Brown expects ‘positive conclusion’ to Alonso contract status soon

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Although no deal has been struck yet, McLaren’s Zak Brown is optimistic to have a new contract in place for Fernando Alonso to continue with the team soon.

The two-time Formula 1 World Champion has made no secret of his desire for McLaren’s power unit situation to improve, and with the team now having confirmed its 2018 switch from Honda to Renault at the Singapore Grand Prix weekend, getting Alonso’s contract sorted alongside Stoffel Vandoorne is the next course of action.

Brown expects to have a contract completed in the not-too-distant future and with Alonso set to feature at the FIA Press Conference on Thursday, the potential exists that a contract could get sorted this week.

“We’ve been close for some time,” Brown told U.S. reporters in a pre-United States Grand Prix teleconference.

“We wanted to get the Asian swing out of the way and our new power unit partner in place which is now done… (so) I expect we’ll have a positive conclusion to our plans with Fernando here in not too long.

“He’s in the FIA Press Conference on Thursday. We have to get a deal done before anything is announced.”

Brown indicated a McLaren Indianapolis 500 bow is less likely in 2018 and more likely in 2019, following this year’s shotgun marriage that saw McLaren, Andretti Autosport and Honda all work together with INDYCAR to provide Alonso a shock debut at this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Any new contract for Alonso would provide for one-off race exceptions on a “case-by-case basis,” Brown said, which doesn’t come as a surprise.

“We have not signed any contracts, so until a contract is signed I don’t know what will be in or out,” Brown said.

“Fernando has a desire to win the Triple Crown as we all know. He’s a pure racer who would like to race every weekend and has a desire to race other races. It’s something we’re certainly open to doing with him when and where appropriate.

“We’re also open-minded to allow him to compete in other races on a very limited basis if the scenario is complementary to his Formula 1 efforts, and not detrimental to his Formula 1 program.

“What we wouldn’t allow is to run in multiple racing series. But like Indy, if there’s the occasional one-off, on a case-by-case basis we’ll allow him to do that.”

Such a one-off scenario, if not Indianapolis next year, could be in sports car racing.

Brown’s United Autosports team has at least one and highly likely two Ligier JS P217 prototype entries set to race at next year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona, with newly crowned FIA Formula 3 European champion Lando Norris and Philip Hanson that team’s first two named drivers.

Brown expressed interest for both McLaren to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans as well, as has Alonso, although the regulations now don’t have a place for McLaren’s 650S GT3 or 570S GT4 car. United Autosports made its Le Mans debut this year in the LMP2 class with its European Le Mans Series regular trio of Will Owen, Hugo de Sadeleer and Filipe Albuquerque.

Le Mans does not conflict with the F1 calendar in 2018 as the 24-hour race falls between the Canadian and French Grands Prix, on June 16-17, 2018.

“Le Mans is something we’re looking at,” Brown said. “The rules right now, with what the ACO and Le Mans organizers are working on the future rules so it’s something we’re participating in meetings as a manufacturer. Le Mans is of interest but whatever rules they land on need to be a good platform. We’re monitoring and participating (in these discussions) with interest, but it’s premature to make a final decision.

“On Indy, never say never but I’d say it’s less likely than more likely (for 2018). When we go back to Indy, not if, we need to go with the same competitiveness and fanfare that we created we did this year. We set a high bar, and that won’t be easy!

“We’re not going to Indy just to go. We have to go with a shot to win and in a high profile manner. Sitting here today, we’re so focused on Formula 1. So we expect to be at Monaco with a very competitive race car.”

Times for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix on the NBC Sports networks are linked here.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”