The MAV TV 500 from Auto Club Speedway
In a Nutshell: For the ninth consecutive year, the last race of the season determined the IndyCar champion. This time, Will Power, three times a runner-up, hoisted the Astor Cup by finishing ninth. Tony Kanaan held strong all night, seemingly in the top five the whole event, and passed Power with 53 laps to go to hold on and win his first race of the season. With Kanaan’s victory, eleven different drivers won this year in IndyCar, equaling the record of 2001.
Power’s championship is the first for Penske Racing since Sam Hornish, Jr. won in 2006. Helio Castroneves finished second in the standings, his fourth time doing so. Now that Power has managed to eviscerate his demons, it’s Castroneves who faces the question of: can he ever win it all?
Key Moment – The Championship: Lap 219, Helio Castroneves broke his championship bubble with a pit lane penalty. He raced onto the apron with too much speed and had to return to the racing groove or spin out trying not to. The penalty, a drive-thru, dropped him to 14th position and a lap down. From there, Will Power was able to coast home to the title.
Key Moment – The Race: Tony Kanaan swept past Will Power on the high side with 53 laps to go, then managed to eke out a gap over his teammate, Scott Dixon. He held on to win, with Dixon behind, giving Ganassi Racing a 1-2 finish. Earning the third spot of the podium, single-car team driver Ed Carpenter managed to hang with the big teams. James Hinchcliffe ended his season in decent fashion, even after a pit-lane penalty on lap 143, by taking fourth, with Juan Pablo Montoya rounding out the top five.
The Highlight/Lowlight Reel:
- For those who follow the Verizon IndyCar series, there’s been a question about Will Power that hovers whenever the pressure is on him: which Power will show up? He has a bit of a split personality it seems, loose and aggressive at times versus tight and worrisome at others. The last time that he had the opportunity to race for the title, at Auto Club Speedway in 2012, he spun out and wrecked early in the race, and handed the championship to Dario Franchitti.
This year it appeared that the same Power might be again riding in the no. 12, as evidenced by his abysmal qualifying effort, where he took 21st. To Power’s credit, he drove a magnificent race. Starting at the back, he steadily made his way through the field, picking up a couple spots each fuel run. By lap 150 he had eked his way into the top 10, which pretty much meant that Castroneves would have to win to earn the championship.
- His positives being noted, Power’s divebomb to take the lead just after the restart around lap 180 had to make people wonder if he’d lost his mind for a moment. The track allowed for basically one groove at the top all night as few had made any progress going low. Yet there was Power, not only hooking low, but making it stay. Though his lead lasted only eight laps, it showed a driver who was not just riding around.
- Juan Pablo Montoya continues to show he will be a force in his return to open-wheel racing and will be a likely contender for the 2015 championship. Montoya raced out to the front in the early going and earned the lap leader bonus. Having won at Pocono and now taking a top-5 at Fontana, as well as a strong run at Milwaukee, his prowess on ovals shows that as he has re-connected with IndyCar, he has everything needed to be a threat.
- If only. If only the early part of the season had gone just slightly better. That thought had to have crossed Scott Dixon’s mind at some point. His season started off, well, bland. But he finished strong, winning at Milwaukee and Sonoma and finishing second in the finale. By closing out the season in such a fashion, he wound up third in the points standings.
- One of the problems with the race last year was that winds blew sand and dirt in off the high desert and mountains of Southern California. Throw in the klag from the degrading tires on the speedway’s rough surface, and the mixture proved deadly towards clogging engine intakes. This year, lighter winds helped mitigate this concern – in fact, just one car retired on the night and that was for, cough cough, driver illness.
- Takuma Sato first surprised everyone with a strong qualifying effort, earning fourth. Few would have anticipated that he might finish anywhere near there. A banner attached to the rail behind his pit read: No Attack, No Chance. It is exactly that kind of mentality that has doomed the Japanese driver in the past. In Fontana, however, he drove a steady race and managed to secure a sixth-place finish. Coupled with his fourth from Sonoma, that’s not a bad way to finish out the season.
