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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.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).