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

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Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso announced today that he will retire from racing in the series at the end of the current season.

Alonso, who captured back-to-back F1 championships in 2005 (becoming the youngest driver at the time to do so in F1 annals) and 2006, will end his overall career and a four-year stint with McLaren, an organization that has struggled for results and performance over the last few seasons.

Alonso, 37, is in his 17th full-time F1 season, having made his debut in the global series in the 2001 Australian Grand Prix. He currently sits ninth in the standings with just 44 points, compared to series leader Lewis Hamilton’s 213 points.

Alonso, a native of Oviedo, Spain, has made 303 career starts in F1, capturing 32 wins, 97 podium finishes and 22 poles.

However, he has struggled miserably at times, particularly over the last five seasons. His last win came in 2013 and his last podium finish came in 2014.

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

In addition to his two championship-winning seasons while racing for Renault, Alonso also finished runner-up in the 2010, 2012 and 2013 seasons, and ended up third in 2007.

“After 17 wonderful years in this amazing sport it’s time for me to make a change and move on,” Alonso said in a statement. “I made this decision some months ago and it was a firm one.

“There are still several grands prix to go this season, and I will take part in them with more commitment and passion than ever.”

Alonso has been strongly rumored to potentially compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series starting next season.

He reportedly was going to drive for a McLaren-owned team — or a potential partnership between McLaren and an existing IndyCar team such as Andretti Autosport — but those plans appear to have fallen through as McLaren recently announced it is committed and focused first and foremost on improving its lot in F1.

McLaren boss Zak Brown said in a statement that Alonso is “the pre-eminent driver of his generation.”

“There is a time for everyone to make a change and Fernando has decided the end of this season to be his,” Brown said. “We respect his decision, even if we believe he is in the finest form of his career. Our open dialogue with Fernando has meant we could plan for this eventuality.

“While evaluating his future during the past months, Fernando’s competitiveness has been undimmed. He has continued to perform at the highest level throughout, as we know he will do in the remaining nine races of this year’s championship.”

Could Alonso still come to IndyCar? There’s no question several teams would be interested, including Andretti Autosport, for whom he competed in the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Other teams that are reportedly interested in him include Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing.

Speaking of the latter, Scott Dixon announced yesterday that he has agreed to a new multi-year extension to remain with CGR. And, team owner Chip Ganassi after cutting back from four to two teams for 2018, did not completely rule out the possibility of adding a third team in 2019, which could present an attractive option for Alonso, who is a longtime friend of Dixon’s.

Prior to Monday’s announcement, several rumors had linked Dixon joining Alonso at McLaren, either in F1 or IndyCar. Now, it’s anyone’s guess if Alonso will come to IndyCar or potentially drive in other series, including the World Endurance Championship or IMSA.

“Let’s see what the future brings; new exciting challenges are around the corner,” Alonso said. “I’m having one of the happiest times ever in my life but I need to go on exploring new adventures.”

In June, Alonso won the Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race in his first attempt. That gave him the second part of motorsport’s unofficial “triple crown,” having twice previously won the Monaco Grand Prix.

Alonso has spoken at length previously about how he’d love to become only the second driver in history – joining Graham Hill – to complete the triple crown with a win in the Indianapolis 500.

Now, that potential opportunity looks even bigger than ever, given Tuesday’s announcement.

However, Alonso also hinted that he could still potentially rejoin McLaren in the future.

“I want to thank everyone at McLaren,” he said. “My heart is with the team forever.

“I know they will come back stronger and better in the future and it could be the right moment for me to be back in the series; that would make me really happy.”

In a video letter he posted on Twitter, Alonso thanked F1 officials and fellow teams and drivers for what has been a spectacular career.

Among his comments in that video letter:

“We had very good times, some unforgettable, others really bad. We have played together, against incredible rivals. You played with me, and I learned how to play with you too.

“I have seen you changing, sometimes for good, sometimes in my opinion for bad. Every time I close the visor of my helmet I feel your warm embrace, your energy, there is nothing like it.

“But today I have some other bigger challenges than those you can offer me. And this year, while I am still driving at my best, is how I want to remember you.

“I can only be grateful to you and to the people that are part of you, for having introduced to me so many cultures, traditions, languages, wonderful people, for having been my life.

“I know you love me, be certain that I love you too.”

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IMSA’s Bill Auberlen joins NASCAR America to discuss this weekend’s race at Lime Rock

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Turner Motorsport GTD driver Bill Auberlen joined NBC Sports’ Marty Snyder on NASCAR America Presents the Motorsports Hour Thursday to discuss a variety of topics, including Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship race at Lime Rock Park.

Auberlen, alongside co-driver Robby Foley, enters Lime Rock with a great amount of momentum after finishing on the GTD podium at Watkins Glen and taking the GTD class honors in the most recent IMSA race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

There’s also an extra incentive for the duo to win this weekend as well, as Auberlen is one win away from tying Scott Pruett for the most IMSA victories all-time.

Both drivers will have to be on their A-game this weekend, however, as Auberlen stated that Lime Rock is one of the tougher circuits on the IMSA calendar and compared the 1.5-mile Connecticut road course to a short track.

“It’s what we call the bullring of our season,” Auberlen said. “It is a 54-second lap and we’re going to go around it a million times before the end of the day. It’s going to be a hot one, and I think whoever survives this is going to be on the podium.”

Luckily for the GTD and GTLM teams, with no Protoype and LMP2 entries competing at Lime Rock this weekend, the worry of having to yield to entries from the faster classes is gone.

“These Protoypes are so fast now, that interacting with them, you can’t imagine,” Auberlen said. “We have radars in our car that can alert us when they are coming.

“They get on you so fast that if you’re not always looking or something is not telling you they’re coming, you could have a problem and catch into them. That’s gone. Now it’s going to be focus-forward. You’re going to be focused on everything ahead of you. You got GLTM in there at the same time, but they’re virtually the same speed as us – just a little bit faster.

“It’s going to be nice. When you stand on that podium you might be able to go for an overall victory.”

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