- On the flipside is Ryan Hunter-Reay, who did not close out the year on a strong manner. His last three races seem to indicate a driver who lost a sense of concentration, or one that is in an overall sense of frustration. That he earned an improper pit exit penalty is a testament to this concept. That he spun out, causing the only caution of the race, also seems to be an example of the former champion needing to find his racing groove again.
- The race may not have gone as he’d liked, but Simon Pagenaud has to be pleased with his fifth-place finish in the standings. He had an outside shot at the championship but was felled by a bad tire only laps into the MAVTV 500. The early pit stop killed any hopes of running up front. The question that surrounds the thirty-year old driver is where he will be racing next year – will he remain with Schmidt-Peterson, or might a move to Andretti be coming?
The series announced that the sponsorship at the Auto Club Speedway with MAVTV will continue for 2015 and 2016. Though INDYCAR has toyed with the idea of moving the championship finale to a different track (nothing determined as of posting this article), the sponsorship will remain with the race regardless of when it’s held.
Notable Drivers: Ed Carpenter
Carpenter loves ovals. He doesn’t even bother to drive road/street courses that’s how much he loves them. He qualified 14th for the race and it seemed like he wouldn’t be a factor against the big teams of Andretti, Penske, and Ganassi. For the most part of the race, he sat in the latter half of the top ten. Then he began inching up through the field. And then his race seemingly fell apart with a pit lane speeding penalty on lap 106. His little team that could made its way to the front, thanks much to the yellow flag on lap 175, and then he moved into third, where he would finish, with just under 50 laps to go.
From the elated winner, Will Power, “that was one of the hardest races ever. Oh my God, I was crying over the line. It just went on and on.
He went on to say, “I’m so mentally exhausted now. I’m just so exhausted. My hands are like numb from holding onto the wheel so tight. Man, I want to be a lot more excited but I’m just so drained. That was just mega. I can’t believe I won it.
Apparently the championship drain went further than just the race at Auto Club Speedway, because Power remarked, “The last 14 days have been the worst in my life, just mentally, just emotionally -just so bad. Not sleeping and stressing. I feel bad for my wife. Keeping her up at night, just bad. You never think it can happen until it happens. I can’t believe I’m champion. I can’t believe it.”
Helio Castroneves tried to be his usual upbeat self by saying, “It’s great. Talking about the team, obviously, it’s great. I was pushing extremely hard. I knew the only way for us to get in front was through the pits and my ins and outs seemed to be working very well except for my last one and I got a drive though. So my bad.”
However, Castroneves couldn’t hide the emotions of finishing second in the points in consecutive years and for a fourth time in his career. He looked, as should be expected, pained. Ever the class act, he thanked the media for the work that they do before leaving his post-race press conference.
Race winner, Tony Kannan, showed the expected ebullience, praising his team and the Chip Ganassi organization as a whole. He joked that he gets to brag about the win for the next seven months.
Kanaan also showed an appreciation and sense of contrition for driving the no. 10 car, saying, “It was very emotional. Obviously this 10 car has a lot of history so I didn’t want to go winless, you know, just because it’s tradition. So I told Dario, this win, I dedicate that for him.”
Simon Pagenaud, “It was a long day. I’m very disappointed because my hopes were really high and I was always believing it until I crossed the checkered flag. But when you reflect on the year, we fought against Penske, which is a fantastic team.
Sebastien Bourdais, “It was a very tough night for the Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing team and that is all I have to say about the race.
Sebastian Saavedra may have summed things up best by saying, “Can’t believe we have just had the last race of the season. Sad to say goodbye to racing for a while but really motivated for what’s next.
A long offseason. The IndyCar series tests next weekend at the Indianapolis road course, and then they trail off into a six-month offseason. When the series resumes, it comes back in a striking new way: Dubai. The race is an attempt to grow the series internationally and its success will be worth watching. In conjunction, IndyCar is also hoping to announce that they will be racing at Autodromo Nelson Piquet in Brazil in the near future.