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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.”

Dean Wilson’s life as a privateer reconnects the rider to his roots

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One of the added benefits of subscribing to NBC Sports Gold is the in-depth interviews from each Saturday’s action. Last week between the first and second rounds of qualification for the Glendale Supercross race, a relaxed and confident Dean Wilson joined Race Day Live’s Daniel Blair and Jim Holley to review his fourth-place finish in the season opener and his mindset moving forward.

Losing factory support from Rockstar / Husqvarna at the end of 2018 was not exactly what Wilson had in mind, but after getting off to a great start in the first two races this season, it may well have been a blessing in disguise.

The life of a privateer is not exactly relaxed, but it affords a rider the opportunity to call his own shots. For Wilson, it is also a way to reconnect with the grassroots feel that attracted him to Supercross in the first place.

“I think that’s what I like,” Wilson said on Race Day Live. “I think that’s the environment and atmosphere I like – it’s just more low key. At Anaheim I, you would think I was local racing at Glen Helen. I had a Sprinter and I had another trailer just to chill in, do my spins. It was so cold I had a little propane heater to warm me up. But I like that. That’s what works for me.”

MORE: Dean Wilson’s Cinderella story at Anaheim 

The program Wilson was able to put together during the offseason produced back-to back top 10s – a much better start to the 2019 season than he experienced last year.

In 2018, Wilson did not score a top 10 until his fourth feature at San Diego. His first top five would not come until late March in Indianapolis.

This year Wilson got the hole shot and led 14 laps at Anaheim in the opener before finishing fourth. Last week in Glendale, he finished eighth.

“What was going through my head was ‘it’s about time; it’s about five years too late to lead some laps here,’ ” Wilson described his emotion as he led at Anaheim. “It was nice because I did a lot of work in the off-season and my starts were really good. The thing is I haven’t over-analyzed my starts and practice.”

At Anaheim I, Wilson struggled with visibility as his goggles began to get fouled by mud. A once comfortable lead was eroded by Justin Barcia. With pressure from behind, Wilson made a minor mistake that was then compounded by lapped traffic.

“I was leading my laps; I was just trying to hit my marks. I was doing really well until I made a couple of mistakes. I couldn’t hit that middle double, double … the rut was getting real chewed out, but I was already on the right side where you couldn’t double the middle part so you had to go roll, roll, roll – and Barcia was already on me.”

Wilson’s pair of top 10s was enough to keep him fifth in the standings, three points behind Glendale’s winner Blake Baggett.

For more, watch the video above.

Next Race: Anaheim II Jan. 19, 11 p.m., NBCSN

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