Well, it was hot in other ways, too. The race for the championship as well as for the race win were both very exciting and competitive. It was actually two races in one. And even the TV network had a hard time keeping up. Here’s how Curt Cavin in the Indianapolis Star covered it:
[Ryan Hunter-Reay driver of the #28 Andretti Autosport Dallara Chevrolet leads during the IZOD IndyCar Series MAVTV 500 World Championship at the Auto Club Speedway on Saturday in Fontana, Calif. Hunter-Reay finished fourth, which was good enough to claim the IndyCar Series championship. / (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)]
An all-American ending to IndyCar’s season happened Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway. Ryan Hunter-Reay delivered a championship-worthy drive to capitalize on Will Power’s mistake, becoming the first U.S. driver to earn an IndyCar title since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006. Hunter-Reay finished fourth in the race won by Indianapolis native Ed Carpenter. Power, an Australian, dejectedly accepted second place for the third consecutive year.
Power crashed on Lap 56 trying, of all things, to pass Hunter-Reay with both drivers deep in the field. It was a crushing end even though he had about two more hours to watch Hunter-Reay toy with him as the points lead went back and forth. In the end, Hunter-Reay got the points he needed to cap a dramatic finish. “I don’t even know what to say,” Hunter-Reay said. “A total team effort.”
“He’s certainly a deserving champion,” Power said. “He won on road courses and ovals.”
Carpenter won his second career race, both in the season finale in consecutive years. In both cases, he beat Dario Franchitti on the last lap.
This one was secured when Takuma Sato crashed in Turn 2 _ trying to pass Hunter-Reay no less _ on the final lap. The spin into the wall was similar to Sato’s crash at the end of the Indianapolis 500 in May.
Power backed up at the start of the race and appeared to be simply following Hunter-Reay through the early stages. The only pressure he seemed to have came from the race leader, JR Hildebrand, who was closing in a couple hundred car lengths back.
On Lap 55, Power got alongside Hunter-Reay on the low side. When the pass couldn’t be pulled off, he dropped back to Hunter-Reay’s tail. Then it came. The mistake. Power went to the low side of Hunter-Reay in Turn 1, surged a car length ahead and then lost the back end. The spin was slow but true, and Power was helpless.
The wall came fast, but Hunter-Reay came faster. Hunter-Reay cleared the disaster by about a car length. Power’s fate was sealed as he hit the wall similar to what happened at the end of the 2010 season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That opened the door for Franchitti to win the championship by finishing eighth.
The slide of Power’s car and the ensuing ride to the infield was one of the longest in Power’s career. He had time to gather his thoughts, but he couldn’t assemble them in an explanatory way. “I don’t know what emotion to feel right now,” he said.
It wasn’t over. Team Penske scurried back to work and made the car driveable, complete with duct tape. Because EJ Viso was out of the race, Power needed to complete 12 laps to overtake Viso for 24th place, good for extra two points. That meant Hunter-Reay had to finish fifth or better.
Hunter-Reay thought his chance to get fifth place was lost when Ed Carpenter gathered his car up after a scrub of the wall on Lap 219. Carpenter got loose in a side-by-side battle with Alex Tagliani, but he held on, settled the car and lost only two positions.
Ironically, Hunter-Reay got fifth place when Tagliani, who speared him in a crash at Sonoma Raceway two races ago, blew an engine. Hunter-Reay appeared to be safe for his first title until Tony Kanaan crashed in Turn 4 with eight laps left. Race control did the unusual and stopped the action to clean the track so the race could have the chance to finish under green. But it didn’t. Just as Carpenter swept past Franchitti in Turn 2 on the final lap, Sato lost control. That drew the caution that secured the title for Hunter-Reay.
In street clothes, Power came to victory lane to congratulate Hunter-Reay, draped in an American flag. They shook hands and Power gave him a thumbs up.
“I’ve (slipped) two years in a row, so I’ve kind of learned how to cope with (losing),” Power said. “I definitely could have prevented (this) one.”
Hunter-Reay gave Andretti Autosport its fourth series title following ones by Tony Kanaan (2004), Dan Wheldon (2005) and Dario Franchitti (2007).
Carlos Munoz won Saturday’s Firestone Indy Lights race. Tristan Vautier finished fourth to capture the series championship.
Constant race attender Judy Bickel sends her report from Fontana, also:
Whew. Two trips to California within 2 weeks. Enough is enough, but well worth the trip to Fontana. The Auto Club Speedway was a great way to end the 2012 IZOD INDYCAR season. The oval racing was phenomenal. The Dallara DW12 performed flawlessly most of the season, but this machine is meant to run on high speed ovals. We had numerous lead changes, tremendous driving opportunities experienced by the field and maneuvers with the car were flawless. With all the drama of the evening; one for the race win and the other for the championship, no one could have been disappointed. Once again, the Series title was decided on the last lap of the race.
