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Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen take different paths in racing careers

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Formula One’s two old-timers, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso, are taking very different paths into the late stages of their racing careers.

At 39, Raikkonen is on a front-running team with Ferrari but has already charted a course toward the back next season with Sauber. Alonso, 37, is stuck in the middle with McLaren and has opted to leave F1 at the end of the season.

Both former F1 champions say they are happy with the course they’ve chosen.

“I stop because I did everything I wanted in F1,” Alonso said ahead of this weekend’s Mexican Grand Prix.

He has just three races left in his F1 career and the local crowd is giving him a big “Adios Alonso!” send-off. The Mexico City race draws some of the biggest crowds of the season, and fans are being asked to download and print masks of Alonso’s face to wear during the pre-race drivers’ parade.

“The next races are going to be very emotional for me,” Alonso said. “Mexico is a special place because the crowd is very passionate about racing and they are too close to the drivers, it*s going to be a little party. I wish I can give them a good show.

“I can’t wait for Sunday and to be able to see (the masks),” he added. “It’s going to be something that I will remember forever.”

Alonso can reflect on a special career that hasn’t had many special moments in recent years. He won championships with Renault in 2005-2006 and finished second with Ferrari in 2010, 2012 and 2013, although the 2013 season was thoroughly dominated by Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel.

He’s come nowhere close to those marks since. He hasn’t won a race since 2013. His second career stint with McLaren has provided four years of frustration.

“The fact he’s leaving I think is a big loss for Formula One,” said Renault driver Carlos Sainz. “I think it’s something for Formula One and everyone to consider why one of the best drivers is leaving and why we cannot have a bit more competitive grid.”

Alonso insists he’s not getting chased out of F1 by the losing. He has different racing interests now. A return to the Indianapolis 500 remains possible after his 2017 debut had him in the running to win before late-race engine failure. He drove on the winning team in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“Happy with the time here, thankful to teams, fans and achievements I never dreamed of 20 years ago. Now ready to enjoy other things in motorsport and life,” Alonso tweeted Friday.

Raikkonen has had his racing battles with Alonso, winning his championship in 2007 with Ferrari.

“The fact is we’re all going to stop at some point,” Raikkonen said. “Us older ones have to go at some point.”

Not Raikkonen. At least not yet.

Raikkonen is enjoying his best season since his return to Ferrari in 2014. He got his first win since 2013 at the U.S. Grand Prix last week. His nine other podium finishes this season have Ferrari in a tight battle with Mercedes for the constructor’s championship. But he’s going to Sauber in 2019, which is currently ranked ninth in the standings.

Raikkonen likely won’t taste much success there. But he wanted to stay in F1 and his new team is near his home in Switzerland. He says he has no hard feelings about getting dropped from Ferrari for 21-year-old Sauber driver Charles Leclerc.

Raikkonen tried other racing when he drove rally cars in 2010 and tried NASCAR in 2011. By 2012 he was back in Formula One. And that’s where he’s staying, even if it’s not at the front.

“I think people don’t understand I’m actually very happy where I’m going. I had my time with Ferrari. I won my championship with them,” Raikkonen said. “I want different challenges … My family will be happy, I’m happy to be with my family.”

Winning doesn’t quite bring the big celebration it used to. His Texas victory party was small, he said.

“It takes a long time to recover these days,” Raikkonen said. “That is definitely not the nice part. But the first part is always fun.”

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.”

Live race coverage of IMSA’s Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCsports.com and the NBC Sports app with an encore presentation of the race airing later in the evening at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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