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

INDYCAR: what drivers said after Pocono

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Here’s what drivers said after Sunday’s 14th race on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule – the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – WINNER: “I had a few issues during the race but we just kept coming back. Full credit to the team. We had a great car and we just kind of hung there and saved fuel and when it was time to go, I went. I was so determined and I really wanted to win. This is my 13th year in a row of winning races and I have been thinking about that. I just wanted to win a race for Verizon and these guys who have worked their butts off all year and just haven’t had the results.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished second: “Definitely gets exciting in that situation. We definitely had some luck. Today the car went through some good changes. The car was pretty quick.  Not sure really what happened on the last stint there. We put more front wing in there, more pressure on the right rear tire. Couldn’t turn the car. We were running 213, 214 (mph), struggling to do 208. So much understeer. Will was definitely extremely strong today. It was good to see him get another victory this season. Had we gone back out, even with headlights on, I think Will was going to take the race. Congrats to him and Team Penske. We’ll keep our head down and see what we can come up with for the last three races.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet) – finished third: “Well, it’s a great day. Very happy for Will and Team Penske to get another win here in Pocono. It’s pretty awesome. I think we showed our cars were the strongest today. Overall it’s a pretty good points day for us on the 22 car this weekend. Obviously, yes, I did think we could have done a little better. At least we would have tried. I think we had the car to do so… Who knows what would have happened, but I think we could have challenged at least. At the end of the day it’s not a bad day. We’ll take it. Go to the next one, keep pushing.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda) – finished fourth: “This weekend has been pretty amazing to have over 120 people here, from family and friends to sponsors and to race in front of such a large crowd. Hats off to the whole team, we rolled the car off the trailer and it was fast. I’d say that’s a job well-done and homework well-researched. The No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda was on rails. I think we definitely had a top three in us and we were fighting for a chance to win the race at one point. Obviously with the conditions and everything, I’m still happy to bring home a top-five. It makes a huge difference in the rookie championship and moves us up to 12th overall. With three races to go and one more oval, we’ll see how much further we can move up.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished fifth: “It was kind of an interesting day, but it could have been worse. It was sort of like qualifying yesterday where qualifying got rained out but we started on the pole. We didn’t finish this race but we finished fifth. We’ll take it. I wish we could have been a little bit higher, but I think Will (Power) was going to be tough to beat today. He looked very strong. Certainly towards the middle of the race I thought he was looking very good. We fought with what we had today and I thought the Hitachi Chevy was pretty good. Coming out of here with a decent finish allows us to now focus on the last three events. We just need to set our sights on Gateway next weekend and execute. I think we will have a good car. I always feel confident with Team Penske, and Team Chevy has been pushing hard, so I’m looking forward to it.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 SONAX Chevrolet) – finished sixth: “We needed a decent run. We DNF’ed at Iowa, which wasn’t good. I feel like we have been performing better this year, we just haven’t really been able to put it together. It was nice to be in the mix, racing with the guys you need to race with to be up there fighting for wins. I wish we could have seen out all 500 miles, but Pocono always has its own craziness when it comes to the weather. Hopefully, all of the fans got to their cars before they got too wet. I thought it was a really good turnout today, it was a fun race while we were out there. It was unfortunate to see guys kind of lose their minds a bit there at the start, but all in all it was a fun day and nice to be moving forward.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda) – finished seventh: “It was a strong run for the No. 18 SealMaster Honda. We were quick and I got up to fourth at one point. I think we deserved that position. It was kind of a broken up race and unfortunately, on the last restart, the guys in front of me checked up and I got swallowed up and lost four positions. I got one position back, then the race was stopped because of the weather. I think if the race continued we would have finished better than seventh, but that’s racing.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished eighth: “Good day for us, another top 10. We have a few things to improve still but we’ll take it from where we started. We had a competitive car all weekend. The goal was to finish in the top 10 and we finished eighth, which is my best result of the year. It’s a good energy boost for the boys.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 TOTAL Honda) – finished ninth: “We need a little more pace. We were a little slow on the straights for some reason, but we’ll keep digging into it. I had a bad restart (went from fifth to ninth), but it wasn’t that bad actually. I was pulling up on the guys in front of me, but I just got driven around and was in a position where I was a little bit of a sitting duck and lost a bunch of spots and that killed our race from then-on, frankly. We were scrambling just to get ourselves back in position. I had another good restart later and went from 13th to ninth and made some of those spots back up.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Carlin Chevrolet) – finished 10th: “First and foremost, I’m glad that everyone is OK from the incidents on track today. Secondly, I’m just really proud of this Carlin crew. We made great progress with the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet in superspeedway trim and we learned a lot after coming here last year. The racing at Pocono Raceway is really tough, but these guys just kept their head down and made it happen. I made a mistake in the first pit stop, but we were able to run our strategy and get a really good run going. To come away with a top-10 finish from a very challenging weekend where we didn’t get to qualify is really a credit to the entire Carlin team. It was really great to get that top-10 finish in front of all of our Novo Nordisk guests who made the trip out to the track to support us and also to round out the top 10 with a bowtie for Team Chevy.”

