McLaren says Alonso is OK, but he won’t be racing in the Australian Grand Prix

TORONTO -

McLaren’s Formula 1 team did its best on Tuesday to sugar coat the seriousness of Fernando Alonso’s concussion suffered Feb.

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22 at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but its admission he will miss the season-opening Australian Grand Prix offers a clearer picture of the situation.

Alonso’s symptoms are very much like those seen in football players and hockey players who have had their bells rung — all of them want to get back to the field of play, but doctors sternly warn of further injury if that should happen.

That is why most pro sports leagues including F-1, IndyCar and NASCAR, have their athletes do pre-season procedures to provide a baseline so that medical professionals can assess the seriousness of a suspected concussion.

In Alonso’s case, doctors advised the team that his concussion was serious enough to warrant keeping him off the race track, at least in the immediate future.

In a team statement McLaren confirmed the medical diagnosis.

“Fernando’s doctors have recommended to him that, following the concussion he sustained in a testing accident at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Feb. 22, for the time being he should seek to limit as far as is possible any environmental risk factors that could potentially result in his sustaining another concussion so soon after his previous one, so as to minimise the chances of second impact syndrome, as is normal medical procedure when treating athletes after concussions,” McLaren officials said.

“In order to limit those environmental risk factors, specifically, his doctors have advised that he should not compete in the imminent Australian Grand Prix meeting, which will take place on March 13, 14 and 15.”

Still McLaren insists that Alonso is not suffering any sort of side effects that are normally evident in concussion victims.

“Having performed an exhaustive series of tests and scans — some of them as recently as (Monday) evening — McLaren-Honda driver Fernando Alonso’s doctors have informed him that they find him asymptomatic of any medical issue; that they see no evidence whatsoever of any injury; and that they therefore describe him as entirely healthy from neurological and cardiac perspectives alike,” the team said in a release.

It is a good sign, then, that McLaren decided to proceed with caution as opposed to rushing the two-time world champion back into its brand new Honda MP4-30.

It couldn’t have been an easy decision, especially given the tens of millions the team has already poured into Alonso’s contract and the hundreds of millions more Honda has poured into the program.

Both McLaren and Honda had hoped that Alonso’s unparalleled skills would mask many of the imperfections that a newly formed outfit normally experiences at the world’s top open wheel circuit.

With a sputtering start in the winter tests, it was already going to be a challenging first outing at Australia for McLaren and now, with Alonso not ready for prime time, it looks even worse.

The team is counting on getting Alonso back in harness at Malaysia in three weeks.

“Fernando’s doctors acknowledge that he feels fit and well and that he regards himself as ready to race, and, that being the case, they are comfortable with the fact that he has already recommenced physical training, with a view to preparing for a return to the cockpit of his McLaren-Honda car for the Malaysian Grand Prix meeting on March 27, 28 and 29,” the team said. “Indeed, his doctors are supportive of that ambition, satisfied as they are that he sustained no damage whatsoever during his testing accident on Feb. 22.”

That last part may be wishful thinking, but it is certainly the outcome everyone hopes for.

In the meantime, the team brought back last season’s rookie Kevin Magnussen for Australia.

FINISH LINES

Canada’s premier open wheel grass roots development series — Toyo Tires F1600 Series — unveiled its 2015 race calendar on Tuesday, featuring six double-header events. The series, operated by Move Motorsports Management, will open its season at the Victoria Day Weekend Speedfest May 15-17 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park. It will also race at Shannonville Motorsport Park and Calabogie Motorsports Park ... Can anyone explain exactly what’s with the signing of Susie Wolff to a development deal with the Williams-Mercedes F-1 team? The well-past-best-before-date 32-year-old Wolff really has no business behind the wheel of an F-1 car. But then her husband is Toto Wolff, team boss over at F-1 Mercedes — enough said.

GORDON WANT MORE SAFER BARRIERS

For the second race weekend in a row, NASCAR has had to deal with wicked wrecks in a place on tracks where there is no SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers.

It happened in the Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway on the opening NASCAR weekend and that resulted in Kyle Busch breaking his right leg and left foot — injuries that could keep him out of most of the 2015 Sprint Cup season.

Then on this past Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon crashed hard into a section of back stretch wall that also didn’t have a SAFER barrier.

Luckily Gordon was not hurt, but it was indeed only luck that kept him from an injury comparable to that of Kyle Busch.

Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup champion, spoke passionately afterwards about the need for all tracks where NASCAR races to have all their walls protected.

“I don’t think we can say any more after Kyle’s incident at Daytona,” he said. “Everybody knows we have to do something and it should have been done a long time ago.

“All we can do now is hope they do it as fast as they possibly can.”

Gordon said he found it hard to comprehend why race tracks haven’t moved to cover all the safety bases to protect drivers.

“I am very frustrated with the fact there are no SAFER barriers (where he hit),” he said. “I knew it was a hard hit; I was like ‘man I can’t believe...’”

Gordon said he was astounded there was no SAFER barrier at the site of his crash.

“I didn’t expect (the crash) to be that hard,” he said. “Then I got out and I looked and I saw ‘oh, wow, big surprise I found the one wall here on the back straightaway that doesn’t have a SAFER barrier.’”

— Dean McNulty

MOFFITT JOINS THE YOUNG GUN CLUB

In a NASCAR season starting with some highly touted young drivers like Ryan Blaney (21), Chase Elliott (18), and Darrell Wallace Jr. (21), it might have been easy to overlook 22-year-old Brett Moffitt.

The previously unheralded Moffitt finished an astonishing eighth in the Sprint Cup No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota on Sunday at Atlanta.0

“Before this past weekend we stated that we felt his name should be mentioned among the impressive crop of young drivers coming into the sport and the Atlanta result validated that claim,” MWR co-owner Rob Kauffman said.

— Dean McNulty

DEAN’S RANT

NASCAR boss of bosses Brian France is nothing if not an undeniable optimist.

This week the Sports Business Journal, citing sources inside NASCAR, revealed that the asking price for a new title sponsorship for the Sprint Cup series is $1 billion US for a 10-year deal.

Yes, that is one billion with a B.

The current contract with Sprint runs out at the end of the 2016 season and the telecom company has served notice it won’t be back in 2017.

According to SBJ, the $1-billion asking price is a 33% hike over the old deal that brought in $750 million to the stock car racing giant.

So how does this new demand compare to, say, the IndyCar Series title sponsorship with Verizon — another US telecom firm?

Although there was never an official release on the dollars of that deal it is widely believed to be in the $10 million a year range, or about 1% of the projected NASCAR deal, which given the relative popularity of each series, seems about right.

Still we have to wonder if NASCAR may be overreaching.

But then, sports properties appear to the darlings of big corporations these days.

Maybe Brian France is more realist than optimist after all.



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