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IndyCar notebook: Texas renewal close, McLaren/Alonso update, Dixon, Roval and more

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Catching up on some of the most recent IndyCar news after a couple of vacation days off:

Texas Motor Speedway, IndyCar “getting closer” on new agreement

Adios, Circuit of the Americas (COTA), we hardly knew ‘ya.

Rumors of the Verizon IndyCar Series adding a race at COTA in Austin, Texas for the 2019 season appear to have hit a wall.

Texas Motor Speedway and the sanctioning body are reportedly closing in on a new agreement to keep IndyCar at the Fort Worth track for what is believed to be the next three years.

“We’re getting closer,” TMS president Eddie Gossage told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We should be finished soon (on a new contract). All is good.”

However, according to the S-T, Gossage’s hope of returning TMS’s annual IndyCar race date to the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 will not happen.

Rather, IndyCar will continue to race at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park on the weekend after the Indy 500. Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources made that announcement earlier Friday.

It would appear that short of any last-minute obstacles that pop up, that TMS will continue to host the only IndyCar race in the state of Texas for the foreseeable future.

COTA has long been talked about as a possible venue to host the Verizon IndyCar Series, but TMS has held exclusive rights to IndyCar racing in Texas and will likely continue to do so.

Also, according to the S-T, TMS hopes to put tickets to its 2019 IndyCar race on sale by later this month (although no date has been announced yet).

With COTA now likely out of the picture, rumors persist that IndyCar will still add a short-track oval race at Richmond Raceway in 2019, essentially replacing another short track from 2018 that will not be on next season’s schedule, namely, Phoenix.

Rumors about IndyCar returning to Homestead-Miami Speedway appear to have faded.

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McLaren will likely be a later rather than sooner situation in IndyCar

While McLaren will likely still come to IndyCar at some point, with each passing day it appears it won’t happen in 2019.

McLaren boss Zak Brown continues to reiterate that his company will go IndyCar racing, but given that we’re nearly in the middle of August, not to mention McLaren’s floundering efforts in Formula One this season, it’s likely that expansion to IndyCar will have to be put on hold for at least one more year.

Just the due-diligence, not to mention hiring drivers and crew personnel, buying equipment, testing, etc., it appears McLaren will hold off until 2020 so that it can get its F1 house in better shape, which Brown has insisted is its No. 1 priority.

So where does that leave Fernando Alonso, whose contract with McLaren expires at the end of the current F1 season?

Initially, Alonso was expected to be the figurehead driver in the McLaren IndyCar program. But now it’s 50-50 he stays with McLaren going forward, even if it means one more year in F1 before a potential move to IndyCar.

But Alonso has other options, too.

Brown admits Alonso is frustrated at the lack of performance he and McLaren have had this season. Alonso is currently ninth in the F1 standings.

And that frustration could ultimately lead to a parting of the ways between Alonso and McLaren, something that Brown appeared to hint at in a recent interview with the Indianapolis Star.

“I think if we were more competitive, he’d definitely want to stay in Formula One,” Brown told The Star. “He’s talked about his frustrations about being in a Manufacturers’ Championship as opposed to a Drivers’ Championship.

“If you look at the race results, it’s probably a fairly fair statement (that Alonso could leave at season’s end).”

Some reports indicate that if Alonso does leave McLaren but elects to stay in F1, he may follow teammate Daniel Ricciardo to Red Bull for at least the 2019 season. However, if Red Bull is going to commit a big financial package to attract Alonso, the company would likely demand at least a two- or three-year commitment from Alonso to stay in F1.

There is another wild card that Alonso may have up his sleeve. He reportedly is so bound and determined to come to IndyCar, that he may do so with another team.

While McLaren has been linked as a potential partner with Andretti Autosport when it does come to IndyCar, that doesn’t necessarily mean Alonso couldn’t try to write his own deal sans McLaren.

If McLaren holds off until 2020 to come to the U.S., Alonso could still join Andretti Autosport as a driver for hire in 2019, much like he did when he raced for the Andretti camp in the 2017 Indy 500.

But with the Andretti camp already having Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach and Alexander Rossi, adding yet another team – without McLaren backing – could be difficult unless a major sponsor could be attracted to foot the bill for Alonso.

The Indy Star also hinted that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing may have an interest in the Spanish two-time F1 champ potentially joining the current driver lineup of Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato.

Chip Ganassi Racing, which cut its IndyCar program from four to just two drivers in 2018, may be another potential landing spot for Alonso if he cuts ties with McLaren.

Frankly, CGR could be the biggest dark horse of all in a potential bid to get Alonso.

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No news may be good news when it comes to Scott Dixon

Speaking of CGR, there has been no news on the Scott Dixon front.

But that actually may be a very good thing.

Throughout Ganassi’s three-plus decade IndyCar ownership tenure, he’s made it a policy to not negotiate in the media with drivers.

Ganassi believes in keeping things behind closed doors when it comes to new contracts, and rightly so. The last thing a potential championship team or driver needs is to have a “he said/he said” back and forth about contracts when the more important business of winning the IndyCar title is at hand.

That being said, some might say this is the perfect time for Ganassi to re-sign Dixon, given the latter is leading the IndyCar Series championship and would have one less thing to worry about heading into the season finale at Sonoma next month.

Reports and/or rumors about Dixon going to F1, or Team Penske or even sports car racing in 2019 have slowly begun to fade, leaving pretty much just one remaining possibility: re-signing with CGR.

If true, look for an announcement to come before Sonoma.

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Oh, say, can you see a Roval in IndyCar’s future?

Will Power checked out Charlotte Motor Speedway’s “Roval” this week.

While Power liked what he saw, it’s unlikely IndyCar will take to the Roval any time soon.

Designed somewhat like the part-oval, part-road course layout at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the Roval will be part of a major racing series later this season for the annual fall NASCAR Cup race at CMS.

IndyCar has not raced at CMS since 1999. But Power would be interested to see the Roval on the IndyCar circuit at some point.

“That would be a total home race for me,” said Power, who lives about 15 miles away from CMS in suburban Charlotte. “I’d love to see that, that would be awesome. But, I have no clue if that would ever happen.”

A potential rule of thumb is this: let NASCAR run at least 2-3 races on the Roval and see what happens. If the attendance numbers are promising and TV ratings are strong, don’t be surprised if IndyCar may consider racing upon the Roval in maybe 2022 or so.

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IndyCar once again will not hold season-ending awards banquet

NASCAR does it, and so does the NHRA – holding end-of-season awards banquets, that is.

NASCAR hosts its banquet in Las Vegas two weeks after the season ends, while NHRA will once again host its annual pro classes driver awards banquet in Hollywood one day after the current season concludes in mid-November.

But not so for IndyCar.

MotorSportsTalk has learned from two high-ranking IndyCar series officials this week that once again, a post-season awards banquet will not take place this year.

The last formal IndyCar post-season banquet was held in San Francisco following the 2015 season.

2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud was feted at a dinner in Indianapolis after his title-winning season, but 2017 series champion Josef Newgarden was not honored until prior to this year’s season-opening race in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Reports that a banquet would be held this year following the final race of the season were strong – until about three weeks ago, when it was announced that Laguna Seca would replace Sonoma Raceway on the IndyCar circuit in 2019.

Essentially, there went Sonoma from the future schedule, and there went the likelihood of the awards banquet, as well.

Somehow, it just doesn’t seem right that at the height of a season’s conclusion, those who worked the hardest and were the most successful, aren’t recognized for their efforts until nearly six months – and nearly 4,000 miles away — later.

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Alexander Rossi remains the story in IndyCar in 2019

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”