The Significance of Alonso to Indy

Photo: Lars Baron

By: Kobe Lambeth

I remember when I first saw the news as I awoke on a beautiful Spring afternoon in April. At first, I believed it was “fake news” or a late April Fools Day prank, but it was shockingly true. Active McLaren-Honda Formula One driver, Fernando Alonso announced that he would skip the Monaco Grand Prix to travel to the United States, in order to compete in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500, driving a McLaren-Honda entry fielded by Andretti Autosport.

Honestly, nobody saw this coming. Of course, people probably daydreamed of something significant happening, but not a well-respected Formula One World Champion choosing to miss the biggest grand prix of the year in favor of the American open wheel classic at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In a short amount of time, Alonso will have to learn quickly as the Indianapolis 500 is next month, plus the learning curve is steeper as Alonso has never raced on an oval. After taking a few days of digest the shocking news and listen to hundreds of opinions, there are mixed feelings in the motorsports community about the massive challenge Alonso will face once he takes his first laps around the historic speedway.

Some of Alonso’s F1 rivals seem to support his decision but are questioning the decision to skip Monaco, where the power unit should not play a major factor in lap times compared to other tracks on the F1 circuit. There are some who are completely against the idea of a driver skipping a grand prix and trading Formula One for IndyCar. Finally, those like myself, fully embrace and respect Alonso’s quest to tackle the mindblowing speeds of American oval racing.

I understand that skipping the Monaco Grand Prix may seem like Alonso does not want to be a part of Formula One anymore, but it appears to be a smart decision considering the season has not started off the way everyone at McLaren-Honda envisioned. With the current state of the car and not scoring championship points in the first two rounds, Alonso does not have much to lose by skipping Monaco. The Top 10 finishers are rewarded points while everyone else gets nothing, so leaving for Indianapolis could be for the best this time around.

Both Formula One and IndyCar should benefit from Alonso competing for glory at Indy. Alonso is loved by the fans in Formula One, so his diehard supporters will likely watch their favorite driver on race day. This is a perfect way to introduce IndyCar to a new audience and possibly gain new supporters. Some F1 fans have questioned oval racing, so actually seeing one of their drivers compete in this crown jewel event may give them a new view of something they once doubted.

IndyCar will get new exposure from a worldwide audience with the addition of Fernando Alonso in a livery similar to the McLaren-Honda F1 car. Overall, Formula One and IndyCar will be big winners from this deal. Both series will get worldwide exposure and more fans may pay attention to the events leading up to Memorial Day weekend. However, the ultimate winner is the race fan.

Crossovers are not common anymore due to the rigorous schedules in auto racing series throughout the world. The most recent crossover was in 2014, when Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series star, Kurt Busch, attempted “The Double” as he finished 6th in the Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport and 40th in NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway after a blown engine for Stewart-Haas Racing. Instead of getting upset at Alonso for choosing Indy over Monaco, we should embrace it as we are lucky to have this historic deal come together in a short amount of time.

How often are we going to get an “active” F1 driver competing in the Indianapolis 500? Although Alexander Rossi won last year’s addition, he was not an active F1 driver at the time, but he was a reserve driver for the now defunct Manor F1 Team. Winning the race as a rookie was absolutely an incredible feat. However, having a driver such as Fernando Alonso with many years of F1 experience, two world championships, and two-time winner of the Monaco Grand Prix truly takes the Indianapolis 500 to a different level.

As a two-time winner of Formula One’s biggest event and a two-time world champion, Fernando Alonso has nothing left to prove in Formula One. He is in the prime of his career and his looking for a new challenge. Racing on an oval where speeds reach 230mph is definitely a challenge for one of the best drivers in the world. There will be so much to learn in such a short amount of time, but I strongly believe that Alonso has the skills necessary to succeed in the 500 mile oval race.

As we wait for May 28, 2017, the excitement will build and there will be many unknowns. For any doubters of this historic challenge, I advise you to be more open-minded and embrace it. This is significant and rare for the worldwide motorsports audience so the spotlight will be on Formula One and IndyCar until the checkered flag is waved. Sometimes, we need a new adventure to refuel our passion for what we truly love.

 

 

Advertisements

Hildebrand Ready for 100th Indy 500; Optimistic about future

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

By: Kobe Lambeth

As previously announced, JR Hildebrand will return to the Indianapolis 500 with Ed Carpenter Racing as he will have another attempt at one of the most prestigious prizes in all of motorsports.

