IMSA.com, Michael Levitt

Fernando Alonso turns focus to final leg of motorsports’ Triple Crown

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Fernando Alonso raced into retirement from Formula One dedicated to winning the final leg of motorsports’ version of the Triple Crown. The Indianapolis 500 is the missing piece on his resume, one he intends to add in May.

But Alonso has been considering his future for quite some time, and his November retirement from F1 has opened his schedule to race in anything he wants. After anchoring Wayne Taylor Racing to a victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, the Spaniard was coy about his future.

“The aim is to do something unprecedented in motorsport,” Alonso said Sunday after picking up his new Rolex watch.

Not very specific, but a clue that Alonso is open to any and all ideas in this new chapter of his career.

“Right now full focus is on the Indy 500,” he said. “But yeah, I’m thinking I’m trying to do something more, maybe in different disciplines. I need to think, I need to plan, I need to make sure that I’m competitive, to have the right people, the right teams, and the right preparations.

“Whatever adventure is next, I will not do it if I’m not competitive or I don’t have a shot for winning. I need to be very calm and clever with the decisions for the future.”

The plan was put in motion two years ago when the two-time F1 champion persuaded his McLaren team to let him skip the Monaco Grand Prix and instead race the Indianapolis 500. Alonso had twice won in Monte Carlo – perhaps the toughest leg of the Triple Crown – and now he wanted to kiss the bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had never driven an Indy car before and had never raced on an oval, yet he was in contention to win his inaugural Indy 500 until a late engine failure.

His sights next turned to 24 Hours of Le Mans, with a sports car racing debut in last year’s Rolex 24 as the warmup. Alonso announced he would race at Le Mans the morning after he finished his first Rolex, and six months later he won in France to move closer to the Triple Crown.

His attention turns now toward the Indy 500, but with the freedom to pick and choose what he wants to do, Alonso is studying every opportunity. A five-year losing streak in F1 had pushed him to the fringes of that series, and although he remains one of the most popular drivers in the world, some began to wonder if his skills had slipped at the tail of his 17-year F1 career.

What he has done moonlighting in different disciplines has proven his talent has not wavered and that as he prepares to turn 38, Alonso still rates among the best drivers on the planet.

“Whenever you put a guy in a different car on a different track, normally it takes four or five laps for them to get (comfortable),” said Rolex winning team owner Wayne Taylor. “I remember his first split on the first turn was as quick as everybody. I thought, `How are we going to manage this?’ He was just terrific.”

Alonso did the heavy lifting for Taylor at Daytona, a race stopped twice for the first time in history for rain, then called shy of the 24-hour mark because conditions were too treacherous for drivers to be on the track.

Two of Alonso’s three stints in the car were during the rain, in part because F1 had made him the most experienced driver on the Taylor lineup in wet conditions, and because he had the control and steadiness to manage the risks versus reward in a torrential rainstorm. Alonso found the limited visibility and standing water on the track to be the most dangerous conditions of his career, and he had had more than enough when he saw the pace car driver hydroplane and nearly crash when he was following under caution.

But he didn’t turn a single wheel wrong and drove the Cadillac DPi to the lead every time he was on the track to win the Rolex in his second try. He noted after that that his sports car career was exactly a year old and continued to hint at his future.

Although he did a car swap with seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson in November and ran exhibition laps in a stock car, Alonso said at Daytona that NASCAR events are not currently on his radar. He is competing this year in the World Endurance Challenge – he won in his series debut last season in the Six Hours of Spa – and quipped he has so many plans he may need to return to F1 to lessen his load.

There are plenty of opportunities for Alonso all over the world, and his next big announcement could be next year’s Dakar Rally in Paris. Alonso’s win in Daytona made him the third F1 champion to win the Rolex, joining Phil Hill and Mario Andretti. He seemed envious of the drivers before his time who could race all over the world in any sort of formula, and proving that it can still be done might be what Alonso does next.

“I think to win in different series, in different disciplines of motorsport which are quite specific, you need to probably be born with that talent and grow up with that knowledge of that series,” he said. “Like oval racing, like IndyCar and things like that – to come there and try to be competitive or winning is something that I think in motorsport is quite difficult.

“I think in the past it was a little bit more open, motorsport in general. But now every series became very, very professional, and you need to take full dedication to each series, each driving style and things like that. I think hopefully soon I can tell you more of the plans.”

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Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.