BATTLE ROYALE AT THE MAVTV 500
What you didn’t see on TV
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Mon, Oct 21, 2013
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Story by Brian Kennedy
Pictures by Gabriela Moya
What You Didn’t See on TV
There’s no way for TV to convey the enormity and complexity of an event like the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway. You can watch, and you’ll enjoy the action, but the angles are so limited, and the storylines so few, that you don’t get a sense of the organized mass confusion that is a race like this. I’m here to help.
First, understand that there are at least as many story lines going on as cars out there, with every driver represented by a gaggle of men and women sitting on the pit wall or on the data cart waiting to see what will happen and to play their part in it. Most know they’re not going to win the race, though they’d take a win if one came to them somehow.
Then there’s the will of the drivers. TV can show you a car, or a pack of cars, fighting for place or simply running around. It can’t show you the whoosh of air and the pounding energy of physics that goes by every time the cars do. And it can’t convey the nerve that forces guys (and women) to put their cars up next to the wall and to dive bomb other cars into turns to get just one spot, which sometimes is well back in the pack.
There’s the joy of the victors, and the stories of unlikely events within the race that led to the outcome, sometimes expected, sometimes surprising. In fact, TV is pretty good at this one, because these types of stories are resident in interviews most times, and the camera, when asked to do just one thing, is at least adequate.
With all of this in mind, what follows in the next couple of stories is what you didn’t see unless you were at the Indy Car finale, and some of what you might not have seen, even if you were. The race was set to start at 5:50, but when the organizers realized how bad the sun would be in turns three and four, and how poor the visibility as a result, they postponed that time by twenty minutes. The big anticipation was the three-wide start, which would replicate Indy. It would also be the third starting modality of the year, from standing starts to rolling two-wide ones. In fact, Saturday’s start was no big deal. The first row formed up, a couple of rows behind sort of did, and everyone else was wherever they were. Off went the cars into turn one. What followed will follow here. As you read, try to visualize the scene in all its chaotic glory. It’s not a matter of reporting what happened so much as understanding that at a track this big, with this many cars, so much is happening that it boggles the head. The enormity of the racing facility on a two-mile oval further makes it impossible to see and understand all that’s going on. The cars, when they go by you on the front stretch, are so loud you feel the rattle of their power. By the time they get to the exit of turn two, they’re a small version of themselves, whizzing down the straightaway silently. Of course, that’s just because they’re so far away. Sure, TV cameras bring them closer, in a way, but they don’t show you the dicing, the advantage that guys get coming out of turns, or running high to the wall, in the same way. For that, you have to whirl your head around, keep your eye on one car, and try to figure out how what the rest of the drivers are doing relates. If there’s a short way to say it, it’s that TV both “makes sense” of racing and has no hope of making sense of racing. It shows you a story. That’s a neatly assembled package, appearing seamlessly and forming “the” narrative. In fact, a race is multiple narratives that all, loosely anyway, string together. It’s in their fragmentation that the real excitement comes. With that said, here’s my attempt to full you in on what you didn’t see on TV.
The Will of Will
Last year, Will Power came into this race knowing that he had the chance to win the series title. He came in 17 points ahead, but ended up catching a seam in a turn and spinning into the wall. With that, his championship hopes were dashed. This year, that was not a possibility, because only two guys—Castroneves and Dixon—came into the weekend with any hope of the title, and so in some measure, Power was overlooked in media coverage prior to the race. Friday after qualifying, LACar was part of a small group that interviewed him, and he seemed uninterested in the proceedings. Now, the reason is clear—he had his mind made up about the race. He was going to win it. The explanation of why would come only later.
With that as the set-up, here’s what happened to Power as the night went on, followed by his reaction to his win.
By lap 12, Sebastien Bourdais was out front, and Power was second. A few laps later, he was dropping back. He ended up in a battle with Tony Kanaan, and then settled in behind him in fifth around lap 30.
He did not pit with the first four cars on lap 35, and thus had the lead for a couple of laps until lap 38, when he and Franchitti’s fill-in, Alex Tagliani, came in together. The stops sorted out, it was Hunter-Reay, Castroneves, Power, Kanaan, and Allmendinger.
