“Fake News” and the Future of Alonso?

Through various motorsport publications, it was announced that McLaren and their driver, Fernando Alonso, were to part ways. This news was coming after McLaren’s debacle in failing to qualify for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500. It was reported that both parties agreed to mutually separate and left each other on good terms. McLaren issued this statement about the topic to multiple publications:

“Fernando, like all McLaren drivers past and present, will always be part of the McLaren family and we have a strong relationship with him. We have no plans to run him in any further F1 test sessions this year as our focus remains on both Carlos (Sainz) and Lando (Norris). He is free to pursue other opportunities in motorsport, and we would support him in doing so.”

Or, so we thought Alonso was leaving.

Later that same day McLaren CEO, Zak Brown stated that this story was “fake news” and that both McLaren and Alonso still have a “strong and contractual relationship.” The Spaniard took to his twitter account and echoed the statements by Zak Brown by posting this on his timeline:

I’ve been waited for more information to come out and weirdly enough; this is basically where the trail of crumbs end when it comes to this story. This separation might still be coming in the near future. Perhaps someone within Alonso’s representative group leaked this information out early to stir interest and create some positive buzz around the two-time Formula One champion. Especially after his controversial win at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans with Toyota Gazoo Racing.

For McLaren, issuing that statement might have come from observing Alonso’s newfound commitment and success toward Toyota and were trying to save a bit of their reputation. After all, Alonso’s very public ridicule of McLaren and their then Formula One engine provider, Honda, during his second stint with the team were nothing short of flattering.

With Alonso not being committed to a racing series full-time, the world is now his oyster. Alonso is free to come and go as he pleases. He can race anything, anywhere, at any time. Alonso’s seat at Toyota Gazoo Racing is being taken over by two-time WEC champion Brandon Hartley so that Alonso could pursue new challenges with the manufacture.

According to many, the Dakar Rally will be the next joint venture between the two sides.

With Alonso showing an energetic commitment to the Japanese manufacturer of Toyota and his newfound racing freedom, Alonso’s racing future is nothing but speculation. Could he join Super Formula where Toyota is one of the two engine manufactures of that series? Could he rejoin Toyota in 2020 for the new Hypercar Class that the WEC will be introducing?

Or,

Does “leaving” McLaren open the door to a possible seat in IndyCar and throw a monkey wrench into the 2020 IndyCar silly season?

Dear God, I hope it’ll be this one, and I’ll attempt to explain why.

Alexander Rossi, currently driving for Andretti Autosport, is the biggest fish on the IndyCar driver market when his contract expires at the end of this season. The rumors are endless when it comes to predicting Rossi’s future.

Does he go to Penske and align himself with their powerful chevy engines? How about Chip Ganassi Racing, where there is a track record of crowning champions. Couple that with a Honda alliance, which is the only engine Rossi has known during his IndyCar career, and you can see the temptation. Can Rossi and Andretti Autosport even come to agreeable terms? Will Andretti Autosport switch to a Chevy power unit next season? If so, will that sway Honda in trying to retain the talent of Rossi under their racing banner?

Now imagine if Alonso decides he wants to join the IndyCar grid. He could potentially reshape the field in a significant way. I believe his ego wouldn’t settle for anything less than a seat within one of the top three teams of Andretti, Penske, or Chip Ganassi. Would one of them take a chance on the 37-year-old as opposed to Rossi, who is 27 years of age and just hitting the prime of his career? Coincidently, all three teams that were mentioned above are understood to be in contention for the Rossi sweepstakes as well.

Would there be room for both of them on any of those teams? More importantly, would there even be enough money to go around? I would assume the answer would be no.

McLaren has announced that they are simmering down their IndyCar program to just another one-off attempt in 2020. Alonso will need a reliable seat to secure his maiden Indianapolis 500 win. With that win, he would become the second person to claim the Triple Crown of motorsports. Grant Hill is the only driver to achieve this feat.

