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F1 star Fernando Alonso gets taste of Indianapolis oval

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) With ticket sales soaring for the Indianapolis 500 in anticipation of his first start in the race, Formula One star Fernando Alonso hit the Brickyard on Wednesday for his first drive around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

After IndyCar driver Marco Andretti set up the No. 29 for Andretti Autosport, Alonso strapped into the bright orange Honda and hit the track and ran several laps, moving gradually past the 200 mph threshold to near 210 mph before heading to the pits.

“He only has 20 mph to go,” IndyCar legend Mario Andretti said. “He’s getting the feel of it. He’s doing exactly what he needs to do. The experience that he has should dominate, but the anxiety is still there.”

The Spaniard will attempt to run the Indianapolis 500 later this month, and hopefully, some day, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He’s on a quest to win what’s considered the Triple Crown of racing. That includes the Monaco Grand Prix, which he’s already won. This bid at Indianapolis requires him to master new cars and racing styles.

“Fernando is coming in with a team that’s certainly fresh with winning this race,” Mario Andretti said. “He’s placed exactly right. I think I feel what he’s feeling right now.”

Alonso, whose 32 F1 wins rank sixth all-time, has competed before at Indianapolis, but on the road course set up for the U.S. Grand Prix. He waited patiently for his turn behind the wheel while Marco Andretti ran several laps to get the car set up.

“You just need to make sure it stuck for him to get confidence,” Marco Andretti said after exiting the car. “He’ll have to learn by fire. He’s asking the right questions. He’ll be fine. He’s a race car driver. I think he’ll leave today pretty confident. He’s going to be spoiled after today, that’s for sure.”

Alonso drives for struggling McLaren in Formula One. He will be the sixth entry for Andretti Autosport at Indy in a partnership with Honda and McLaren. The 35-year-old has begun preparing for Indy by testing on a simulator, where the walls aren’t so intimidating and there’s no traffic to negotiate.

Speedway president Doug Boles said Alonso’s planned appearance in the race has sent ticket sales trending higher than all but one of the last 20 years.

“It’s been great for the momentum and excitement,” Boles said. “Fans from all over the world … began buying tickets. It’s great for the brand.”

More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org

Top Fuel driver Austin Prock earns 2019 NHRA top rookie honors

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Having just completed a promising first year in NHRA Top Fuel competition, Austin Prock is on the road to even greater drag racing success in his career.

That’s why it’s not surprising that Prock was named the winner of the 2019 Auto Club Road to the Future Award during Monday night’s annual NHRA Awards dinner at the Ray Dolby Theater in Hollywood, California.

The Road to the Future Award is NHRA’s version of Rookie of the Year, and Prock was among the brightest young stars on the circuit this past season, including winning his first national event at the Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in suburban Seattle, the 16th race on the 24-race schedule.

What made that first win all the more sweeter is it came at the same event that his boss, legendary 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, captured his milestone 150th career win.

One month ago, Prock set a personal best run of 3.688 seconds at 334.40 mph over veteran driver Doug Kalitta in the first round of eliminations at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals three weeks ago in Ennis, Texas (suburban Dallas).

“I am proud of the season this Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist team put together,” Prock said in a media release. “My guys worked their asses off all season long to give me the opportunity to win the Auto Club Road the Future Award. I couldn’t have done it without them.

“I would have never been here without John Force and Robert Hight (president of John Force Racing). They gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream and I owe the world to them. I hope I made them proud.”

Prock became only the 10th rookie in the history of the NHRA pro ranks to both win a race in their first season and also go on to win the Road to the Future award. He also was the 13th rookie in the sport’s history to qualify for the Countdown to the Championship, NHRA’s six race playoffs.

Prock becomes the sixth John Force Racing driver to earn the Road to the Future Award, joining Tony Pedregon (1996), Hight (2005), Ashley Force-Hood (2007), Mike Neff (2008), Courtney Force (2012) and Brittany Force (2013).

Austin Prock is the son of veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock, who tuned Hight to his third career NHRA Funny Car championship this past Sunday.

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