“It’s the holy grail, particularly for open-wheel guys but I think really for almost anyone on 4 wheels,” said Hildebrand.

“In doing it, you become aware of just how many ways there are to NOT win, how many things you have to not screw up, let alone things you need to do exceptionally well. But it’s for racing immortality, which makes it all worthwhile.”

The 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is going to be an epic event. With Hildebrand joining a strong lineup of himself, Josef Newgarden, and Ed Carpenter, look for all three ECR entries to challenge the likes of Penske and Ganassi.

“I’ve had a great experience with Ed Carpenter and his team over the last two years, notching Top 10s in each of my efforts with the team at Indy,” said Hildebrand.

“I know from that experience that I can win in one of their cars, and I think they feel the same way.  Last year we grew the program to include the Angie’s List GP, and we were looking to grow to even more races from there coming into 2016. Everyone was very much on board with that, but as often happens in racing, we had to manage some financial constraints and refocus on getting things at least just lined back up for the same program we ran last year.  So it was an ongoing conversation since Indy last year that I’m very glad finally came together.”

Ed Carpenter Racing is looking to expand JR Hildebrand’s schedule, but will it be possible to add more races? Will Hildebrand return to IndyCar full-time in the immediate future?

“It’s difficult to say – it’s not been for lack of interest, it’s a conversation I have often with teams, but at the end of the day it comes down to funding in most of the situations that have existed recently,” Hildebrand responded.

“I’m confident based on the opportunities that I’ve discussed with people that I can be back racing full-time very soon.”

Although there is a lot of uncertainty about Hildebrand’s plans beyond the Indianapolis 500, he remains focused on the task at hand: winning the Indianapolis 500 and proving that he belongs in the series full-time.

“Well, I feel that I’m racing for a team that can definitely put a car on track capable of winning, with a good crew and good engineers,” said Hildebrand.

“So, my personal expectation is to have a shot at winning the race – we will prepare with that clearly in focus.  I expect the race itself to be one of the most impressive events anyone has ever seen.”

2016 appears to be a special season in the making for JR Hildebrand and where he will head in his young racing career. If he is unable to return to IndyCar full-time soon, what will happen to the talented California-born open wheel racer?

“There’s a lot of interesting racing out there, from the WEC to Global RallyCross,” said Hildebrand.

“I’d jump in just about anything, and am looking forward to opportunities to do so over the coming year.”

This is just pure speculation, but how cool would it be to see an American sensation named JR Hildebrand to have the opportunity to drive in the FIA World Endurance Championship later this season in an American muscle car?

It was recently announced that Larbre Competition will run a driver evaluation program for potential future factory drivers for Corvette Racing. Could this possibly be Hildebrand’s ticket to sportscar racing as a future Corvette factory ace?

I hope to see JR Hildebrand return to IndyCar as a full-time driver, but it would very intriguing to watch him perform in a Corvette C7R on the world stage.

>

>

Karam announces Indy 500 Deal

Photo: http://www.motorsport.com

By: Kobe Lambeth

After an offseason of uncertainty, Sage Karam will drive for Dreyer & Reinbold-Kingdom Racing in the one-hundredth running of the Indianapolis 500. He will drive the Number 24 Dallara DW12 chassis powered by a Chevrolet engine. Gas Monkey Garage will sponsor the car. In 2014, Karam made his IndyCar debut with Dreyer & Reinbold-Kingdom Racing in the Indianapolis 500.

Karam told USA TODAY Sports, “We’re getting the band back together from my rookie season at Indy. It was really good working with those guys. I had no experience in Indy cars before the 500. Now I’ve got two years under my belt, and I know what it takes to win a 500-mile race.”

I am so happy to hear that Sage Karam will run the Indianapolis 500 in May. He deserves to be there and it is great that he will race. However, I wish that it was a full-time deal, but one race is better than none. Plus, we might see Karam in a Lexus GT3 with the legend, Scott Pruett in the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship in select rounds.

For more information on this topic, go to: http://www.sports.usatoday.com.

