Thursday, October 17, 2013

Track Walk: Fontana 2013

The season finale for the 2013 Izod IndyCar Series Championship takes place this Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Scott Dixon has what appeared to be an improbable lead over Helio Castroneves after two podium finishes at Houston while Castroneves had gearbox issues in both races ending his streak of completing every lap of the 2013 season. As winner of the Pocono 400 Dixon, along with Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan have a chance at $250,000 for winning at Fontana and taking two of three legs of the Triple Crown.

The Championship
It all comes down to this. Scott Dixon has a 25 point lead entering Fontana as he looks for his third career title. Helio Castroneves had had at least a share of the points lead since after the first race at Belle Isle and now finds himself fighting from behind, just like 2008 when he found himself trailing Dixon entering the final race at Chicagoland for the title.

Should Castroneves score maximum points this weekend, Dixon will have to finish at least fifth or finish sixth with winning at least pole or leading a lap or finishing seventh and leading the most laps.

Should Dixon finish last and only score five points, Castroneves will have to score thirty-one points, which can be done by either finishing fifth and winning pole or leading a lap or finishing sixth and leading the most laps.

All possible point outcomes for Dixon and Castroneves can be found here.

Other Championship Battles
Dixon and Castroneves isn't the only battle for positions in the Championship.

Only three points separate Justin Wilson and Marco Andretti for fourth in the standings. Wilson is having a career year on oval, the highest finishing Honda at Indianapolis with a fifth and top tens at Milwaukee and Pocono. Andretti had a career year on road and street courses and has been a contender at all oval races this year with a mechanical failure at Milwaukee and poor fuel strategy costing him wins at Milwaukee and Pocono. Last year both Andretti and Wilson made their first career starts at Fontana. Andretti started on pole and finished eighth while Wilson started twenty-fifth and finished twenty-third.

Last year Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power were battling for the championship, this year they are battling for sixth. Just eleven back of Andretti is Hunter-Reay who is only two ahead of Power. Both Hunter-Reay and Power have two wins this season with the American having six podiums to the Australian's three. Last year at Fontana Hunter-Reay finished fourth after starting twenty-second with Power finishing twenty-fourth after an early accident ended his hopes to hold off Hunter-Reay in the title fight. Hunter-Reay averaged a 5.6 finishing position on the five oval races this season while Power has an average finish of 10.0 on ovals.

James Hinchcliffe will jump Dario Franchitti as the Scotsman will miss the season finale due to two broken vertebra, broken ankle and concussion suffered at Houston. Franchitti's Ganassi teammate Charlie Kimball will jump ahead of him with a finish of twenty-second or better and Kimball could jump Hinchcliffe if he out scores the Canadian by twelve. Kimball finished tenth last year at Fontana while Hinchcliffe finshed thirteenth. Kimball just edges Hinchcliffe on average finish on an oval this season, 11.4 to 12.

Outside the top ten, two points cover EJ Viso, Josef Newgarden and Simona de Silvestro for thirteenth. Last year Viso struggled with car control at Fontana and finished in twenty-fifth. This season Viso has an average finish of 12.6 on ovals including a top five and three top tens. Josef Newgarden finished sixteenth last year at Fontana and has an average oval finish of 13.4 this year with a fifth at Pocono and an eighth at Texas. Simona de Silvestro has never scored a top ten on an oval with eleventh at Pocono this year being her best oval finish. Last year, de Silvestro finished twenty-sixth after her Lotus retired due to a mechanical failure.

One other battle to watch out for is between Sebastián Saavedra and Oriol Servià. Despite missing seven races this year, Servià finds himself only eight behind Saavedra who has competed in every round. Servià has finished eleventh, nineteenth and seventh in his three oval races this year while Saavedra has averaged a 20.2 on ovals this season.

Possible Final Races
Two drivers could being making their final career IndyCar starts at Fontana. First is Alex Tagliani who will be substituting for Dario Franchitti. Last year, Tagliani finished twentieth after an engine failure ended his day. He led twenty-one laps and was in contention for the victory most of the race. Tagliani has three top ten finishes in his other three Fontana starts including a third in 2001 after starting on pole. As of now, Tagliani has no deal for IndyCar in 2014.

The other driver is AJ Allmendinger. The Californian has never raced at Auto Club Speedway in an IndyCar. After nearly seven years out an IndyCar, Allmendinger returned this year driving for Penske at Barber, Long Beach, Indianapolis and Belle Isle. Allmendinger finished seventh in the Indianapolis 500 after leading twenty-three laps. Allmendinger's best finish at Fontana in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is fourteenth. Allmendinger will be driving the #2 Izod Chevrolet. This race will be Izod's final race as title sponsor of the IndyCar Series. Allmendinger will be driving for JTG Daugherty Racing full-time in NASCAR in 2014.

Returning Drivers
Joining Tagliani and Allmendinger as returning drivers to the Izod IndyCar Series will be Pippa Mann and JR Hildebrand.

Mann returns for her third start of the 2013 season. After a thirtieth at Indianapolis and twenty-fourth at Texas, Mann finished a career-high fifteenth at Pocono, one lap down. This will be Mann's sixth IndyCar career start on her fifth different track. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the only track she has raced at twice.

