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Rolex 24: Can Fernando Alonso do at Daytona what he didn’t at Indianapolis? Namely, win?

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Fernando Alonso is going through a phase – and that’s meant in a good way.

He’s trying things he’s never done before and taking in the enjoyment and newness of it all.

Last year, it was Alonso taking part in and doing well for much of his first Indianapolis 500. He led 27 laps early in the Greatest Spectacle of Racing and appeared headed to a potential upset win before a blown motor with just over 20 laps ended his day and winning hopes prematurely.

Tuesday, the 36-year-old Spaniard was in Charlotte for a stop at NASCAR Media Day and waxed whimsically about how he might want to try NASCAR some day – but not some day soon, though.

And this weekend, Alonso will enjoy another career first, competing in his first Rolex 24 endurance race this Saturday and Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

The two-time Formula One world champion is casting a large presence in Daytona, but nowhere near as large as last year at Indianapolis.

Still, his name has drawing power that should help the overall crowd for the 24 Hours, and much like at Indy last May, he is in a car – the United Autosports No. 23 Ligier LMP2 – that could surprise with a strong run.

Even though this will be his first endurance race in a sports car, Alonso already has a feel for what’s in store this weekend, having taken part in the three-day Roar Before the 24 three weeks ago at Daytona.

He got a good handle on the difference between a sports car and an open wheel Formula One chassis. He also got a good handle on the Daytona road course layout.

And much like he did in Indianapolis, don’t be surprised if Alonso surprises with a strong outing in the Rolex 24.

“You feel the compression in the body, you feel the visibility change because when in a normal car on the circuit, your view in the car is longer ahead,” told IMSA Wire at the conclusion of the Roar. “When you are in the corner with banking you see only the next 200 meters of the track.

“But it was good fun, a good feeling after missing track time. So far, so good.’’

IMSA President Scott Atherton has quickly become an Alonso fan, both personally and also for what his inclusion in the race will do for the race series.

“I don’t remember a time in my tenure in sports car racing which goes back a long time that we’ve had an active F1 driver on the grid,” Atherton said to IMSA Wire, adding, “and to have an active F1 driver of Alonso’s credentials … is nothing short of remarkable.

“Of course, his debut at Indy last year cannot be overstated in terms of the impact it had. It created a groundswell of interest in the United States and overseas.

“It will be significant and certainly with what this race represents and uniqueness of him competing in a multi-class race over 24 hours. The dynamics of that … we all saw remarkable embrace of his ability to compete in highest level at the Indy 500 and I think we will see the same here.”

While it’s unlikely Alonso will have a repeat performance at Indy this May due to his F1 obligations, this weekend will allow him to check off Daytona from his bucket list, much like he did with Indy last year.

“You smell motor racing here,” Alonso said. “That’s a good feeling for any driver. The speedway is amazing. The size of everything is just huge. I imagine this grandstand full of people for the NASCAR race would be an amazing thing to experience.”

Alonso still has one other race to check off his bucket list, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but it’s unclear when that may reach fruition.

Much like location, location, location is key in selling real estate and buying a house, scheduling, scheduling, scheduling is the biggest obstacle for the perennial busy Alonso to overcome if he is to race at Le Mans, in NASCAR or even making a return visit to the Indy 500.

But for now, he was able to fit the Rolex 24 into his schedule and is looking forward to what he’ll experience this weekend.

“This is first time for me in an endurance race,” he told IMSA Wire. “First time for me in a prototype car. First time driving at night. First time driving with GTs around. Many new things will come. Step by step.

“That’s quite a big challenge but I’m ready to join. And as it happened in Indianapolis, if you feel great opportunity and you feel competitive, you go for it.”

Could Scott Dixon someday break Foyt, Andretti wins and championships records?

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With five races left in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Scott Dixon is in the driver’s seat to potentially earn a fifth career IndyCar championship.

After winning Sunday at Toronto, Dixon now has a 62-point edge over second-ranked and defending series champ Josef Newgarden and a 70-point lead over third-ranked Alexander Rossi.

The triumph north of the border was Dixon’s third there, as well as his 44th career IndyCar win, third-highest in IndyCar annals.

Add in the four IndyCar championships and those are stellar numbers indeed.

What makes things all the more amazing is Dixon has done all that in under 18 full seasons on the IndyCar circuit. Heck, he’s only 37 years old, too (although he turns 38 on July 22).

Dixon’s championships have come in 2003 (his first full season in IndyCar after two prior seasons in CART/Champ Car), 2008, 2013 and most recently in 2015.

The quiet, unassuming New Zealander has been one of the most successful drivers ever not just in IndyCar, but in all forms of motorsports.

When his name is mentioned, it’s typically included with the only two drivers who have more career wins than he does: A.J. Foyt (67 wins and seven championships, both records) and Mario Andretti (52 wins and four titles).

That’s a pretty lofty pair to be part of.

One might think that after all the success he’s had, Dixon could easily walk away from IndyCar and Chip Ganassi Racing and enjoy an early retirement.

But competing in and winning races isn’t really a job for Dixon. He enjoys what he’s doing so much that he easily could keep doing what he’s doing – and at a high level – for another seven or more years, at least.

So, can Dixon catch Mario and A.J.? The former would be easier than the latter, for sure.

Numerically, it’s possible – at least part of it:

* Dixon can easily be competitive into his mid-40s.

* He’s averaged three-plus wins every season since 2007 (37 wins from then through Sunday). That means if he can keep that average going, he could reach 24 more wins – to overtake Foyt – by 2026. Yes, that may be a stretch to even imagine, but if there’s any current driver who potentially could overtake Foyt, it’s Dixon.

* Dixon already has three wins this season, and with five more races still to go, he could easily win another one, two or maybe even three more in 2018 as he continues his road to the championship. And let’s not forget that with each additional win, that’s one win closer to overtaking Andretti and Foyt.

In his usual modest and humble manner, Dixon downplays not just talk comparing him with Andretti and Foyt, but also overtaking one or both.

“I think A.J. is pretty safe,” he said. “He’s a long ways ahead. … Eight (championships) is an infinity away. Takes a long time to get eight.”

But that doesn’t mean Dixon can’t keep working at approaching Foyt’s mark.

“I think for us, we take it race by race,” he said. “We’re in the business of winning races. If we’re not doing that, I won’t have a job for too long. That’s the focus for right now.”

If he wins the championship this year, he’ll pass Andretti’s championship mark. That would be one record down, three to go.

And if he can win nine more races over the next few seasons, he’ll pass Andretti’s 52 career wins, making it two records down and two more to go.

“Right now with 44 wins, next on the list is Mario I think at 52 or something,” Dixon said after Sunday’s win. “We’ll see how it goes. Right now, we’re just trying to get the job done for the team.”

And he’s doing a darn good job at that indeed – with likely even more success still to come.

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