Column: The sooner Fernando Alonso (hopefully) comes to IndyCar, the better

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Following Fernando Alonso’s announcement Tuesday that he will retire from Formula One racing at the end of the current season, ongoing speculation about his potentially racing in the IndyCar Series in 2019 immediately increased exponentially.

But will he?

There’s no question that the entire IndyCar community would welcome the Spanish two-time F1 champ with open arms.

There’s also no question that Alonso has unfinished business in the series after almost winning the 2017 Indianapolis 500 before being beset by mechanical problems late in the race.

After winning at Le Mans in June, capturing the second part of the three-legged triple crown of motorsports, Alonso has said countless times since then that winning Indy is on his bucket list, to become only the second driver in history (Graham Hill was the first) to win Monaco, Le Mans and Indy.

But as much as millions of race fans would love to see Alonso come to the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time in 2019, he has other options that he may pursue first.

MORE: Fernando Alonso to retire from F1 at season’s end; could IndyCar be next?

I do think he’ll be at Indy again (perhaps in another one-off start in the 2019 Greatest Spectacle In Racing). But given the turmoil at McLaren, which needs to get its F1 house right first before it moves to IndyCar, I suspect Alonso may hold off on coming to IndyCar full-time until 2020.

There’s several reasons:

  1. He has great loyalty to McLaren. Even though he’s retiring from driving for them in F1, he’s been front and center about wanting to drive in IndyCar for them as well, not necessarily driving for another existing team.
  2. McLaren will likely not come to IndyCar full-time until 2020. That gives Alonso the opportunity to do a number of different things behind the wheel in 2019 that perhaps he’s always wanted to. In addition to racing at Indy, it’s a good likelihood we’ll see him once again at the Rolex 24 Hours in Daytona, competing in the World Endurance Championship, and maybe even doing some go-karting (his other racing love). Heck, even NASCAR tweeted (below) today that they’d love to see him at the Daytona 500 – and win it, as well.
  3. Sure, Alonso would be nearly two years older by the time McLaren would potentially come to IndyCar full-time in 2020, but the afore-mentioned loyalty and familiarity with the organization – even with its struggles in recent years – could prompt Alonso to be willing to stay at the altar for as long as necessary until the McLaren marriage to IndyCar is finalized.

On the flip side, Alonso still could come to IndyCar full-time next season and do so with any number of teams. First would be Andretti Autosport, for whom he raced at Indy last year. The question is whether they could add a fifth team that would have adequate sponsorship to run Alonso.

Second, Rahal Letterman Lanigan has expressed interest in Alonso joining the fold with Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato. Again, sponsorship would be a significant element.

Third, Scott Dixon is a longtime friend of Alonso. Countless media reports and rumors over the last several months linked Dixon and Alonso together in any number of scenarios, including the pair racing in F1 for McLaren, or racing together in IndyCar for McLaren (most likely in partnership with another team such as Andretti Autosport).

Now that Dixon is signed, sealed and delivered to stay at Chip Ganassi Racing for the next few years, there’s the potential of Alonso still hooking up with Dixon, albeit with CGR instead of a McLaren IndyCar effort.

More than anything, Alonso would be good for the sport any way you slice it. It would give IndyCar greatly increased notoriety worldwide. Remember “Fernando-mania” and “Alonso-mania” and how much attention was focused on him and IndyCar in May 2017? If Alonso becomes a full-time IndyCar driver, that same kind of attention and notoriety would once again become a global entity multiplied by 17 or 18 races in a season.

You can’t buy that kind of worldwide attention.

Mark Miles, President and CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is among those who hope Alonso is in the IndyCar fold in 2019.

“Today’s announcement certainly has fueled excitement among INDYCAR fans who hope that Alonso will compete throughout the championship in 2019,” Miles said in a statement. “McLaren is working to put all the necessary arrangements in place, and we are supporting their efforts. I don’t expect this to be resolved until closer to the end of this year.”

During a Tuesday afternoon media conference call, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was one of Alonso’s teammates with Andretti Autosport in the 2017 500, praised the possibility of Alonso coming to IndyCar full-time.

