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Column: Could Alonso’s win at Le Mans be final check box before coming to IndyCar?

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By being part of the winning premier team in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Fernando Alonso not only made a statement, he also potentially ratcheted up predictions about his future.

His Le Mans win adds to two previous Formula One championships and two wins at Monaco. Sure, he competed in the 2017 Indianapolis 500, but fell short of taking the checkered flag.

And with so many rumors already in the web-o-sphere that Alonso and McLaren will be moving to the Verizon IndyCar Series next season, Sunday’s Le Mans triumph only furthered the likelihood that he will soon put places like Monaco, Melbourne, Shanghai, Singapore, Spa, Suzuka and Abu Dhabi in his rearview mirror for good.

Next likely destination in 2019: places like Indy (again), Texas, Sonoma, St. Petersburg, Long Beach and Toronto straight ahead for the soon-to-be (July 29) 37-year-old Spaniard.

If Alonso does make the move to IndyCar, it would not be for publicity or glory. Rather, it’d be about competition. After winning the F1 crown twice, and now having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, there’s not a whole lot new for Alonso to accomplish.

With the exception of within IndyCar, that is.

Coming up short at Indianapolis in last year’s 500 likely still gnaws at him. He also took part earlier this year in his first-ever Rolex 24 At Daytona.

What better way to do something he has never done than to win an IndyCar championship, as well as an Indy 500 victory and potentially adding a Rolex 24 to his triumph at Le Mans.

He’d also have the potential of joining a very elite class of drivers that have won both the F1 and IndyCar titles, including Nigel Mansell, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jacques Villeneuve and Mario Andretti.

Up until the time Alonso won Le Mans, it was anyone’s guess if he would come back to the U.S. to take on the best in the IndyCar Series.

But now, he has everything to gain and essentially nothing to lose. Officials with McLaren, the team he drives for in F1, have hinted just as strongly as Alonso has that it will also come to IndyCar in the near future, perhaps as early as 2019.

What’s more, McLaren’s boss, Zak Brown, founded the former Just Marketing Inc., one of the premier motorsports marketing firms (acquired in 2013 by Chime Communications Limited), that is still based in Indianapolis and has a number of IndyCar drivers and sponsors as clients.

Brown has just as much incentive to return to Indy and the IndyCar Series as Alonso. Brown is the money man and Alonso is the guy behind the wheel.

It’s a marriage that makes total sense for everyone involved.

And if it does happen, everyone also becomes a winner, including Brown, Alonso, IndyCar and particularly IndyCar fans. How many of the latter would love to see Alonso compete in IndyCar on a regular basis against the likes of defending Indy 500 winner Will Power, defending IndyCar champ Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe and so many more of today’s stars in the sanctioning body.

Even though his F1 championships came in 2005 and 2006, Alonso showed last year in the 500 that he still has plenty of talent left in his gas tank. And, to a point, he may be more suited for IndyCar racing than he still is in F1.

You could also make an argument that after 298 races, 32 wins and 97 podium finishes, maybe Alonso has grown tired of the F1 grind. Why else would he want to try his hand at Indy last year, the Rolex in Daytona this year, as well as this past weekend’s first-ever effort at Le Mans?

He welcomes new things, things he has never done before. Ergo, IndyCar is right in his wheelhouse, so to speak.

Up to this point, Alonso has been rather coy about whether he would consider coming full-time to IndyCar. He’s alluded to when the time and timing MIGHT be right.

He’s also said he still has a commitment to McLaren in F1 – at least through the remainder of this season.

But that’s not a guarantee by any means.

Yet with the win at Le Mans, the needle may have finally moved a few notches closer for Alonso coming to IndyCar, Indy and the like. He may have checked off the final check box he needed to before making a career change.

Let’s put yourself in Alonso’s place and think about this: If you’ve done everything there is to be done, you’re racing for a F1 team that is a mediocre seventh and nearly 100 points out of first place in the standings still with nearly two-thirds of the season remaining, and you haven’t won an F1 race in more than five years (2013), wouldn’t you be primed for a change?

Do you stay the course and hope and pray that a miracle will turn things around (likely won’t happen this year), or do you finish the F1 season and move on to what could be a promising second career overseas?

The choice is fairly obvious.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NBC to air more than 100 hours of IMSA racing in 2019

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Beginning January 26, 2019 with the 57th annual Rolex 24 at Daytona, NBC will air more than 100 hours of exclusive coverage of the IMSA Sports Car Championship across their platforms.

NBC Sports will present 12 races across NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app throughout 2019. In addition to the 24 Hours at Daytona, race highlights include the 12 Hours of Sebring from Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Florida, on March 16; the Grand Prix of Long Beach from the Long Beach Street Circuit on April 13; and the penultimate race of the season from WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, on September 15.

“We couldn’t be more excited to begin our IMSA coverage with the 57th running of the iconic Rolex 24,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports and NBCSN in a press release. “As the home of U.S. motorsports, we’ll showcase the uniqueness of IMSA racing to motorsports fans everywhere, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the association throughout the upcoming season.”

More than 40 hours of will be broadcast on NBCSN with live coverage of the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Laguna Seca and season finale Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta showing on NBC.

MORE: IMSA Reveal 2019 schedule

Coverage of the 24 Hours of Daytona will get underway Thursday, January 24 at 2 p.m. ET with a season preview on NBCSN. That program will be followed by live coverage of qualification for the race from 3 to 5 p.m. ET as a world class group of drivers lock in their positions for the annual twice-around-the-clock endurance race.

The preview show will re-air Saturday as a lead-in to live coverage of the 24 Hours, which will kick off a 2 p.m. ET.

“As we all get ready for IMSA’s much-anticipated 50th anniversary season in 2019, our new NBC Sports media partnership promises to promote and showcase our unique premium product in revolutionary ways,” said IMSA CEO Ed Bennett. “Both IMSA and the WeatherTech Championship have been experiencing incredible momentum the last several years and this partnership should only help elevate the sport to new heights.”

NBC will be the exclusive home for IMSA beginning in 2019 as part of a six-year partnership between the two organizations.

The season concludes with live coverage of the Motul Petit Le Mans on Oct. 12 from Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia.

All races will be live streamed to authenticated subscribers on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.