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Alonso: ‘Indianapolis weeks the highlight of the year for me’

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Fernando Alonso’s week of diversity has taken him to Bahrain, testing a Toyota TS050 Hybrid, his native Spain, testing a United Autosports Ligier JS P217 Gibson at Motorland Aragon, and finally back to Abu Dhabi this week for the Formula 1 season finale with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in his McLaren Honda.

But it was the fourth car he drove this year, the McLaren Honda Andretti Dallara DW12 IndyCar in May, that Alonso ultimately called his season highlight of his abnormal but surreal 2017 campaign.

The two-time Formula 1 World Champion’s bow at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil was the shock announcement of the spring, and the month and a half whirlwind that followed made for one of the international racing stories of the year, if not the decade.

Alonso quickly adapted to IndyCar and oval racing, making his impact during the race after qualifying fifth, leading 27 laps and being in contention right until his Honda engine failed him with just over 20 laps remaining in the 200-lap race.

Speaking to NBCSN Friday in the Abu Dhabi pre-race edition of “Paddock Pass,” Alonso reflected back on all he’s driven this year and immediately hailed the Indianapolis adventure as his season highlight. Alonso’s portion starts below at 6:13 in the clip, following a look at Pirelli’s range of 2018 compounds.

“I’m quite happy with this year,” he told NBCSN’s Will Buxton.

“As I’ve said before, the Indianapolis weeks were definitely the highlight of the year for me. I did really enjoy participating there, and discovering the event. I will not be next year but I will be in the future again. Overall I will remember 2017 with a smile.”

As for Alonso’s hectic last week-plus, he didn’t mention either the Toyota or United drives by name (from a Toyota standpoint, he can’t per his McLaren Honda contract through the end of the year – nor could the Toyota team officially refer to Alonso in its social media postings, as my colleague Luke Smith explains here) but did say the variety posed a wealth of different challenges.

“I did enjoy it,” he said. “Obviously every car was quite different, quite different driving styles an quite different performance on it. It’s part of the challenge. It’s part of being a better driver, and learning from the drivers that have that machine every day of their life. It was interesting, and I’m looking forward to the next chapter.”

Ever the renaissance man, Thursday also saw Alonso announce an eSports racing team called FA Racing-G2 esports team, supported by LogitechG, details of which he shared below on Twitter.

And on Friday, Kimoa announced it would become the official surfwear of McLaren – Kimoa is Alonso’s sports clothing line.

As for his day job – and it says something about his F1 season that we come this far in this post before getting to it – Alonso has a chance to score points for the third straight race for the first time this season this weekend.

A 10th in Mexico and 8th in Brazil has lifted his season total to 15 points scored, now two clear of McLaren Honda teammate Stoffel Vandoorne for 15th in the driver’s standings. This is the final weekend of the McLaren Honda package before Renault power units come on board from 2018.

Sebastien Ogier in driver’s seat for sixth straight World Rally Championship title

Sebastien Ogier leads the way in the WRC title chase. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) — Thierry Neuville finished the sixth stage of Rally Australia on Friday without a rear left tire, damaging his chances of catching five-time defending champion Sebastien Ogier for the World Rally Championship title.

The Belgian driver entered the rally just three points behind Ogier in the closest title fight in 15 years.

He held the upper hand on his French rival, building a near-10 second gap through the first five stages at Coffs Harbour before hitting a chicane and finishing the stage with only three tires on his Hyundai.

Neuville was fortunate the puncture occurred late enough in the day to finish all six forestry stages and avoid a retirement. But the mistake cost him 40 seconds and gave Ogier, who is 33 seconds ahead of him, a clear run at his sixth straight championship.

In his last start with Ford before a move to Citroen next year, Ogier struggled as the first to drive the dusty, slippery forest routes.

“I pushed like crazy, I was on the limit over the jump and everywhere, I can’t do (any) more,” Ogier said. “I was on the limit.”

With Ogier on sweeping duties the back markers flourished, and Mads Ostberg took the lead in his return to the series.

Ostberg was forced to miss the previous round in Spain to make way for rally winner and nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb, who was making the last of his three guest appearances for Citroen.

Now back in the seat, Ostberg leads Jari-Matti Latvala by 6.8 seconds in the Australian rally, with sixth-stage winner Craig Breen in third.

Ogier was seventh, 38.2 seconds off the pace, but only needs to finish ahead of Neuville to claim the championship title. Neuville is in 10th place after six stages.

Roles will reverse on Saturday, with Ogier to start further back in the field and do his best on cleaner roads to make up the day-one deficit before Sunday’s final stages.

Andreas Mikkelsen, the 2016 Rally Australia champion, was an early dropout after rolling into a ditch in his Hyundai. Mikkelsen had only just avoided a tractor that had found its way onto the course.

Former winner Molly Taylor and co-driver Malcolm Read were also forced out of their event when their Subaru hit a hay bale at high speed on the morning’s second stage. Both reported soreness but suffered no serious injuries.

The 24-stage rally totals 319 kilometers (197 miles). Ten stages are scheduled Saturday with the final six on Sunday, most of them through forests on the New South Wales state’s north coast about 530 kilometers (325 miles) north of Sydney.