I believe Alonso needs to participate in at least a partial season to build confidence and understanding in the car. Not to mention, running a partial season would be essential to building team chemistry that can help when the lights are shining the brightest. Something McLaren lacked significantly this year, and it showed.

Alonso has stated that he has no plans to running a full-time IndyCar schedule next season as it would be “too much of a commitment in terms of races.” For clarification, IndyCar runs four races less than what is on the Formula One calendar.

But what if one of these teams comes calling? What will become of Alonso’s future? Does Alonso being “free” alter the plan for Rossi and his future endeavors in any way?

Could we see Alonso imitate Juan Pablo Montoya and not only commit to IndyCar in the later years of his career but win the Indianapolis 500?

Only time will tell.

Scott Masom

photo credit: Getty Images

 

 

 

Can Society Continue to Withstand 600 Mile Races?

Heading into Memorial Day weekend, I scrolled across an article from autoweek.com written by Greg Engle where Denny Hamlin stated that NASCAR doesn’t need a 600-mile race. Denny added on to his statements by saying, “I don’t think that anything is totally necessary.” “If the race was 300 miles, you’re going to have the same, I believe, core group watch the race and possibly even more that are interested because it’s not five hours long.”

Denny Hamlin seemed to be in the tiny minority on this thought. NASCAR Series Champions Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch have been in unison about wanting to protect the history and tradition of the Coca-Cola 600. To that, Denny Hamlin says “Tradition, ‘shmadition.’” “It’s whatever. All sports adapt and change. I hate it when people say, ‘Well, that’s the way it always was.’ Things are different. I’d be just as happy with a Coke 300 trophy as a Coke 600, to be honest with you.”

I agree with Denny Hamlin to a point; sports do ebb and flow. They change and adapt with the times, and there isn’t a better example of that in sports than the three-point line in basketball. While The Cola-Cola 600 might not be the same test of man vs. machine it had the reputation of being throughout the race’s history, I rebuttal Danny Hamlin by saying why not have a 600-mile race? NASCAR is a pinnacle of motor racing, and I believe there needs to be something that tests not only the equipment but the drivers and their crews as well.

However, this subject of lessening the miles/time of a race does entice a couple of interesting questions from me. Those are what will be the next adaptation to auto racing and who will be their target audience going forward?

NASCAR has been on the leading edge of adaptation with the chase/playoff system, the stage racing, and the lucky dogs. Have they been bad adaptations to the sport of auto racing? Some might say yes and that these changes have tarnished racing forever, but to me, they have only added to the excitement. (The word “added” being key there) We have yet to see other racing series adapt to a similar style and I believe that is because of two reasons:

#1. No one likes a copycat.

But more seriously,

#2. Other series have not been as committed to trying to attract a specific audience other than hardcore race fans. (i.e., casual fans or younger generations)

Changing an entire sport that can conform to the social norms of our point and click, instant gratification, and ever-growing impatient lifestyles are what sporting leagues around the world are currently trying to do. Instead, these leagues are finding that this balance between being cutting edge and keeping to the traditions and history of the game is not as clear cut as it may have initially seemed.

In baseball, their league executives believe shorting the number of innings played during the game is the solution. The NBA is looking into shorting their total time played in their games from 48 minutes to 40. These are just examples of some of the changes to try and satisfy the societal need for instant gratification. To try and cooperate with short attention spans that go along with the glamorization of the casual fan.

Often, this glamorization will leave those who are loyal to the sport with no place to voice their opinion. Leagues and series continue to turn a blind eye toward them in favor of the short-term gain casual fans can often provide. Again, look no farther than NASCAR for being a prime example. They have admitted to doing this to what used to be a strong, unified, and loyal fan base.

I believe several other factors contributed to the loss of fans for NASCAR. For example, the passing of Dale Earnhardt, the loss of the “good ol’ boys” mentality, the emphasis put on mile and a half-tracks, the 2009 stock market crash, and the weird and somewhat awkward introduction to the beginning of the “Car of Tomorrow” era but more on this in a possible future posting.

