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Sunday, May 21, 2017

ALONSO ALLURE ISN'T MANSELL MANIA

Thank God someone told the truth.

Saturday evening, while driving from the Indianapolis International Airport (which offers no baggage assistance on weekends!) I heard Donald Davidson on a local radio station. He was asked if Fernando Alonso's participation in the 101st Indy 500 was as big as Nigel Mansell's arrival in 1993.

Davidson, the highly respected and unchallenged expert on all-things Indy history, complimented Alonso but correctly said Mansell Mania drew a lot more attention and was bigger for the I500 spectacle.

Let me be clear: I consider myself something of an Alonso fan, especially because of his charging starts in a subpar Ferrari, and I greatly respect the methodical and disciplined approach he's taken to the Brickyard. (Second and third qualifying laps were faster than his first.) And . . .  Full Disclosure: I was Newman/Haas Racing's PR rep and worked with Mansell in 1993 and 1994.

Ever since IndyCar announced Alonso's McLaren-Honda-Andretti entry, the attempt to peg the hype-factor gauge by cheerleading has not been the media's finest moment. Yes, Alonso's presence is great for the event. I'm glad he's here for what will be my 39th Indy 500. I hope he has a great race. In fact, I hope he wins, as I'll explain below. But the near-constant yap on prominent motorsports websites, by supposedly knowledgeable "expert" reporters (loved on the fan sites), and on apps and various publications and certainly in the 317 area code Hallelujah Media Chorus, is simply flat-out nonsense.

Here are some things you haven't been told:

Alonso's participation works perfectly for IndyCar CEO Mark Miles' years-long desire for higher-paying international races. Why do you think he blew the horn so loudly about Alonso and promptly went to Europe for a round of media interviews? To promote the international race agenda -- even though virtually all of his team owners (few as they are) continue to say they are opposed, that their sponsors want U.S. market races, not overseas.

All the stars aligned for Alonso to do Indy. That's not a criticism. It's a statement of fact. If Ron Dennis still ran McLaren, if McLaren had a major Formula One sponsor (which it hasn't since Vodafone ended its deal a few years ago), if the Honda F1 engine wasn't such an unreliable boat anchor, if Honda didn't have a competitive IndyCar engine and a willing partner entrant in Michael Andretti, if new McLaren boss Zak Brown wasn't American sports marketing tuned-in and looking to keep superstar Alonso happy, if all of those things didn't happen at the same time, there is no way Alonso would have been allowed to skip Monaco, Grand Prix's greatest sponsor hospitality showcase, to turn left at IMS.

And here are a few other reasons why Alonso Allure Isn't Mansell Mania:

1. Mansell came to Indy as the reigning world champion. Not his fault, but Alonso isn't.

2. Mansell came to Indy has, arguably, the most popular driver in the world. "The People's Champion" is how AutoWeek headlined him. Alonso is popular, but, not the same.

3. Mansell, due to back surgery, didn't have the benefit of a private pre-May test, or the rookie orientation program, or -- and note this since others appear not to remember -- simulators. If you don't think that's important, you don't know modern racing.

4. Mansell was committed to the full PPG Indy Car World Series schedule. Alonso is a one-off. And this is why I hope he wins -- so leadership will hear it from the rest of their race promoters, who won't have the Indy 500 winner to help sell tickets and do local media interviews. In a lot of ways a lot of people aren't thinking about, an Alonso win would serve IndyCar right. And not for the "right" reason.

5. IMS had to knock down a wall in its old media center to make room for the international journalists. No need in today's media center, built to spec for Bernie Ecclestone some years ago.

6. Andretti Autosport didn't have to issue special and very limited "restricted access" media passes. We did at Newman/Haas, so major media photographers could get the Mansell images they needed and their bosses demanded.

More reasons? Sure. But I hope, most respectfully, you get my point.

Go Fernando! But this ain't Mansell Mania. No way. Not even close.

[ more coming this week. Announcement of the 2017 Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations coming here this Friday afternoon. ]