“That would be great, absolutely,” Hunter-Reay said. “I’ve been saying it for a while, this series is the most competitive series in the world, no doubt. You cannot name who is going to win each race. There are no favorites. There’s a long list of winners even from this year. You have a really tight championship.

“It would be appealing to me, if I were him. I spent time with him as his teammate. He’s as hungry as ever to win. I think IndyCar is a great spot. IndyCar stock continues to rise for that reason.”

Even though his personal statistics over the last several years have been dismal – his last win was in 2013 and his last podium finish was in 2014 – it’s because McLaren hasn’t given him competitive equipment. Even the organization’s top officials admit it.

But Alonso is nowhere near done as a driver. Having just turned 37 three weeks ago (July 29), Alonso could be an immediate hit on the IndyCar circuit, both competitively as well as for the attention he’d draw.

Let’s face it, it’s no secret that Formula One and NASCAR are hurting in both at-track attendance and TV ratings. IndyCar, on the other hand, is on the upswing in pretty much every measurable category.

IndyCar is hot – and Alonso coming onboard would only make it hotter and more appealing to open-wheel racing fans not just in the U.S. and the rest of North America, but globally, as well.

Alonso could also be the linchpin to potentially seeing IndyCar once again racing overseas, perhaps in England or Germany or even his native country of Spain.

And let’s not forget the potential of Australia, Brazil, Japan and Colombia, among other countries that would likely welcome IndyCar to (or back to) their native lands.

Alonso has the potential to go from a reputation as a former two-time F1 champion to the most important person in IndyCar – and in very short order.

And also let’s not forget a potential future IndyCar champion at least once, but potentially two or three times.

Honestly, if Alonso does come to the series, I can’t wait to see him go head-to-head and wheel-to-wheel with guys like four-time series champion Scott Dixon, defending series champ Josef Newgarden, reigning Indy 500 winner Will Power and so many more on a race-to-race basis.

Simply put, Alonso coming to IndyCar would be a win-win for everyone: the series, opposing teams, NBC and most importantly, race fans. For F1, meh, maybe not so much.

Singlehandedly, he could help transform the series into what open-wheel racing was like and how popular it was back in its hey days of the 1980s and into the 1990s.

We’re ready for @Alo_Oficial. The welcome mat is on the ground and the door is wide open. It’s just a matter of him stepping forward.

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IndyCar Preseason, Day 1: Simon Pagenaud on why he likes teasing Josef Newgarden

Newgarden Pagenaud feud
Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A roundup of nuggets from the opening day of preseason IndyCar Content Days for media that lead into two days of preseason testing Thursday and Friday at The Thermal Club, starting with a playful “feud” between former teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud:

After making a point to needle Newgarden during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (when he was warned for being deemed to have caused a spin by the car driven by Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Pagenaud laughed about why he likes poking at his ex-teammate at Team Penske.

“I just love to press the button with Josef,” Pagenaud said. “I just love it. I’m being very open about it. I think he knows it, too. It’s funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I don’t know why. It’s funny.”

They scrapped a few times as Penske teammates. Pagenaud notably was hot after a 2017 incident at Gateway during Newgarden’s first season with the team, but he later backtracked and blamed it on his French blood.

Pagenaud says all is good between now – though he also admits with a devilish grin that he’s taking advantage of the freedom from leaving Penske last year.

“Absolutely, yeah. I couldn’t do that before,” he said with a laugh about teasing Newgarden. “I would get in trouble.

“Yeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

“Do I love the driver? Not always, but I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go press it a little bit.”

When he was informed of the sardonic comments (Pagenaud asked reporters to make sure they relayed that he enjoyed passing Newgarden in the race) after his first stint at Daytona last weekend, Newgarden took a shot back.

“He doesn’t get many opportunities these days, so I’m sure he enjoyed that,” Newgarden said. “Take them when you can get them. There’s so much happening I don’t even remember half the stuff that happened when I was out there. Hey, he’s a big note-keeper, that guy.”

Pagenaud, who is winless since 2020, conceded that point Tuesday at IndyCar’s media session.

“I will do better this year,” he said. “But I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year.

“But certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s tremendous. I mean, he’s one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward. But I like my résumé better than his.”

