Predictions: Fontana Finale Championship Edition

Expect the racing to be outstanding on Saturday night at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. It almost always is as the track’s perfectly designed for IndyCars. Fontana’s an Italian place name with a gritty steel town history. It’s changed drastically over the last several decades and come Saturday night it’ll be known for two types of speed. The 220 mph speeds of IndyCars are perfectly legal though, and much better for you as long as you’re only spectating and not too close.

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Photo from ap.org

The season title is on the line and kudos to the series for another down to the wire year with the championship. In addition to being exciting to watch, it’s further evidence of the parity the league enjoys and the new Dallaras have brought to racing  over the last three years. Of course without race control’s reticence to penalize Team Penske again this year, we’d probably have another contender or two for the championship. The engine manufacturers also have performed well with Chevrolet taking the title again and Honda taking another Indianapolis 500 in May.

Realistically, it’s a battle between the two Penske veterans, Mad Will Power and the ever-ebullient Helio Castro Neves for the million dollar championship prize. IRR predicts it will be Helio who takes home the crown for the Cap’n’s first ICS title in nearly a decade, amazingly. This occurring after Power blows his lead, his race and his stack all in one glorious meltdown. Think New Hampshire times ten.

indysportscrewcom

Photo from indysportscrew.com

Here’s IRR’s exclusive scoop. For the unstable member of the Penske stable, Sunday’s earthquake sent Will kicking and screaming across  the proverbial edge. As we’ve documented here extensively, he was already teetering on it and Sunday’s 6.0 rumbler finished off his last remaining nerve. In addition to looking forward to Power’s meltdown, Helio’s experience and magnetism will shine through to make the difference Saturday night and beyond. That’s a positive for IndyCar. After all, you don’t want a mad man as your spokesman.  

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Photos from dailytelegraph.com.au and usatoday.com

As for the 500 mile race itself that’s another matter entirely. Somewhat unique to motor racing the result of the grand finale may be completely independent of the championship. Therefore multiple winners may well emerge Saturday night, a race winner and a points winner. Many factors go into the final race of the year for the teams. Drivers are auditioning for other opportunities, attempting to pad their career stats and even looking to keep their rides. Teams evaluate their crews and drivers’ performance in the finale closely, all with an eye toward improving next year.

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Like previous season finales in IndyCar, all bets are off. It’ll be a wild and entertaining ride, guaranteed. Both Hunter-Reay and Ed Carpenter are oval aces and Montoya’s been hot lately so any of them could win. Same can be said for Dixie and TK who’s been close most of the summer.

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But for the season finale in SoCal, that’s all too safe and tame for us at IRR. We’re going with a nostalgic surprise winner – one last win for the King of IndyCar – and some other astounding calls. They certainly can’t hurt our season averages and besides it’s the last opportunity of the year.

AJtoledobladecom

Photo from toledoblade.com

% correct in previous 5 races

Pole Winner – Helio Castro Neves or Tony Kanaan                                               20%

Race Winner – Juan Pablo Montoya or Takuma Sato                                            20%

First Out of Race – Will Power or Sebastian Saavedra                                          20%

Biggest Surprise of Race – Carlos Munoz or Mikhail Aleshin                                  0%

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Sonoma Recap: Rockin’ Race Review

To our pleasant surprise, Sonoma provided glimpses of real IndyCar magic on Sunday afternoon. Even a blind racetrack can find a decent race once in a while. Racing broke out after an earthquake jolted the area overnight, Will Power inexplicably remained un-institutionalized and Sebastian Saavedra somehow received another series start. Hats off to Scottie Dixon who stealthily stalked the leaders most of the afternoon to take the win. It’s only his and Target’s second win of the year, but thirty-fifth of “the ice man’s” impressive career.

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It threatened to be another Power-from-the-pole snoozer like we’ve become accustomed to at Bored to Tears Point, but acts of God have a funny way of changing things up. The race was very much like a six foot long sub sandwich – good at first, then there’s the long middle part but boy is it exciting to finish.

