IMSA: Lexus’ Robert Alon placed on probation after hairpin crash

The No. 86 Acura, No. 96 BMW and No. 15 Lexus all collided at hairpin on last lap. Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Robert Alon overachieved in his first full season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship last year in the Prototype Challenge class, winning several poles and a couple races with the PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports team.

But as a rookie within the intensely competitive and deep GT Daytona class, Alon made a rookie mistake on the final lap of Saturday’s 100-minute BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach.

Alon, in the No. 15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3, misjudged his braking point in a three-wide passing attempt that triggered a three-car accident with further ramifications for others within both GT classes.

The GTD results changed and additionally, the GT Le Mans class results got switched when the then-class leading No. 3 Corvette C7.R was blocked in at the hairpin, and unable to get out.

As Alon’s car contacted Jeff Segal’s No. 86 Michael Shank Racing Acura NSX GT3 and Jens Klingmann’s No. 96 Turner Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 in a battle for fifth in class, Alon speared into both of them, which put Klingmann’s BMW hard into the wall and Segal’s car the meat in the sandwich. The BMW, Acura and Lexus were classified a lap down in ninth, 10th and 11th in GTD.

IMSA has on Tuesday placed Alon on probation for the accident, a statement of which is below:

No. 15 GTD driver Robert Alon has been placed on probation for the next three IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship events for his role in an incident in Turn 11 on the last lap of the April 8 race in Long Beach, California.

Alon was determined to have violated Rule 30.6 (unjustifiable risk) of the 2017 IMSA Sporting Regulations & Series Supplementary Regulations for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

The chain-reaction incident promoted the sister Lexus, the No. 14 car started by Scott Pruett and finished by Sage Karam, up to sixth in class. That car had been rebuilt following Pruett’s accident in Friday practice and started from the rear of the field.

Karam had been fighting TRG driver Wolf Henzler for seventh in class, defending against the German Porsche factory driver, behind the three drivers that crashed at the hairpin. The Karam/Henzler battle inadvertently affected the overall leader as Ryan Dalziel was boxed in trying to lap them within the final six minutes. Dalziel lost the lead as Jordan Taylor seized his opportunity to go around to the outside of the GT traffic, then cross over the track to pass Dalziel on the outside.

Lexus did not release a quote from Alon after the race. Karam described his view of the hairpin mess from his spot:

“On the last lap I came to the hairpin and there was a big jam and I guess our sister car, the 15 (Robert Alon), got in an accident up there,” Karam explained. “I went through and the safety guy was just casually waving the yellow flag and I didn’t know how bad it was. I didn’t know where the cars were and it was on the outside and I didn’t have enough steering to get through, so I ended up running into the back of Rob (Alon). Then the Acura runs into the back of me and pushes me over Rob and I kept going and that’s how we got to the finish. If I didn’t get hit, I probably would’ve been in that jam as well. Overall sixth place is a good result for the team so we’ll take it and move on to Texas.”

Segal came up to Alon after the race and was less than pleased, if still diplomatic afterwards.

“We were just chipping away and picking off positions and were looking at a top-five [finish], and I was pretty content to take those [championship] points,” Segal said in a team release. “I’m just gutted for the team. We have a torn-up race car and nothing to show for it. I don’t understand the [other driver’s] decision-making process, to wipe out three perfectly good cars for sixth place. Someone from the other team will have to explain that to me, but we’ll focus forward on the next one.”

Meanwhile Karam and Sean Rayhall, another young American driving talent, got into a Twitter spat Monday afternoon as Karam attempted to defend his teammate, Alon, after the hairpin incident. Karam later deleted all tweets except one to summarize his thoughts, while Rayhall posted his version of a “walk-off” tweet.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”