For the record, Newgarden has one more IndyCar championship than Pagenaud but is empty in the Indy 500 win column compared to the 2019 winner at the Brickyard.

During his Rolex 24 availability, Pagenaud also took playful aim at the “Bus Bros,” the branded social and digital content that Newgarden and teammate and buddy Scott McLaughlin have been producing for nearly a year.

“Apparently they hang out together all the time,” Pagenaud cracked. “They’re ‘Bus Bros.’ Do you guys know what this is, the ‘Bus Bros’ thing? Have you watched it? I should start watching it.”

Newgarden and McLaughlin are scheduled to appear together on the second day of the preseason media event at the Palm Springs Convention Center, so stay tuned for the next round of snark.


Pagenaud is among many drivers enthused to get acclimated to The Thermal Club, which is a $275 million motorsports country club of sorts.

But for the Frenchman, Thermal represents more than just a chance to tune up for the 2023 season. Pagenaud, who made his first visit to the desert track three years ago after winning the Indy 500, is thinking about his long-term future.

“It’s actually something I’m really interested in for my future but in another life,” he said. “I love the concept. Actually before my IndyCar career, I was on a project like that myself in France. I was going to build something similar. I had the backing, I had everything going on, but my career took off. I had to give up on the project.

“But it is something I’ve always been interested in. My dad used to run my home racetrack. I had access to it, so I could see how that was going.

“I always had a passion for it because it’s a way to allow the fans to get closer to the car, allow the sport to be more known to the general public. There’s so many things that you can do with a racetrack, not only for races, but so many people that can come to bicycle races, you can have runners do a marathon. It doesn’t have to be just racing. It can be events. I’m into that. I’ve always been. Certainly when it’s time to stop driving, it will be something that I’m interested in, yes. That’s maybe 20 years from now.”


Felix Rosenqvist returns for his third consecutive season at McLaren, the longest stint with one team for the Swede since 2014 in F3.

But he finds himself somewhat in a similar position to last season when his return was uncertain for months during the Alex Palou-Chip Ganassi Racing saga. Palou is back with Ganassi but still expected to join the team in 2024, and with Rossi and O’Ward on long-term deals, Rosenqvist would be unable to stay unless the team added a fourth car.

He is taking it all in stride with the same grace in which he managed last season’s uncertainty.

“I think I handled it probably as good as I could,” Rosenqvist said of last year. “That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year. I think it’s a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year. I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, there’s so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.

“I think we’ll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example. I feel like we’ve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can.”

Rosenqvist is winless since his breakthrough victory over O’Ward at Road America in 2020. Ending that skid certainly would improve his prospects, but he isn’t worried.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “That’s a long time until next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team. I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”


After being frozen out of remote access to team data last year, Palou said his working relationship at Ganassi is “back to 100% like it was before from both sides.” The 2021 series champion said he had full privileges restored after he closed the season by winning the finale at Laguna Seca Raceway and then settled on staying with Ganassi a day later.

He is allowed to continue his F1 testing with McLaren, too, though IndyCar will be the priority in-season.

“It was a tough year,” said Palou, whose contract dispute lasted for two months. “Could have been a lot worse, for sure, than what we had but also could have been a little bit better if we didn’t have anything around in our minds. It’s a part of racing.

“I’m just happy that now we know that even with things in our minds, we were able to be successful. Hopefully, we can be back to 2021 things during this season. Yeah, obviously there’s always some moments (in 2022) where you’re like, ‘Oh, no, my God, this is not going the direction I wanted.’ But there was things that were out of my control, obviously. Some things that I could control, as well. But at the end of the day I had all the information from my side, from other sides. I knew that everything could be settled, and it did.”


Pato O’Ward unplugged from the racing world for six weeks during the offseason, ensuring he was fully recharged when the new year arrived.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the past few years,” said O’Ward, who tested an F1 car in 2021 and then went right into preparing and racing (then winning) the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona. “I said, ‘I want at least six weeks. Don’t talk to me, don’t text me, I don’t want to hear anything.’ It’s healing. It’s very healing.