It started with a first lap pile up that saw Hinch spin for about the eighth time of the weekend and collisions involving Helio, Sato and others receiving damage in the corner. The accident was precipitated by Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais who like the others continued on until the wild finish. A skittish Bourdais later tangled with his teammate (two Sebastians come together!) and finally with Will Power on the last lap ending up in the wall. Helio’s race would be at the rear of the field and he’d soon be joined by teammate and championship leader Mad Will Power, a massive mistake adding some unexpected drama to Bored to Tears Point.

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Photo from dailytelegraph.com.au

Power controlled the race and pulled away under largely green though dusty dry conditions. Nearly halfway through the race however, he uncharacteristically spun coming off of a corner in traffic, losing the lead and the race and dropping to twentieth. Like Helio he continued on for points sake, but wouldn’t be a factor in the outcome. This put the race up for grabs and led to an extremely entertaining though jarring finish. Less Power means more drama at tracks like Sonoma.

As they dashed to the finish line behind leader Scott Dixon, cars raced all over the track, bumping and grinding and several even running out of gas. It proved to be a finish worthy of the quake rattled weekend, with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud filling out the podium in fairly close fashion. Conway who led the race for Ed Carpenter Racing ran out of gas and coasted across the line before stopping on course.

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Bourdais was driven into the wall as they came banging three wide to the line with Power finishing tenth despite some controversy with his final placement. Sato comported himself well finishing fourth and Montoya charged back coca crazed style to a fifth place finish after also starting in the back. There was another brief yellow brought out during the middle portion of the race by Coyne’s Carlos Huertas who stopped on course. We predicted Huertas as first out, as well as Power on pole but missed with winners RHR & Montoya who fell just short.

The race sets up a grand finale for the championship as usual in IndyCar. With no contrived chase system like other series, IndyCar consistently has championship drama through the final race of the season. The double points Fontana offers as a 500 miler makes it a three way battle between the Penske duo Power and Helio and remarkably Frenchman Pagenaud for Sam Schmidt. Fontana will make for a thrilling conclusion to what’s been an entertaining season.

The coverage of the race by NBCSN although with the B team was colorful and competent, as usual. We just wonder how much they get paid to call the area “beautiful,” as unless you really like dusty brown, Sonoma just doesn’t do it aesthetically. Sam – you know – did all right as a new announcer, Townsend’s tolerable and PT’s ok for a Canuck. Leigh Diffy is preferred over his stand in, though. We particularly loved finally getting to see Courtney Force on camera. Damn, Graham needs to lead more races.  


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Photo from examiner.com

Earthquake Quotes –  

“Man I thought it was all over. I didn’t think we’d have the race. Oh my God – such a shock. I thought I was gonna die-uh.” – Will Power

“Not what you want. Man, it was amazing. I never knew we had that. Man, wow, that was the scariest thing of my life.” – Helio Castro Neves

“It was exciting – first earthquake ever.” –  Simon Pagenaud

“Yeah it was crashing and banging and stuff flying across the room.”  – Mike Conway

“The building was swaying so much. It was pretty big.” – Graham Rahal

“It was weird, man, I’d never been through an earthquake.” – James Hinchcliffe

“Awful, like awful. Like my shit- my, the bed was shaking. Anything in the bathroom went to the floor. It was bad.” – Juan Pablo Montoya

Milwaukee Mile Madness

The race entertained as promised with plenty of passing, traffic and action on the flat oval track. Before qualifications even commenced though the silly season news heated up. SFHR and ECR announced they’re joining forces next year to become a multi car team, consolidating into one big happy All American family.  Except for Conway that is, who’s a part time driver and full time Englishman. The series loses two teams but gains one, and we hope CFHR have success together. They cited the coming of aero kits, the need for shared data and the advantages of a two car team in the decision. We’d love to see Sarah back behind the wheel next year, but that ain’t gonna happen.