This was my second trip to the track at Fontana, the first being for the inaugural event featuring Cup cars in 1997. The area has now been developed all around the track. No longer does the pristine facility sit by itself in the middle of nowhere.
This event was held in record heat. Kudos to the track for opening for free for practice on Wednesday evening, 9/12. Anyone holding a Sunday ticket could enter. Brickbats to the track for not having a ticket open to sell Sunday tickets. The entire paddock seating area was open and gave everyone present a great look at the field as they practiced on and off the track.
On Friday and Saturday, record temperatures were felt in the “Inland Empire” as this area is referred to. Friday’s temperatures were around 106-107 and ditto on Saturday. Among race fans, we all sought water and shade, which were the two biggest commodities. Going from the grandstand area to the infield and return was a challenge. Carts and trailers were present on the straight behind the stands, but dropped fans off at the entrance to the tunnel in turn 4. After walking through the tunnel, no track transportation. To get to the paddock/pit/garage area, we faced about a 1/4 to 1/2 mile walk in 107 degree temperatures. Not fun. No transportation to return to the tunnel and once through the tunnel, no transportation back to the stands. Big disappointment in this track’s operating procedures and a big improvement is warranted.
There was a fair crowd on Friday. Locals we talked to expressed it was the largest qualifying crowd they had ever seen, including rival series’ attendance. We were all concerned about Saturday’s temperatures affecting walk up ticket buyers. At race time, the stands weren’t packed but plenty full at about 98 degrees! Have no idea how to estimate the crowd, but it was better attended than Milwaukee. I would guess better than Texas this year, too.
Restrooms were very clean and modern. Concession stands were plentiful and prices about normal. The track sold out of program books before 4 pm on Saturday, another positive sign. Parking was free, handicapped parking was very close to the main grandstand. There are outdoor escalators that take fans up about 30 feet to the main grandstand level! Track personnel were friendly and helpful with no attitudes.
Probably the most memorable event was after the race. They opened up all wheel fence openings and fans were allowed to cross the track, across the tri-oval grass and attend the two victory celebrations that were going on simultaneously! Felt like it was a midget or sprint race from years ago. Saw Michael Andretti and his wife, bow out of the championship celebration with Ryan Hunter-Reay and brave the crowd to congratulate Ed Carpenter in his victory lane! Good stuff and it gave traffic an opportunity to weave out. Wonderful way to end the season and celebrate two American victories!
The race in Fontana was a great event – the heat hindering a little of the overall enjoyment. We need to add more ovals, as this Series excels at oval racing. It is my understanding that both Pocono and Michigan are about to be included in the 2013 schedule! Now, we need to add Chicagoland, Kentucky, Phoenix and Homestead! I’ll be back!!
Judy Bickel, ChampionCrewConversation.com
This humorous story entitled “New Pit Crew” comes from TNG reader Tim McQuinn of Monticello, IN who is also the great-grandson of 10-time Indianapolis 500 starter Harry McQuinn (7th/1938 and 1941):
The Ferrari F1 Racing Team recently fired the whole pit crew to employ some young unemployed youths from Liverpool. The decision to hire them was brought on by a documentary on how unemployed youths in the Liverpool area can remove a set of car wheels in less than four seconds without proper equipment. This was thought to be a good move as most races are won and lost in the pits these days, and Ferrari would
thus have an advantage.However, Ferrari soon encountered a major problem: Not only were the lads changing the tires in under four seconds, but within another ten seconds had also repainted, renumbered, and sold the vehicle to the McLaren team.
Returning to the Phoenix home of Ed & Betty Achenbach, the ladies went shopping while the guys made the obligatory trip to Phoenix International Speedway, a site not seen by this writer in nearly 13 years. Approaching the entrance, security guard Brent Wheeler (who now joins us as a reader) was on duty and answered all of our questions while we stood in the hot sun among the rocks, sagebrush, and gravel in front of his guard house. Wheeler told us that the famous hill (Flatlanders might call it a mountain.) near the fourth turn is called Monument Hill, was an important location during and Mexican War, and is now the site from which all directions are measured in Arizona.
Some mature readers may remember opening scenes in the ‘60’s on “Wide World of Sports” when Phoenix races were shown and there was always a cowboy sitting on his horse on a hillside just outside the track. I thought then and know now that that was a TV ploy for ABC. Guess the cowboy got $100 just to be filmed on the hillside. But look out for the rattlers as we were told there just might be some around !!)
The track looked as fresh as ever with $10-$15 million invested in improvements in the last few years. The “dog-leg” has been straightened somewhat, an extensive row of track suites with elevators and escalators inside is now above turns 1 and 2, with plans to extend them all the way down the main straightaway to turn 4. There’s new pavement on the track and fresh paint everywhere. It’s being well-kept and IndyCar should take another look at it for early spring and/or late fall event(s).