“As much as you love what you do, you need to find a balance of just doing something else. I always tell people, there’s a huge difference between relaxing and recharging. How I recharge is doing things I don’t normally do during the year. Just being at the beach to me is my favorite thing to do after driving race cars. I made sure that I had that kind of time to just enjoy my loved ones. After I was finished with that, I was like, ‘OK, race cars now.’ ”


Marcus Ericsson is planning on a long future with Chip Ganassi Racing, and the 2022 Indy 500 winner seems well-positioned to become the team’s anchor driver if he can maintain last season’s consistency.

Jimmie Johnson has been replaced by the Marcus Armstrong-Takuma Sato combination, and Alex Palou is leaving after this year.

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, 42, is Ganassi’s unquestioned dean until his retirement, but Ericsson clearly is interested in the mantle after that.

“I’m feeling very much at home in the team,” said Ericsson, the Formula One who is entering his fourth season with CGR. “I’m super happy about that. I wish to stay for a very long time, as well. There is some uncertainty with other places maybe in the future, but Dixon seems to be just getting better and better. He might be here for another 10 years or so, who knows.

“But that’s great. Me and Scott, we work really well together. I can still learn a lot from him. I want to be here for a long time and win races and championships together.”

The Swede had a droll response when asked if no longer being the only Marcus will get confusing in Ganassi debriefs. “Yeah, it is; I’m angry,” Ericsson deadpanned. “I think we’re OK. He seems like a good kid. He has a good name.”


Following in the footsteps of Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard from F2 to IndyCar, Armstrong is OK with deferring his F1 dreams to run road and street courses as a rookie in 2023. The New Zealander grew up as an IndyCar fan rooting for Dixon, his boyhood idol and fellow countryman.

“I’ve been watching him on TV since I was a kid,” Armstrong, 22, said. “It’s cool because IndyCar is massive where I’m from because of him. I’ve always been so attracted to this championship. Of course, I spent my entire life chasing F1. You can never say ‘never.’ If I’m honest with you, I’m happy where I am now. It’s a dream come true.”

Armstrong hopes to move to full time in 2024 and believes being aligned with a powerhouse such as Ganassi will give him an opportunity to post strong results immediately (just as Ilott and Lundgaard had flashes as rookies last year).

“I’ve been genuinely impressed by the organization, just the strategic point of view that Chip Ganassi Racing has, it’s really quite remarkable,” he said. “I can understand why they’ve had so much success. I think fundamentally I need to get on it straightaway. I have all the information in the world, really. I just need to hit the ground running, do well immediately.”


In among the wildest stories of the offseason, rookie Sting Ray Robb revealed he landed his ride at Dale Coyne Racing because he ran into Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist at PitFit Training, a physical fitness and performance center used by many drivers in Indianapolis.

Lundqvist was the presumptive favorite for the DCR No. 51 Dallara-Honda, which was the last open seat heading into the 2022 season. Because of his Indy Lights title (since rebranded as “IndyNXT”) with HMD Motorsports, Lundqvist had a six-figure sponsorship to bring to an IndyCar team, and DCR is partnered with HMD.

“There was a few teams that we were talking to, and Dale’s team was not the one that was at the top of the list because we thought they already had a driver,” Robb said. “Obviously with Linus winning the championship, we assumed with the HMD association there that there would be a straight shoe-in for him.

“But I actually was at PitFit Training one day with Linus and discovered that was not the case. That created an opportunity for us that allowed me to call up my manager, Pieter Rossi, and get him on the phone, and he immediately called Dale and said, ‘Hey, we’re available.’ I think there was a mutual understanding of what availability was for either one of us. That’s when conversations began. Then we had a really good test in 2023 right at the beginning of January, and I think that was kind of the one that set the tone that allowed me to get in the seat.

“I think there’s been some opportunities that were miraculously created that we couldn’t have done on our own.”

Robb, who finished second in last year’s Indy Lights standings, hasn’t talked to Lundqvist since their PitFit meeting.

“Linus does deserve a seat” in IndyCar, Robb said. “His on-track performance was incredible. But it takes more than just a driver to get into IndyCar. You’ve got to have a village around you that supports you, and so I think that that is where my group made a difference. It wasn’t just in my performance, but it was the people around me.

“I feel bad for Linus because as a driver I can feel that way towards him because I could be in that seat if I didn’t have those same people around me. So there you go.”