Kobe’s Daily Scoop: Interview with Spencer Pigot

Photo: http://www.paddockscout.com

By: Kobe Lambeth

Spencer Pigot is a rising open-wheel star who will most likely become an IndyCar regular for years to come. He will make his Indy 500 debut this year and I believe that it will be a memorable one for Pigot. The young racer spent the 2015 season in the Indy Lights Series.

“My rookie year in Indy Lights definitely went better than expected. Juncos Racing was new to the championship and we had two rookie drivers going against teams and drivers with much more experience than us. As expected with a first-year program, we had weekends where we were extremely fast and somewhere we struggled for pace. Overall, it was obviously a great season, we won a lot of races and the championship so it doesn’t get much better than that.”

It is great to see a young driver like Pigot thrive in the Indy Lights Series. I do not watch a lot of those races, but I saw Pigot running near the front every time I tuned into a broadcast. Indy Lights is a fantastic series to help our young and promising open-wheel drivers reach their goals of making it to the Verizon IndyCar Series. A big thanks go to the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system.

Pigot said, “The Mazda Road to Indy ladder system has been crucial for me. I would not be going into the Verizon IndyCar Series without the scholarships I won from Mazda and Cooper Tires. It gives young drivers that don’t have lots of family money behind them a chance to continue their career and their dream to be in the Indianapolis 500.”

This is a great program for young open-wheel drivers who do not have the significant financial backing to continue to live the dream of making it to the top level of American open-wheel racing. I wish there was a program like that in NASCAR to help drivers such as Ryan Ellis and Hannah Newhouse. As I previously mentioned, it was announced a while ago that Pigot will make his Indy 500 debut in May. He is extremely excited for this amazing opportunity to shine on the big stage.

“I’m really excited about being with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing next year. They are coming off a great season and hopefully, we can continue that momentum. The opportunity to be in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is amazing, something I’ve always dreamt about and worked towards.”

The Indy 500 is a special race and it means a lot to every driver that has ever had the chance to take part in the event. Having a great race at Indy could potentially land a young driver a high-quality ride in the future. This made me wonder if Pigot has a successful race, then is it a “mini audition” for a full-time ride in 2017?

Pigot responded, “I’m not sure if the 500 is necessarily an audition for 2017 but I know that it can’t do any harm if I’m able to do a good job in the three races I’ll be in. I’m just going to focus on the job at hand and do the best I can, hopefully, an opportunity for more races in 2016 or 2017 will come up.”

It is going to be a big year for Spencer Pigot as he has three races in the Verizon IndyCar Series to focus on, along with his sportscar debut in the Rolex 24 at Daytona later this month. He will co-drive the Number 55 LMP2 car from Mazda Motorsports with drivers, Jonathan Bomarito, and Tristian Nunez.

Pigot said, “I’m looking forward to racing at Daytona with Mazda this year. It’s a race I’ve always attended as a fan and can’t wait to get there and experience the race for myself.”

I am looking forward to seeing Pigot join the Mazda factory team for Daytona, especially after seeing him lay down some quite lap times at the Roar! Mazda can do a lot for a driver’s career and it goes much further than just pathing the way for open-wheel drivers. Pigot is looking to become a full-time IndyCar driver someday but somehow found himself about to make his sportscar racing debut in one of America’s greatest endurance classics. I believe that Mazda can definitely help a driver as it exposes him to other types of motorsports with the support of the manufacturer. Honestly, I wish more manufacturers had programs like that. Pigot has driven Indy Lights cars powered by a Mazda engine and now will race a Mazda LMP2 car. After getting some seat time in the prototype, he was able to compare and contrast it with the open-wheel machine.

“The new Mazda-powered IL-15 trains drivers very well for bigger faster cars. It made my transition into the Prototype very comfortable. The cars are quite a bit different, obviously the Prototype is a bigger car but it has a lot of power and downforce like the Indy Lights car. It’s a right-hand drive car so that took a few laps to get used to!”

As Pigot’s sportscar debut is coming soon, he is excited for Mazda’s chances in this year’s edition of the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“As a team, we are expecting to be fast and challenge towards the front of the pack. Mazda is there to fight for wins and that’s what we hope to do at Daytona.”

After observing lap times from the Roar, I believe that Mazda is going to be a dangerous team when there is one hour to go in the Rolex 24. With a new gasoline engine, experienced and quick drivers, look for Mazda Motorsports to make some noise in the twice around the clock endurance classic.

