AutoMatters: Dramatic IndyCar Season Finale at Auto Club Speedway

By Jan Wagner

It was an exciting race, a fitting conclusion to a dramatic, unbelievably competitive 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season that thrilled fans and the international field of competitors alike with many IndyCar race winners – including several for their first time. The MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana had it all from start to finish: action on the track, drama in the pits and suspense until the very end as to who would win the season championship. Would it be Scott Dixon, who emerged as the surprise Series leader late in the season, or would it be Helio Castroneves, who stumbled late in the season with a disastrous two-race weekend in Houston, giving up his commanding lead in the points?

The race began with a full field that included Canada’s Alex Tagliani, back after a long absence and substituting in the Target Chip Ganassi Racing machine for Scotland’s Dario Franchitti, injured and out for the year after a horrific crash that sent his IndyCar airborne into the catch-fencing in Houston.

The MAVTV 500 was run under the lights, its start briefly delayed so that the drivers would not have to race into the setting sun in turn three.

The track surface also presented a challenge for the drivers. Seams in the high-speed turns created three distinct lanes, with a different amount of grip on the seams as compared to the track surface. Consequently the cars kept stepping out on the seams. Fans watched intensely as drivers struggled to regain control of their IndyCars.

The Holmatro Safety Team kept busy during several caution periods, the most serious of which being for a multi-car wreck that resulted in England’s Justin Wilson getting transported by ambulance to a hospital with a fractured pelvis and bruised rib, after spinning his car and then getting T-boned by the IndyCar of France’s Tristan Vautier, who had nowhere else to go.

The race lead went back and forth. Near the end, California’s Charlie Kimball was leading in his Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar when he suffered a heartbreaking mechanical failure. He lost power and had to drop out of the race.

Earlier this year Charlie, who is the first licensed IndyCar driver to race with Type 1 diabetes, achieved another first, winning the Honda Indy 200 at Mid Ohio. He has proved that living with diabetes and taking (NovoLog) insulin every day need not keep someone out of racing and winning at the highest levels.

Championship leaders Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves both experienced difficulties in the race, leaving the door open for the MAVTV 500 race victory by Australia’s Will Power, driving the #12 Verizon-sponsored Team Penske IndyCar. By finishing the race in fifth place, Dixon edged out sixth place finisher Castroneves for the Series Championship. There were two podium ceremonies: one for the race and one for the Series Championship.

This was a great event for the fans, not just because of the great racing but also due to the many things away from the track for them to see and do.

In the garage area, fans could walk along a raised gantry through the middle of the IndyCar garage, where they watched as the race teams prepared their cars and made adjustments. Among those present in the garage was the legendary A. J. Foyt, car owner for Japan’s Takuma Sato, a first-time winner earlier this season on the streets of Long Beach, California.

Outside, by one of the transporters, Ohio’s Graham Rahal (driver of the #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing IndyCar and son of racing legend Bobby Rahal) explained to a large group of fans the many buttons, controls and displays on the complex steering wheel of an IndyCar, and then he answered their questions.

The behind-the-scenes access that fans have at an IndyCar race is amazing, especially when compared to that other major open-wheeled race series (Formula 1).

In the FanZone, in addition to the food and trailers full of racing souvenirs, there were all sorts of fun things for fans to see, do and even win. There was even a large go-kart track.

The 2014 IndyCar season is scheduled to end in Fontana again next year, just a week after another IndyCar race in California, at Sonoma Raceway. Mark your calendars for Aug. 30 of the Labor Day weekend.

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Copyright © 2013 by Jan Wagner – #304r3