Friday, May 26, 2017

Why could Rossi victory be greater than Alonso victory?

Two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso has created lots of worldwide interest around this year's Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. While Indy has had former F1 drivers like last two years's winners Alexander Rossi and Juan Pablo Montoya, it's been ages since an active F1 driver has participated in the 500, let alone a world champion and by missing the Monaco Grand Prix.

Qualifying in fifth place showed Alonso has the pace to race even for the victory. How he'll perform in the traffic against drivers with lots of oval racing experience remains to be seen, however his impressive quaifying and practice performaces have made his running at Indy even bigger of a story.

There has been some talk on whether Alonso winning the Indy 500 would be good for INDYCAR or not. If that happened, the 500 might overshadow F1's Monaco Grand Prix, and still dominate the F1 press in the build-up to the next race. On the other hand, the winner of the biggest race wouldn't be there promoting the other Verizon IndyCar Series races. Besides, a rookie winning his first oval race might give an impression of a weak series.

Alonso winning could have a long-term impact if it motivated more F1 stars to race at the 500 or even in the full Verizon IndyCar Series. Then again, seeing an F1 star in the 500 would probably need a partner already involved in IndyCar. Honda supplying engines in IndyCar as well as for McLaren in F1 worked perfectly to enable Alonso's participation. Even if there were F1 drivers with some Indy 500 ambitions, they would need the right circumstances to participate.

I'm a bit skeptical about seeing many more F1 stars at Indy in the near future. Alonso may be the most likely also in the upcoming years as he's stated he's aiming for the Triple Crown of Monaco GP, Indy 500, and Le Mans 24 Hours victories. But if he wins at Indy, he may not come back again. He'd unlikely leave F1 again for a race he's already won. Besides, once he's won at Indy, the Le Mans victory would be his big aim outside F1.

I want to see Alonso running at Indy again in the future, and I believe the pace he's showed so far will encourage him to do it, unless he achieves his aim of the Indy 500 victory already this year. That's why I do hope somebody else wins this Sunday. Alonso winning would be a great and popular storyline, yet I can imagine also other great storylines. While the attention was on the F1 star Alonso, I found it sweet that Scott Dixon won the pole; he may be the best active driver who's never raced in F1.

One of the nicest storylines for the race I could imagine would be Alexander Rossi winning his second consecutive Indy 500. Rossi was the USA's best prospect to have a career in F1, though being unable to secure an F1 seat made him make a switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series where he won the Indy 500 as a rookie.

I wasn't a huge fan of Rossi last year. I didn't like his comments where he said he would rather have raced for (the backmarker team) Manor in F1 than in IndyCar, even though he was racing for one of IndyCar's top organizations. His 500 victory was quite underwhelming, enabled by a fuel-mileage run to the checkered flag while others had to stop for fuel. While he had shown competitive pace throughout the month, so had the entire Andretti Autosport team and Rossi hadn't been the fastest of the teammates.

While the 500 still remains his only victory, he's been improving ever since. A mechanical retirement may have cost him the victory at this year's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. He qualified on the front row in third place for this year's Indy 500, eight places higher than last year. His comments about racing Indy cars have become more positive and the 25-year-old American may become one of the Verizon IndyCar Series' biggest stars.

The five races for the backmarker Manor didn't allow Rossi to make an impression in F1. But what a nice storyline it would be if he won his second consecutive Indy 500, beating two-time F1 world champion Fernando Alonso among others. He is in a great position to do it, having qualified in third place as the best of the Andretti Autosport drivers, one of which Alonso is. A young American succeeding would be great for the Verizon IndyCar Series with ageing stars.

The F1 world is following this Indy 500 closer than usually. If Rossi won his second consecutive Indy 500, maybe it might open F1 doors for him. While losing a young American would be a blow for the Verizon IndyCar Series, I would be happy to see a top IndyCar driver going to F1. Rossi is still young enough to be attractive for F1 teams. And anyway, if Rossi won, Alonso would have a reason to return to Indy, which would be great for Indy car racing.

Anyway, my favorites for the victory are Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Team Penske's Will Power. Dixon must be the favorite after his impressive pole but his teammate Kanaan is always a strong contender on ovals. Although Hunter-Reay missed the Fast 9 qualifying, I think he's the best oval racer of the Andretti team and even the entire series.

If Chevrolet has the better package, then you can't overlook Penske, despite their poor qualifying. Not only Power was the only Penske driver to make the Fast 9 but he's also become very competitive on ovals; he's the Indy 500 runner-up from two years ago and he won last year at Pocono, the track most similar to Indy. Penske of course has the three-time Indy 500 winner Hélio Castroneves, yet I see Power as a stronger contender than Castroneves who hasn't won a race in almost three years.

Both Alonso and Rossi can also be expected to have competitive cars prepared by Andretti Autosport. How Alonso performs in the traffic remains to be seen after the practice he's had this month. Rossi has now one year of oval experience under his belt; if he's to win the 500 again, he probably needs to do it racing wheel-to-wheel and not by strategy like last year.

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