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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.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.