*Thanks to Spencer Pigot for the interview and I wish you a successful 2016 season!*

 

Remember: 2015

Photo: http://www.monuments.com

By: Kobe Lambeth

I want to take some time and remember three people the racing community lost in 2015.

Steve Byrnes

download (27)

Photo: http://www.youtube.com

The NASCAR community knows all about this story. Steven Patrick Byrnes left the Earth on April 21, 2015. Byrnes was a long-time anchor for NASCAR on FOX. He left behind his wife Karen and son Bryson. Steve Byrnes fought cancer until the very end. For those who do not know the Steve Byrnes story, please tell them how he was a major contribution to NASCAR. I will always remember his cheerful smile when he was “out in the field” doing his job. His legacy will live on forever! #ByrnesStrong

Jules Bianchi

download (28).jpg

Photo: http://www.youtube.com

I remember this terrifying accident and have been trying to forget about it. However, I will never forget the amazing talent that Jules Bianchi displayed. In 2014, Bianchi was involved in a gruesome accident during the Japanese Grand Prix. Track officials were trying to remove the stranded Sauber of Adrian Sutil and Bianchi crashed into the recovery vehicle. Wet weather played a major role in his accident. Bianchi spent months in a medically induced coma and passed away on July 17, 2015. Hearing this news made my heart drop. Bianchi gave the Manor F1 Team its first points in Formula One’s biggest race: Monaco Grand Prix. Also, Jules was headed for greatness with Ferrari in the future. It is a shame that we did not get to see him win multiple world championships. He had the highest upside of any young open wheel driver in the world. Bianchi leaves behind his family who supported him every step of the way. #ForzaJules

Justin Wilson

download (29).jpg

Photo: http://www.thejudge13.com

I remember this tragic day like it was yesterday. It started off as an exciting day of racing at the Pocono Raceway. There was so much overtaking in this race that it reminded me of a restrictor plate race in NASCAR. Knowing that, I feared the Big One and unfortunately it happened. Race leader, Sage Karam, crashed out of the lead and debris from his car struck Wilson’s helmet. At first, I did not think that anything bad had happened. However, I became extremely nervous when I saw tons of medical personnel surrounding Wilson’s car. Reality struck me when I saw them preparing to airlift Wilson to a local hospital. Flashbacks of October 16, 2011, ran through my mind. I thought, “Please do not let this be another Dan Wheldon-like situation.” My worst fears were confirmed when Justin Wilson passed away on August 24, 2015, from a brain injury. I will miss watching the “Gentle Giant” race. Wilson always drove for smaller teams in IndyCar and never joined one of the heavyweights until this year. Too bad we never got to see how Wilson would have done for Andretti Autosport full-time. I will always remember Justin Wilson. He leaves behind a wife and two daughters. #WilsonStrong

*Very emotional stories, sad times, we lost great people in 2015, but we must continue into the future. I miss Byrnes, Bianchi, and Wilson. However, their legacies will live on forever*

Mikhail Aleshin returns to IndyCar in 2016

Photo: http://www.motorsport.com

By: Kobe Lambeth

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has confirmed that Mikhail Aleshin is returning to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016. The Russian driver spent his 2015 season driving full-time in the European Le Mans Series for AF Racing. He also made his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut in the BR01 LMP2 car with fellow Russians, Kirill Ladygin and Anton Ladygin. The trio finished 13th in the LMP2 class.

Looking to move away from sportscar racing, Aleshin will return to a series where he had much success in 2014. The Russian driver had a very consistent rookie season in American open wheel racing. However, the season ended on a sad note as Mikhail was injured in 2014 finale at Fontana.

His Number 7 SMP Dallara DW12 Honda was running the bottom on the track in the turn 4. The car spun and hit the wall with a hard impact. Aleshin’s car made contact with the catchfence and he suffered various injuries.

I am so happy to see Mikhail Aleshin return to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016. He had an amazing season in 2014 and proved that he belongs in American open wheel racing. When I heard that Mikhail was not returning to IndyCar in 2015, I was extremely disappointed. He became one of my favorites in his only season. I understand that U.N. sanctions against Russia played a major role in Aleshin seeking a drive in the European Le Mans Series. It is such a shame when politics impacts a driver’s dream to race in America. What can be done to prevent something like this from happening to our foreign drivers? On the bright side, it is great that Aleshin will race in America full-time in 2016! What is your take on Mikhail Aleshin’s return to IndyCar race fans?