Can racing conform to these growing social norms? Do we have to concede to having shorter races to stay relevant? Is it possible that The Indianapolis 500 becomes The Indianapolis 250 one day? Or the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans be changed to the 2.4 Hours of Le Mans? The Coca-Cola 300 has an excellent ring to it according to Denny Hamlin.

Doesn’t all of that sound absurd?

Well, that’s because it is but auto racing has been at the forefront of using social media platforms, like YouTube, to illustrate the balance between satisfying the hardcore fans and the casual. Many series like NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA and Formula E upload not only races in their entirety but various lengths of recaps and highlights. This kind of adaptation allows fans to watch when they want, where they want, and however they want. Not to mention, social media has allowed fans to access drivers and teams for instant practice, qualifying or racing updates. This type of availability has become perfect for today’s point and click, instant gratification, and ever-growing impatient lifestyle without having to change the sport for the hardcore fans.

Significant events like those on Memorial Day will always attract casual fans but just as easy as they can come, they go. No amount of changing a sport will retain casual fans throughout the season. The only way to convert the casual fan into an avid fan and then into a hardcore fan is by having that fan make a personal connection to the sport. I say this as a warning to other leagues by asking if the addition by subtraction is the addition they need?

Racing is in a stable place within the sports world. There is no need to make it unstable with something like The Coca-Cola 300.

Scott Masom

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Triple Crown For You!

WOW.

McLaren, a Goliath within the racing world, has failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 by 0.019mph! McLaren and their driver, two-time Formula One Champion, Fernando Alonso were bumped out of the #fastest33 by David himself: Juncos Racing. One of the smallest teams racing on the IndyCar grid. Oh yeah, I can’t fail to mention that Juncos lost two significant sponsors earlier in the week.

Is anyone looking for a place to spend their advertising dollars? I may know of a car that will be getting plenty of on-air screen time.

What does this failure mean for McLaren and their future endeavors in the NTT IndyCar series? Does Fernando Alonso cut his ties with McLaren for his next attempt in The Indy 500? Does Zak Brown’s seat as McLaren Racing Chief Executive Officer get a little hotter? How does this failure affect any alliances they may have in the future? I have so many questions, and there is so much speculation swirling through Gasoline Ally. And at the moment, the comforts of my couch.

The first question I have for McLaren is, are there any second thoughts to joining in 2020 as they have planned? They have been very open to the fact that they would like to purchase or form an alliance with an existing team. Rumor has it that Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports are McLaren’s prime target for either possibility. Both co-owners of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have adamantly stated that the team is not for sale. McLaren has also declined to provide a comment on the matter. In a lighthearted response, Ric Peterson of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports said that “he has finally got their heads above water” as they have signed a five year deal with Arrow earlier this year. Coincidentally, Arrow partnered with McLaren Racing to not only be on their car for the 500 but their Formula One car as well. It wouldn’t be too far out of reach to see an alliance between SPM and McLaren if and when McLaren join full-time next season.

Or in any capacity for that matter.

McLaren opted not to have an alliance with Andretti Autosports and the Honda power unit used during their last 500 attempt. Instead, they decided to enter this year as an independent entry with a Chevrolet engine powering their Dallara IR-12 chassis. According to many reports, this team showed the inexperience and lack of preparation that is needed for The Indy 500. Perhaps an alliance would have done them some good this year. Perhaps their success in 2017 was more Andretti than McLaren themselves.

Is that a hot take?

My second question is will Fernando Alonso cut his ties with McLaren for his next attempt to achieve the Triple Crown of Motorsports? Perhaps he looks toward an experienced team like Penske, Andretti, or Ganassi that can put him in proven equipment to accomplish this feat. Alonso is 37 and seems far from retiring, but how much longer does Alonso want to pursue this as a one-off event? I still have the belief that he will announce his commitment to the NTT IndyCar Series full-time. It does have to come with serious thought as to what McLaren can offer him in his immediate future.

