Two-time Formula One world champion and 2017 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Fernando Alonso has confirmed he will not be racing a full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series next year.
With that little tidbit out of the way, it's time to take stock of what next season has to offer and show why Indy car racing will be better than ever in the new year. Here are five reasons to watch an Alonso-less INDYCAR in 2019.
1) Come for the racing: There's no reason to think that the close battles delivered by the new universal aero kit won't continue into next year and beyond. No matter what the race, there were battles up and down the field, with sensational passes and wheel-to-wheel action keeping fans on the edge of their seats.
A case in point was the July race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, sometimes thought to be a difficult place to pass. Not only did the race deliver 188 overtakes, it featured a spectacular 20-pass performance by Sebastien Bourdais, who went from 24th at the start to sixth by the finish. Then there were the heart-stopping along-the-wall overtakes by Alexander Rossi in the Indianapolis 500 and Ryan Hunter-Reay's late-race triumph over Rossi in the bottom half of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear doubleheader. You name a race and it had nail-biting action.
2) Winning isn't easy for anyone: The other by-product of the level playing field is that the abilities of the drivers shine through rather than the outcome resting on who has the best car. With the driver making the difference, races are often decided on who gets things right on a certain day, or which driver finds something the others don't.
For example, James Hinchcliffe found more and more speed as July's Iowa Corn 300 unfolded and he powered past a stunned Josef Newgarden late in the race to win easily. Hinchcliffe's victory was one of a few upsets in 2018, which saw eight different winners from six teams in 17 races. Eight different drivers also started on pole this year. It was also no fluke after the three previous seasons saw an average of nine different drivers from seven teams score wins. Expect more of the same in 2019.
3) Alexander Rossi: It's no secret that INDYCAR wasn't the young American's original dream series. But after three seasons, he's transformed into one of the series' biggest supporters. The 2018 championship runner-up is an established INDYCAR star, popular with fans, and carries a truckload of talent in his pocket.
What else can you say about a driver who battled five-time champion Scott Dixon down to the wire this year? His determination was on full display in the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale, where he suffered a flat tire at the start and went to dead last before climbing up the field to take seventh at the checkered flag. It wasn't enough to keep Dixon from the championship, but it certainly sent a clear message that he'll be even tougher to beat and more exciting to watch next year.
4) Scott Dixon: Scott Dixon might be well-advised to start a vineyard because, like a fine wine, the 38-year-old only seems to get better as he ages. He's also in some rarefied company with his five championships, second only to the legendary A.J. Foyt's seven titles, and his 44 career wins put him behind only Foyt (67) and Mario Andretti (52) on the all-time list.
Easily the most successful driver of his generation, there's no reason to believe Dixon won't be vying for a sixth title come the 2019 season finale. On top of it all, he's humble about his massive talent and appreciates the privilege that comes with racing for a living. Coming to a racetrack and witnessing a motorsport legend at work is not to be missed.
5) The Corkscrew: Speaking of the 2019 season finale, fans will once again get to watch Indy cars almost tumble down the five-story drop of the famed corkscrew at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the first time in 15 years. No doubt it will bring back memories of “The Pass” by Alex Zanardi on Bryan Herta, but it's also the third “new” event added to the Verizon IndyCar Series calendar in two seasons after Portland made its return in 2018. With the inaugural race at Circuit of the Americas on tap for March, INDYCAR continues to offer great venues for racing while keeping tradition alive.
Finally, there’s still a chance that Alonso will be driving in the 2019 Indianapolis 500 as he tries to become the second driver in history to win motorsports’ mythical Triple Crown. Even if he doesn't show, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” will certainly live up to its name without him.