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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

Are you a racer looking for the fountain of youth? Try NHRA drag racing

Photos courtesy NHRA
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It used to be that many of the big-name race car drivers routinely raced into their 50s, most notably in NASCAR.

Richard Petty raced until he was 55. The late David Pearson was 54 when he last raced in NASCAR.

But these days, we’re seeing the majority of professional racers calling it quits in their early-to-mid 40s – like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and most recently, Jamie McMurray.

But that’s not the case for competitors in the National Hot Rod Association. Like fine wine, it seems that the kings of the drag strip only seem to get better and more successful with age.

To them, the “r word” is not “retire,” it’s “reaction time.”

Consider many of today’s stars in the NHRA and their respective ages:

* Funny Car legend John Force will turn 70 in May. And while he hasn’t won a championship since 2013, Force remains one of the biggest forces – no pun intended – in the sport.

Fellow Funny Car drivers still seemingly in their prime include Ron Capps (53 years old), Jack Beckman (52), Tim Wilkerson (turns 58 on Dec. 29), Cruz Pedregon (55) and Gary Densham (62).

* In Top Fuel, the winningest driver and record eight-time champ Tony Schumacher will turn 49 on Dec. 25. Those already on the other side of the 50-year-old line include Clay Millican (52), Doug Kalitta (54), Terry McMillen (64), Billy Torrence (60) and Cory McClenathan (turns 56 on Jan. 30).

Chris Karamesines

And let’s not forget the oldest active drag racer on the NHRA professional circuit (albeit part-time rather than full-time), Chicago native Chris Karamesines, who is still racing a Top Fuel dragster at 300-plus mph at the spry young age of 87 years old!

Yes, you read that right, Karamesines is 87 – but could easily pass for 67 – and he has no intention of retiring anytime soon.

* Ironically, the slower Pro Stock class is not as well-represented in the 50-and-over group as is Top Fuel and Funny Car, with only two regulars who have passed the half-century mark: four-time champ Greg Anderson (57) and Kenny Delco (65).

But that 50-and-above fraternity will add at least one other member next year when former champ Jason Line turns 50 on July 24. And five-time champ Jeg Coughlin Jr. will turn 50 in 2020.

Jerry Savoie

* Even the easy riders of Pro Stock Motorcycle have several 50-and-over competitors: Scotty Pollacheck (turns 50 on Feb. 8), 2016 champ Jerry Savoie (turns 60 on Feb. 23), Karen Stofer (54), Steve Johnson (turns 58 on Jan. 19) and Hector Arana (60).

Granted, drag racers don’t have the same grueling time spent behind the wheel. Their average run lasts from just over 3.5 seconds to maybe eight or nine seconds.

And unlike driving 400 or 500 laps or miles as in NASCAR, a full four-round race during Sunday eliminations for NHRA racers adds up to one whole mile – or less.

Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers only go a distance of 1,000 feet per run, while Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle go a full quarter-mile (1,320 feet) in their respective runs.

In a sense, hitting the 5-0 mark or higher has become somewhat of a fountain of youth for several racers.

For example, Capps won his first career Funny Car crown in 2016 at the age of 51.

The same year, Savoie won his first career PSM title at the age of 57.

And Force won his most recent Funny Car title in 2013 at the age of 64.

Force has already gone on record to say that he wants to become the first major pro champion to win a title at 70 years old – which would also become the 17th championship of his illustrious career as the winningest driver in all NHRA history.

He gets a chance toward doing just that when the 2019 NHRA season kicks off at Pomona, California, on Feb. 7-10.

Follow @JerryBonkowski