Zak Brown, is your seat getting a little warmer? Not more than 24 hours since the disappointment of not making IndyCar’s most prestigious event, Bob Fernley, team principal of McLaren’s IndyCar operation was relieved of his duties. Again, their lack of preparation and inexperience were echoed by “The Golden Boy” Alonso himself. He has stated that their pace was slow, not only on the race track but in the garage as well. He compared themselves to the team of Juncos Racing and their ability and competency in putting their car back together overnight. Whereas Alonso wrecked on Wednesday afternoon and McLaren didn’t have the car ready until Friday morning. This inability to fix the car quickly resulted in McLaren losing a day of valuable and precious track time for the one-off team.

Failure in this sport doesn’t always boil down to just one person. When it does, it is typically the driver. When you are a one-off team, and your name is McLaren, there needs to be a scapegoat, and unfortunately for Bob Fernley, they found one.

The scapegoat sure as hell wasn’t going to be Alonso. At least, not this time around, or perhaps, ever.

For Zak Brown, I believe the fire isn’t as hot as some expect. We’ve got to remember, IndyCar is the noncommittal side project that has as much (or more) to do with Alonso than it does McLaren. While missing “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is not a good look for McLaren, their cars are fourth in F1 constructor standings, and that is their main priority. Zak Brown is on record during the Long Beach Grand Prix weekend stating that joining the IndyCar Series is “more of a when not if.”

So when will it be McLaren? Does this setback delay any thoughts? More importantly, did this failure delay any possible future financial commitments? I’m sure these questions will only be answered with time.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a cruel mistress. She rewards those that work hard, put in the time, effort, and respect the incredible wonder that she is. Not everyone gets in because not everyone deserves to get in. McLaren will not buy Alonso a seat to enter the race. Good, because they didn’t earn their way into the race in the first place.

Scott Masom

#fastest33

I am ashamed, appalled, disgusted, embarrassed, disappointed, outraged, and downright irritated at the thought of guaranteeing entries into the prestigious Indianapolis 500. I don’t like guaranteeing spots in any form of motorsport.

Team owners Rodger Penske, Chip Ganassi, and just recently, Michael Andretti have made their opinions very clear. Teams that have committed to the IndyCar series on a full-time basis should be rewarded for their commitment.

How do you ask? By having a guaranteed spot on the 33 car grid.

Chip Ganassi is quoted saying “a commitment is a commitment, you know?” Rodger Penske sparked this thought last year after James Hinchcliffe failed to qualify his Arrow Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports Honda on Bump Day.

Yeah, we had an actual Bump Day!

We are talking about the three giants of IndyCar, teaming together, attempting to create an oligarchy within the confines of Gasoline Ally. As much as the idea of a guaranteed grid spot angers me, I do understand where they are coming from. The money that is personally invested into their teams, the endless promises made to sponsors, the potential of embarrassment and humiliation that comes from not making “The 500”.

Something Penske knows about personally.

Michael Andretti notes that this kind of system would be for the betterment of the sport. That, if there were guaranteed grid spots, it would bring more full-time teams with more sponsorship. I argue that what IndyCar has been doing in recent years has brought that to the series. The addition of Harding-Steinbrenner Racing and expansion of Carlin, as well as, the addition to NTT Data as the title sponsor is the validation of a racing series that is expanding into brighter horizons.

I’m not blind to the impact money makes in racing, but I fail to see why we need to alter tradition because of it. Since I was a boy, the allure of the Indianapolis 500 was that these men and women drove the fastest 33 cars on the planet for one magical Sunday of the year. Those men and women earned their rightful spot on the grid. That these teams, full-time or not, worked tirelessly to achieve a goal like no other in motorsports. That qualifying for this race meant just as much, if not more than competing in the race itself. This race isn’t something you get invited to. It isn’t something that happens but is earned. It teaches lessons to those that succeed and to those that leave the track in defeat.

To the teams and drivers that have the privilege of attempting the Indianapolis 500, you have the month of May to prepare. Make it count!

#fastest33

Scott Masom