Fernando Alonso sweeps Legends Trophy sim victories at Indianapolis

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Fernando Alonso made a triumphant return to the virtual version of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, sweeping the Legends Trophy doubleheader sim races Saturday.

After beating 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button by 0.037 seconds in the first race, Alonso started 21st in Race 2 and managed to weave his way to the front over the next 20 minutes. The two-time Formula One champion beat World Touring Car veteran Tiago Monteiro in the second race.

After stunningly failing to qualify for his second Indianapolis 500 start last year, Alonso will be entered in the rescheduled 104th running of the race Aug. 23 with Arrow McLaren SP.

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As a 2017 Indy 500 rookie, he qualified fifth, led 27 laps and finished 24th because of an engine failure after 179 laps.

“I was super scared of losing the first (Legends Trophy) race,” Alonso said. “Jenson is a very smart guy, and we were both playing games trying to be in front or behind.

“We were studying each other, but with Jenson you never know. He’s always one step ahead, and I was very worried that I would slip. He had a moment in turn four one lap before the end, and that was enough of a gap for me.”

It was the second Legends Trophy appearance for Alonso, who made his surprise competitive sim racing debut in the series just last week.

“I’m very new at this,” Alonso said. “I only received the rig last Thursday before (last week’s Legends Trophy race at) Zandvoort. After one week and a half, I’m still playing with some buttons. It was great
today, and it’s good fun always at the Indianapolis Speedway.”

There were six former Indy 500 winners and four F1 champions competing in the Legends Trophy event at the Brickyard, including the series sim debut of 1969 Indy 500 winner and 1978 F1 champion Mario Andretti.

Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner took fifth in the first race, and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves was third in the second race. Two-time F1 and Indy 500 champion Emerson Fittipaldi, 73, matched his season-best finish with a 10th in Race 2.

Andretti, the oldest driver in the race at 80, recovered from a slow start to finish 19th in the second race.

“I had a blast,” Andretti said. “Obviously, it seemed like I was part of every situation that was happening out there, but other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Will I do it again? You never say never. We have the rig here, I have to get a lot more familiar with it.

“It was not natural. It was so different. What I have going against me is that you drive it differently. The line is a little different, so you have to understand just what the rig wants, what the sim likes and how aggressive you can get. There’s a definite learning curve, no question about it.”

By finishing fourth in the second race, Button is the championship leader with 322 points. Five-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro is 39 points behind in second (283).

The two top-four finishes by Button extended his points lead to 39 (322-283) over five-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Emanuele Pirro. Four-time Le Mans winner Magnussen is third in the standings with 271 points.

NEXT: The final race in this round of the Torque Esports/Engine Media’s The Race All-Star Series Legends Trophy championship will take place Saturday at noon ET (ESPN2) at a track to be determined. The winner will have $30,000 donated in his name to a favorite charity.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.