Like Allmendinger, fellow Californian Hildebrand returns for his sixth start of the season and first since Sonoma. Hildebrand finished fifth earlier this year at Long Beach and started tenth in the Indianapolis 500 before retiring on lap three. Last year at Fontana Hildebrand started fourth and led fifty-six laps before finishing eleventh, two laps down.

IndyCar Manufactures' Championship
It is all tied at nine wins apiece between Honda and Chevrolet with Fontana deciding who will win the 2013 manufactures' championship. However, due to new rules saying any entrant who exceeds the five engine limit for the season is ineligible to score for the manufactures' championship, only five Hondas are eligible to score toward the manufactures' title for Honda compared to Chevrolet's eleven eligible entries.

Hondas who have exceeded the five engine limit are the #18 Coyne Honda which will be driven by Pippa Mann, both Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan Racing entries, AJ Foyt Racing, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and the #9 and #10 Ganassi Racing entries. The #9 will serve a ten grid spot penalty at Fontana. The Honda eligible entries for Fontana will be Justin Wilson, Tristan Vautier, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand.

The only two Chevrolet entries to exceed the engine limit are Helio Castroneves and Sebastián Saavedra. Castroneves will serve a ten-grid spot penalty at Fontana.

Realize Honda could sweep the first seven positions in the MAVTV 500 and not win the manufactures' championship.

AJ Foyt Oval Championship
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves are tied for the AJ Foyt Oval Championship at 186 points. Hunter-Reay owns the tiebreaker with more second place finishes. Tony Kanaan is third, twenty points back, Ed Carpenter is fourth, forty-one back, Marco Andretti is fifth, forty-six back and Will Power is the final mathematically eligible driver; he is sixth, forty-seven back.

Since it's inception in 2010, the AJ Foyt Oval Championship has been won by three different driver. Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon won the first two editions in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the defending AJ Foyt Oval champion.

Indy Lights Championship
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will win another Indy Lights championship this year. Which driver will it be is another question. Sage Karam enters Fontana up sixteen points on teammate Gabby Chaves. Karam has three wins this season, two on ovals and has finished on the podium in all four oval races this year. Chaves was inches away from winning the Freedom 100 and finished on the podium in three of the four oval races. Chaves picked up his lone win of this season at Mid-Ohio.

Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Muñoz will be eliminated from championship contention as nine cars are entered for Fontana. Hawksworth needed twelve to enter to have a shot while Muñoz needed thirteen.

Should Chaves score maximum points at Fontana, Karam would need to finish at least third and lead the most laps to win the title.

If Karam finishes ninth, Chaves has to score thirty-eight points to tie, which can be done by either finishing third, scoring pole position and leading the most laps. However, Karam owns the tiebreaker over Chaves meaning should Karam finish ninth, Chaves has to finish second.

Kyle O'Gara will be making his second career Indy Lights start driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at Fontana. O'Gara made his debut at Indianapolis earlier this season where he finished eleventh after retiring due to an accident on lap two. O'Gara finished fourth in the USAC Honda National Midget Pavement Championship this year and is brother-in-law of Sarah Fisher. Giancarlo Serenelli will make his first career oval start at Fontana. Serenelli has competed in the last three rounds.

Other Tidbits
This will be the twelfth American open-wheel series race at Auto Club Speedway. Three drivers have won at Fontana multiple times, they are Jimmy Vasser, Sam Hornish, Jr. and Adrian Fernández. Each have two wins at Fontana.

Fernández came from 13th to win in 1999, the furthest starting position a winner has come from at Fontana. It is also the only time the winner has come from outside the top ten at Fontana.

Only once has the pole-sitter won at Fontana, that was Dario Franchitti in 2005.

The starting position that has produced the most Fontana winners is second. Twice has the winner from row outside the front row, Vasser in 1998 and Cristiano da Matta in 2001.

This year's Fontana race will feature a three wide initial start. This was a practice used for the Triple Crown races throughout the 1970s and was featured at Pocono earlier this year.

The last two races held on October 19th have been won by Michael Andretti and three out of the five total races held on October 19th have been won by an Andretti. Michael won the last two race on October 19th with his wins coming at Phoenix in 1986 and Laguna Seca in 1991 to cap off his championship winning season.

Mario Andretti won at Pacific Raceways just outside Seattle in Kent, Washington in 1969. Mario won the first 99-mile race of a doubleheader. The second race held later that day was won by Al Unser with Mario finishing second.

The other race held on October 19th was in 1946 and it was won by Walt Ader at the State Fair Speedway in Raleigh, North Carolina. However, my source, says it has not found any other information on the event other than Ader was the winner.

This will be Sébastien Bourdais' final race at Dragon Racing as he will move to KV Racing Technology in 2014.

We will see a someone pick up their first win of the season this weekend. Give me Justin Wilson, Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter and Josef Newgarden and I will give you the rest of the field. History is in Carpenter's favor as he has won the last two IndyCar season finales. That means the $250,000 bonus for winning two of three legs of the Triple Crown will go unclaimed.

Scott Dixon will win the championship. He will stay right behind Helio Castroneves all night and pick up his third title. In the other championship battles listed above, I'll take Andretti over Wilson for fourth;  Hunter-Reay over Power for sixth; Kimball will finish ahead of Franchitti; for thirteenth through fifteenth it will be Newgarden, de Silvestro and Viso and Servià will jump passed Saavedra.

Alex Tagliani will get a top ten with AJ Allmendinger just on the cusp of a top ten. Sleeper: JR Hildebrand