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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.

MRTI: Toronto digest

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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Last year’s visit to the streets of Toronto for the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires proved to be a pivotal point in the championship chase that year.

Kyle Kaiser swept both races in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, and doing so gave him firm control over the championship, and he all but clinched it ahead of the season finale at Watkins Glen – Kaiser needed to only start that event to wrap up the title.

And in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, while Parker Thompson swept the weekend, Oliver Askew was caught up in a crash in Race 2. Combine that with a second place finish from 2017 title rival Rinus VeeKay – VeeKay also finished third in Race 1 – and it kept the championship within reach of VeeKay, who took it all the way to the finale at The Glen.

The 2018 visit north of the border will likely be remembered for a similar impact on the MRTI championships, both in Indy Lights and USF2000 and, maybe most significantly, in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires.

A look at big stories to emerge from a wild weekend on the streets of Toronto is below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia scored a much needed win in Race 2 on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia’s championship hopes were teetering entering the weekend – he was 49 points out of the lead and had been vastly overshadowed by title combatants Pato O’Ward and Colton Herta for most of the season. But, his Race 2 victory combined with a second place in Race 1 to close him to within 40 points of O’Ward for the championship lead. He’s still a bit of a long shot, but his chances look much brighter leaving Toronto than they did entering.
  • More significantly, Colton Herta’s title hopes may have taken an enormous hit. After crashing in Race 1 qualifying, just after grabbing the pole as well, Herta suffered a thumb fracture that he aggravated again after crashing during Race 1. It forced the team to recommend Herta essentially sit out Race 2 – he pulled off after running only a couple laps and finished sixth – and he dropped to 18 points behind O’Ward, who won Race 1 and finished second in Race 2. The margin is hardly a commanding one for O’Ward, but with the next stop at the ultra-physical Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Herta’s injured hand could remain a factor in the coming races and allow O’Ward to widen the margin.
  • One can’t help but feel bad for Victor Franzoni. Coming off the high of winning his first Indy Lights Race at Road America, Franzoni’s season took a turn for the worse. He crashed in Race 1 and then pulled off in Race 2 in order to conserve finances and resources – Franzoni detailed afterward that the budget is tight for him this year and crash damage from Race 1 does him no good. It would be a genuine shame if Franzoni’s season was derailed by funding issues, as the likeable Brazilian has made great progress all year and has the potential to make it as a Verizon IndyCar Series driver. He just needs the backing to get there.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay now trails Parker Thompson by only seven points in the Pro Mazda championship. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • No Mazda Road to Indy Championship was shaken up as much as Pro Mazda. Parker Thompson entered the weekend with a sizeable lead of 46 points over Rinus VeeKay. He exits the weekend only seven points ahead after finishes of eighth in both races – he was involved in a crash in Race 1 and made an unscheduled pit stop after thinking he suffered suspension damage in Race 2. Meanwhile, VeeKay dominated the weekend, winning from the pole in both races. It all means that what was once looking like a possible runaway has been all but reset. And we might see a genuine duel between them all the way to the season finale at Portland International Raceway.
  • There are few words to describe the relief everyone felt in seeing Harrison Scott walk away unhurt after his frightening airborne crash in Race 1. This was the first major crash test in a race for the Tatuus PM-18, and it aced it. And big kudos should also be given to the AMR Safety Team, who were already tending to Scott barely a few seconds after his car had come to a rest. Scott did start Race 2, but pulled off with a mechanical problem…which seems minor in comparison to what could have happened in Race 1.
  • Oliver Askew had his best race of the year in Race 2, finishing second to VeeKay for his second podium of the season. It’s been a tough year for Askew and Cape Motorsports after winning last year’s USF2000 title, and getting a podium under their belt could be just what they needed heading into the season’s stretch run.

USF2000

Kyle Kirkwood continued his USF2000 dominance on the streets of Toronto. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • After another weekend sweep, Kyle Kirkwood has one hand on the USF2000 championship. He leads Kaylen Frederick by a staggering 131 points – that’s over four road course races worth of points. He may well leave Mid-Ohio as the USF2000 champion. And even if he doesn’t, it would take something unheard of to keep the championship from his grasp.
  • Kaylen Frederick sits second, only three points up on Igor Fraga. Fraga had his best race since Race 2 on the streets of St. Petersburg, when he finished second, and he nearly outdueled Kirkwood for the win in Race 2. Both he and Frederick have caught fire of late, and their battle for second is very evenly matched.
  • Don’t count out Rasmus Lindh in the battle for second in the championship either. The Swedish driver is seven points behind Frederick and scored his third podium of the year by finishing third in Race 2 at Toronto. Second is well within his reach.

The Mazda Road to Indy is off this weekend before heading to Mid-Ohio, where Indy Lights and USF2000 again have double headers, while Pro Mazda will enjoy a triple header.

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