After an accident collected Pippa Mann and Sebastian Saavedra, the leaders included Power in fourth place, with Hunter-Reay at the top. Power moved up to third after pit stops on lap 72.
As the race wound towards lap 90, Tony Kanaan made his play for the lead. He was there for several laps, with Castroneves second. Bourdais then took it over, and all of this as they started to race three-wide.
After a caution following lap 100, and the ensuing pit stops, Power was back in sixth place. Another caution came shortly later, and he made a super-long pit stop. He later explained that he had had a problem with his visor: “I’m guessing that a bunch of tear-offs came off, and then suddenly I’m pulling the last one off, and it’s not even halfway, and I’m like, ‘We’re in trouble, mate’.” He came in and they put a new visor on his helmet. Other drivers, too, were finding visibility difficult, partly due to the sand on the track and in the area. This was the same as last year, when the cars came in looking like they’d been through a sand-blasting by the time the race was over. Power said after, “It seems like the dust is always there, I don’t where it comes from. It seems like it never cleans up.” He came in again under the same yellow for tires, a long stop which saw him almost stall the car as he left the pits. He was 15th, last on the lead lap, when he went back out. As the caution went on, he pitted again, for a splash of fuel. Meanwhile, on the back straightaway, Justin Wilson was being extricated from his car in a lengthy procedure. It would turn out as the evening went on that he had a broken pelvis. Lucky for Power, other cars ahead of him came in for a last bit of ethanol under yellow and moved him up. He was tenth going back to green. The midpoint of the race came and went with the front seven cars strung out in a line. Dixon and Castroneves played out their ever-tense battle for the points lead, and Power found himself in the lead of the race after Allmendinger crashed between turns three and four. The next seventy laps or so saw lots of battles up front, mostly with Castroneves and Dixon in the middle of them (see the following story, “Outcomes”) and Power hanging around the top five. On lap 228, he, leader Bourdais, and Charlie Kimball were three-wide for the lead. Bourdais shortly broke loose and went off course, leaving the top three as Kimball, Power, and Hinchcliffe. When it was time to put and lap 231, Power and Tony Kanaan took the first chance at it. Seven cars were on the lead lap by this stage, with 12 on track all totaled. The green came out on lap 235, and Power slingshotted himself into first place. A lap later, Kimball smoked out, leaving oil all over turns one and two and onto the back straight. They threw a caution with Power leading Kanaan and Hinchcliffe. However, the latter was having overheating problems and had to stop once more for a radiator grill cleanout, and that put the top three as Power, Ed Carpenter, and Kanaan. Power restarted and pulled away, and the next two fought for the runner-up spot. By lap 248, eight cars were still on track, and Power took the checker and pink flag at lap 250 and then did a long burnout in front of the starter’s stand. He then went down the front straight, turned around, and did a reverse victory drive. After the race, he was more expressive than I’ve ever seen him. He was asked, for example, what song might have been playing in his head while driving in a race as crazy as this one, he said, “You, know, I guess, that Foo Fighters song,” and then made a kind of circular motion with his hands, like a dynamo pumping. Then he mimed driving on ovals, and crashing, while half-singing, “the best, the best of you.” He ended the show with an imaginary crash, “Phow,” he exclaimed. (Well, it was something like that, kind of a phonetic combination of “phew” and “pow.”) His feeling of urgency for the race came out all over his other post-race comments. “I was so determined to win that I went forward and backwards, backwards, forwards, and finally forwards, to win it,” he said. When asked to explain how satisfying the win was, he said it simply, “Very satisfying.”
His motivation was clear. Ed Carpenter, who won the race last year and came home second in 2013, had said about Power’s failure a year ago, “Will Power did exactly what everyone expected in that last race last year,” as reported by Power. “That was my incentive.” He said that he had a plan for the ovals all year long, and that was to finish every one. About California, Power said, “For what happened last year, I had the ovals in mind all year, and I had this race in mind.” Power summed up succinctly: “Probably my best win ever, that.” Read Brian Kennedy’s BATTLE ROYALE AT THE MAVTV 500: Outcomes