For more information on this topic go to: http://www.spmindycar.com

 

Kobe’s Daily Scoop: The Troubles of Making it as a Race Car Driver Part One

Photo: http://www.spmindycar.com

By: Kobe Lambeth

Above, you see a young racer named Conor Daly. He is a very talented open wheel driver, but there is one problem. How can one as talented as Daly have trouble securing a full-time ride? The answer is lack of sponsorship. Sometimes, lack of sponsorship is why talented drivers are unable to reach their full potential. So many kids and upcoming racers have aspirations to be race car drivers. Some are extremely talented and it does not work for others. The young racers who do find success may face harsh reality. Driving a race car is supposed to be fun, but there is nothing you can do if there is no sponsorship to support you. We should be able to tell our children that any dream is possible if you put in the work and have dedication. Succeeding at the highest level and not being able to race at the highest levels of motorsports does not add up. I cannot imagine the pain that many IndyCar drivers go through.

Sage Karam and Conor Daly are the next generation of IndyCar. In the future, I see them going head to head on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500. However, that might be only a fantasy if the current sponsorship situation continues. Chip Ganassi Racing is currently searching for funding to keep the Number 8 car on track. Recently, Karam was allowed to go search for opportunities elsewhere. Sage Karam earned the nickname “danger boy” from his fellow rivals. He is not a danger on the track, but Karam is doing the right thing. In this era of IndyCar racing, you must drive aggressive if you want to have a job. Sometimes, driving your heart out is not enough to secure a future in motorsports. What else can a driver do if performing at the highest level is not enough? There must be a solution to make sure that our brightest young racers have the chance to achieve their dreams. Another racer, Conor Daly, is another talented kid who has the dream of being a full-time IndyCar driver. You may wonder why Daly is not competing against the likes of Penske and Ganassi. The answer is the lack of sponsorship. It cannot be emphasized enough that we must find a solution to help drivers like Karam and Daly find sponsorship. Both deserve to race in IndyCar as they have already proven that they belong in the sport. This past season, Karam and Daly ran select IndyCar races. Running a few races per season is better than sitting all 365 days on the sidelines, but it is obvious that both deserve to race for championships. While waiting for a ride, Conor Daly ran a few IMSA races in the Prototype Challenge class for Performance Tech Motorsports. Seeing Daly run sportscar racing is amazing, but his true home is in open wheel racing. Speaking of sportscars, there are a few problems concerning driver ratings used in Pro-am classes.

Most recently, driver ratings have become the hot topic in the sportscar racing world. Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze: this sounds more like medals you earn in a relay race. The bottom line is driver ratings are unnecessary as it puts high-quality drivers out of business. Driver ratings are helping some, but mostly hurting the best sportscar drivers. Imagine that you are new to IMSA and start a GT Daytona program with BMW. You get a factory driver as your professional and a talented young driver rated silver. Using common sense, you can infer that the professional driver is going to be faster than your amateur driver. The pairing goes on to dominate the GT Daytona class and win the championship. Winning the championship might be exciting for a little while, but it will turn to sadness when the FIA Driver Ratings are official for the next season. Your promising silver driver has been upgraded to gold and you cannot resign him. This is a devastating blow for team and driver. All-Pro classes are not suitable for every driver, so Pro-am might be their future. The promising driver, who was once a silver, career could be in jeopardy. Silver drivers are important to Pro-am classes as it is impossible to function without them. People who have funding from their daily professions are more likely to get a drive compared to a talented racer. Check the statistics, it is a fact that we should not be proud of. I respect those Pro-am drivers, but I believe that young racers who want to make racing their profession have an equal opportunity to succeed. Driver ratings should be scratched altogether as it hurts our drivers more than it actually helps them. It might be amazing to be known as a Platinum or Gold, but the continuation of careers is the main concern. IndyCar and sportscars might be two different worlds, but they share one common problem. We have seen the careers of talented drivers end due to lack of sponsorship and driver ratings. This must end today. As an entire racing community, something can and must be done to save our beloved drivers. Keep an eye out for Part Two of Kobe’s Daily Scoop when I take a look at the troubles facing stock car drivers.