AutoMatters+: INDYCAR Season Finale at Auto Club Speedway

By Jan Wagner

The 2014 INDYCAR season wrapped up on Saturday evening, Aug. 30, with the MAVTV 500 — the Verizon IndyCar Series finale on the two-mile, D-shaped oval of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Verizon IndyCar Series racing is especially competitive. Over a span of 17 races, there were 10 different winners. Would race number 18 add yet another different winner?

Heading into this final race, the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship, its $1 million bonus and the Astor Cup trophy were still up for grabs. Three drivers, from three different countries, were still eligible, and none of them had ever won the Championship, although two had been runners-up multiple times. They were Penske Racing teammates Will Power (from Australia), who was leading the Championship hunt with 626 points, and Helio Castroneves (from Brazil) with 575 points. Penske Racing had not won a championship since 2006. The longer shot at the Championship was Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports’ driver Simon Pagenaud (from France) with 545 points.

Making things even more interesting was the fact that 500-mile races, including this one, award double points.

Aside from the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship being at stake, so were the three places on the podium in Victory Lane. The drivers who were in position to win the Championship needed to keep that in mind and not take unnecessary chances.

Qualifying was held on Friday — a day that would end with a very bad accident. Before that however, Helio Castroneves did what he needed to do. He qualified on pole. Will Power, on the other hand, was a disappointing 21st. Things did not start off well for him. Simon Pagenaud qualified mid-pack, in the 13th position.

Things were decidedly worse for Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin. After qualifying well (eighth) earlier in the day, he was involved in a serious, multi-car accident in the evening, during the final practice session. While trying to avoid contact with the unexpectedly slowing car driven by Scott Dixon, Aleshin lost control of his car going into the high-speed Turn 4, slid up the track, was collected by Charlie Kimball (who had no way to avoid him) and was violently launched up into the catch fencing where he hit a fence pole.

The force of what were multiple violent impacts destroyed his race car, scattering debris all over the track as the car quickly spun around and around. Fortunately, Kimball was unhurt, but Aleshin was hospitalized in stable condition with multiple injuries.

On Saturday afternoon, race fans enjoyed live music, food and more in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Fan Zone. Later, just before driver introductions, we were entertained by a Baby T-Rex from “Walking with Dinosaurs” taking a bite out of Mario Andretti.

Finally, after enduring 100-degree temperatures during the day, watching the race in the evening provided a welcome break from the heat. Other than one minor spin on lap 175 by Ryan Hunter-Reay (if there is such a thing as a minor spin on a superspeedway), the race was pretty much incident-free. That did, however, set up a photo-worthy race to and from the pits.

Will Power kept his cool and drove a smart race, finishing in ninth place to clinch his first Verizon IndyCar Series Championship, 62 points ahead of Helio Castroneves. Simon Pagenaud had a disappointing race. He was several laps down and fell to fifth place in the Championship.

An emotional Tony Kanaan earned a very popular race victory, making him the 11th different winner in 2014. Scott Dixon and Ed Carpenter rounded out the top three.

I spent much of my time taking pictures all around Auto Club Speedway. Since covering my last race here, I bought a new 150-600mm Tamron lens. While that lens would enable me to zoom in from far away, it posed one serious problem: How would I carry a camera with such a long and heavy lens, along with my other pro-DSLR and its shorter, wider-angle lens?

The solution is something called a Cotton Carrier Camera Vest & Side Holster. Unlike other two-camera solutions, this one spreads the weight over my whole upper body instead of digging into my neck or my shoulders. It also keeps the cameras from swinging around and hitting things. I highly recommend it. They also make a one-camera carrier called a StrapShot, which attaches to a backpack strap. See them at www.cottoncarrier.com.

As always, please write to AutoMatters@gmail.com with your comments and suggestions.

Copyright © 2014 by Jan Wagner –

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