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Paul Page Considers The World Champions At Indy

Fernando Alonso. [Andy Clary Photo]

Fernando Alonso. [Andy Clary Photo]

by Allan Brewer

For many race fans the voice of Paul Page is associated indelibly with the Indianapolis 500. The smoky baritone has a flat, almost nasal quality that is distinct and reassuringly pleasant. Now retired, the 15-time Emmy winner—two for himself, the others for shows he was on—stays busy with small emcee gigs and writing, most recently penning an article for the IndyCar series on the history of Formula 1 champions at Indianapolis. “I’m trying not to work too much,” he said at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Carb Day with a little sly smile that belied the truth.

His most recent interest has been in the legacy of Formula 1 drivers who have come to Indianapolis and succeeded in their quest for victory at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. Fernando Alonso’s participation this year continues a long history of drivers coming from the old world to the new in pursuit of glory.

“People forget that we have had World Champions here (at IMS) before, and involved in the 500 in the past,” he said on Carb Day. “Certainly Jack Brabham, though he never won the race, was a huge influence on this event.” Brabham was the man who first brought rear-engine powered cars to the Speedway. In time Brabham’s lead became the standard for open-wheel racing, driving the upright and awkward-looking roadsters of the day back to Gasoline Alley for good.

Graham Hill and the great Jimmy Clark drank the milk here in the 1960’s, Hill on his very first attempt. More recently Nigel Mansell tucked his substantial girth into an IndyCar and finished third in the 1993 500-mile race. In what seems like the remarkably distant past, the great Italian World Champion Alberto Ascari drove here in 1952.

“I have a personal friendship with Nigel,” said Page of his relationship with “The Lion.” “He actually hit the wall here but continued on, eventually finishing third.” Mansell’s top-five finish remains the best of an F1 driver at Indy since Hill’s victory in 1966.

Asked for his impression of this year’s F1 sensation Fernando Alonso, Page’s assessment was short and sweet. “Awesome,” he said. “He has fit right in with the team and the car. What he’s done so far is spectacular.” Page has some inside info on the situation as his son is an engineer with the combined McLaren/Andretti/Honda team that is supporting Alonso’s effort this year.

He has been impressed with the man as much as the driver. “He’s been quite cordial with everyone,” said Page. “Even though he is surrounded by his entourage he still seems to enjoy the engagement with the fans. He actually seems to be having fun.” Alonso has admitted as much, remarking in a video broadcast at the Indiana Dairy Association luncheon on Tuesday that he has enjoyed his Indianapolis experience greatly.

Though its run at Indianapolis was short, Page is one of many who hopefully anticipate a return of the United States Grand Prix to the road course inside the Brickyard oval. “Now that Bernie (Ecclestone) is no longer the head of F1 it would seem natural to consider Indianapolis as a possible venue on this side of the Atlantic,” he said. It is widely held by observers that Ecclestone’s exorbitant fee request to continue the USGP at Indianapolis was the major sticking point on the race remaining at one of the world’s legendary venues.

“It just makes sense that Formula 1 would want to race here, given the history of the track,” he said. “Even though the IMS road course is not quite as challenging as the traditional European courses—it lacks elevation change, for example—there are other compelling reasons for the USGP to be here.”

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Allan Brewer
Allan Brewer covers IndyCar and other racing series for RacingNation.com. Allan is a fixture at the race track, armed with keyboard and camera, eager to take you inside open-wheel sport where the news is being made. He comes to RacingNation.com with multiple professional awards from the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association (AWWRBA). He began his motorsports writing career at FastMachines.com; and solely published IndyProRacer.com and A1GP.com, two award-winning websites for open-wheel racing's junior leagues, prior to becoming IndyCar correspondent at Motorsport.com. He has also covered Formula 1, NASCAR, Formula E, the Indy Lights Series and its predecessor Indy Pro Series, NHRA events and major auto shows. His major interest outside of competition is automotive technology and its application to the cars we drive every day on the public highways.