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Power started and won the race from pole, leading most of the race in dominating fashion. Team Penske finished 1-2 with Montoya also running a strong race despite a rough pit stop and looking solid heading into the last two races. He received a warning for running into a tire in his pit box but no penalty, as it seems Penske rules were in effect again for race control. The race was run almost entirely under green flag conditions with drivers generally behaving themselves all day. Kanaan and Dixon took third and fourth for Target Chip Ganassi Racing while Josef Newgarden took fifth for SFHR.

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Photo from dailytelegraph.com.au

Andretti Autosport had a disappointing weekend, with all four cars qualifying poorly and Hinchcliffe who’d been quickest hitting the wall with minutes to go in the final practice, wrecking a perfectly good car. Hunter-Reay had the most entertaining drive of the race, storming from the rear of the field to near the front and gaining fourteen positions before his suspension finally gave up on him. After he climbed out of his car a dejected Hunter-Reay said “Our championship hopes are up in smoke.” AA rookie Munoz struggled all weekend and made the only contact with the wall all race, finishing last.

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Photo from indycar.com

In pre-race, Robin Miller amused viewers on NBCSN as usual with his grid run. In a brief encounter with J.R. Hildebrand, he raised the possibility of him driving a third car for the new CFH Racing. He then spoke with Larry Foyt about expanding to two cars and of the possibility of “half the grid being Americans next year.” We can only hope. Miller also mentioned the field being even stronger next year, which really would be something.

The grandstands looked to be only about half full for the race, if that, but we’re happy to pass along news reports stating that the IndyCar series will return to the historic mile next year. At least there’s some stability when it comes to oval tracks on the schedule. The oval track racing proved exciting with two and even three wide passing throughout the afternoon.

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One of the biggest moments of the race was the start, where Sato in mid pack got extremely loose and nearly caused a pile up on the first lap. He recovered but was never a factor in another disappointing performance in front of his sponsor’s home town crowd. This after Larry Foyt told Miller in pre race that “the pressure’s on” Sato who “needs to finish the season strong.”

The grand old mile put in a good showing yesterday, providing challenging and entertaining racing for drivers and spectators alike. Power’s prime position in the points was strengthened as was Montoya’s, while Helio’s standing suffered with an 11th place finish. It was one of those pure Penske days in Milwaukee and sets up an exciting final two races of a rapidly dwindling season.

Race Day Rattlings

Eleven Race Day Rattlings & Ruminations:

Sarah Fisher (O’Gara) Hartman Racing plus Ed Carpenter Racing equals a whole lot a racing. Will the combined CFHR remain the underdogs we enjoy rooting for?

What’s next we can only imagine. Ever heard a’ Herta Foyt Racing?! We’d take the sharp looking black 14 car back on track.

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Photo from espn.go.com

Our pole predictions were extremely close, missing it by that much. Right team, wrong Penske and 2nd choice TK starts 2nd. Our picks to win? Starting 19th & 20th. Ouch.

How about that pole speed? 169.262 mph – over a mile per hour slower than Marco’s record last year.

Perhaps Penske’s perpetually perturbed Power prevails from pole?

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Photo from dailytelegraph.com.au

Does JPM’s resurgence continue, increasing the pressure on Will and Helio?

Will AA’s surprising recent struggles at the Mile persist? Marco’s their top qualifier – in 9th.

Is Tony Target’s best shot at victory at the Mile? Or is it Briscoe? What an off year for Dixie and the whole Ganassi team.

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Do either of the newly paired Newkid or Carpenter have a shot at victory circle? It’d complete a big weekend for them. 

Can Sato turn in a strong showing and actually finish in front of his sponsor’s home crowd? We’re dubious but hopefully wrong. 

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We’re high on Munoz, but which rookie makes the most of his maiden Milwaukee Mile?