saying that he wanted “someone else’s car” for his birthday, prompting a rebuttal from Montezemolo. Quite whether all is right at Ferrari is unclear, but both Alonso and the team will be focused on enjoying a successful weekend in Monaco for the time being.

Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?