CONOR DALY (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): – finished 11th “After where we started at the back of the field, to finish 11th is awesome. It’s unfortunate though, because we were really just starting to get to the point where I was happier with the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet. The last few laps before the final red flag, we were the fastest car on the track, so we were definitely moving in the right direction. We were catching all of the people in front of us and starting to get to where we needed to be, but these 500-mile races are long and the goal is to be strong at the end, which I really felt like we were working toward that for sure. To be 11th is really good and it’s another strong finish for this group of people here at Carlin. Hopefully we can keep this momentum going into Gateway and that’ll be even more fun.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) – finished 12th: “It was a tough race. I thought I had some really good starts and restarts; we made up positions there. Unfortunately, throughout the race we were struggling a bit with the balance of the car throughout the stints, so I was struggling to keep up with the pace with the guys ahead or behind us. I thought at one point there after the second restart and we were up to P5, the day was looking to potentially be really good. Just a tough race trying to hang on and make the best of it. We learned a lot and the Arrow SPM guys did a great job with stops, but disappointed we didn’t have a better result than that.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) – finished 13th: “Thirteenth obviously isn’t where we wanted to finish – but all things aside, it was an OK day for us. Just lacking overall grip, I think as a team, but we moved forward from our starting spot – which with qualifying being canceled hurt us. I’m thankful for all the work the guys did. Honestly, walking away 13th isn’t what we want, but we did all we could and I’m proud of that. We’ll go to Gateway and have a better result.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 14th: “The car was good. The stops were perfect and I think we had a good strategy. We went a lap down cause we had too much vibration in one of our tires, so we had to stop early and that was it from there.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 US Concrete / Curb Honda) – finished 15th: “Mainly, I’m just glad everyone walked out OK after the wreck on the start. I had an issue with one of my head pads coming out and we lost some time fixing that. Beyond that, the car had a big imbalance and by the time we got that resolved, we were a lap down. There wasn’t much we could do, and it made for a long day. Looking ahead to Gateway and working to finish the season strong.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda) – finished 16th: “The No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda guys gave me a great car for the ABC Supply 500, I think we had one of the better cars on track today and definitely a better car than where we finished. It’s unfortunate that we got into the wall there. It’s very disappointing. I know we’ll be able to rebound next week at Gateway. I really like racing there and I’m excited to compete under the lights.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Autogeek Chevrolet) – finished 17th: “That was a frustrating end to the day, we hit a bump in Turn 1 and it caused something to break on the front of the car. From then on, I was just a passenger and went straight up into the wall. I had no steering at that point, unfortunately. We were running pretty comfortably there in seventh and the car was feeling pretty good. We had lost touch with the group in front but I felt like we had a solid car. I feel bad for everyone at Ed Carpenter Racing, we have a race again next weekend and now there is a lot of extra work to do.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda) – finished 18th: “Obviously, I didn’t get a good start – so that’s on me. But we were three-wide; Ryan was on the inside, I was in the middle and Takuma was on the outside. I can’t even begin to understand how after last year Takuma thinks that any sort of driving like that is acceptable. To turn across two cars, at that speed, in that corner at a 500-mile race is disgraceful, upsetting and may have cost us a championship. It’s upsetting. This team works too hard to have something like that happen. The whole team worked tirelessly to get the 27 car back on track. Once we got out there, the car just didn’t have the handling we needed so we held on to make up as many points as we could. Unfortunately, the weather came, and the race was called one lap before we could gain another spot. We have a couple days to rebound and go for race wins now – that’s all that matters.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – finished 19th: “The opening lap wreck was ridiculous and thank God everybody was alright. It’s so unfortunate at the beginning of a 500-mile race. The car was good yesterday and we just needed to put together 500 clean miles. The DHL car deserved to be fighting for a win today. We did all we could do after coming back out. The guys did a great job; unbelievable effort in getting the car turned back around. But we were really loose in (Turn) 3, and it turned out we had holes in the underwing from the crash. The last thing we want to do is be a risk out there and damage more equipment, so we got the points we could and came in just before the weather hit.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda) – finished 20th: “It unfolded in front of us. We had a pretty good start with the No. 5 Arrow car. We were heading into Turn 2 kind of three-wide, and I knew that wasn’t a good idea, so I backed out. I thought I was actually gonna save us because it happened in front of me. I couldn’t see exactly what started it, but then the wreck sorta moved down to the inside… I was able to slow down, but it just slid out to where I was. There was nowhere I could go. It sucks. I mean it wasn’t too hard a hit, so glad everybody is ok. It’s a 500-mile race, I don’t know how many times we have to do this before people figure out that you can attack all you want, but it doesn’t give you a chance to win if you are in the fence.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) – finished 21st: “First of all, I am worried about Felix. Hopefully he is OK. I am sorry for all the guys fighting for the championship. Ryan and I were obviously racing at the exit of Turn 1 and it looks like Alexander had a slow start. We both went right and left (of Rossi) and I thought it was all clear. All the (track) seams also are putting the car really easy to get the lane change and everybody gets close. Unfortunately, it looks like we made contact for that.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT Data Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 22nd: “First of all, it’s good to see that I’m cleared from the medical checks. Just with minor back pain and some headache. Hopefully I should be back to normal in a couple of days. A big thanks to the INDYCAR track staff and medical staff, did an awesome job looking after everything. Luckily the other drivers are OK as well, I think that’s the main thing. A shame that we were caught out already on lap one. I think we had a good car today. Good to see Scott being up there all day. Good points for him, probably throwing him up there in the championship hunt. Looking forward to get back in the car in Gateway.”

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