SPEEDING ON ROUTE 66
to the Verizon IndyCar Series in Fontana
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 Fri, Jun 26, 2015
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Story by Brian Kennedy, PhD Photographs by Gabriela Moya Ten down. Six to go. Hard to imagine that the Verizon IndyCar Series is on the home stretch. But true, and that road takes them through Fontana this weekend for a 500-mile race at Auto Club Speedway. The Verizon IndyCar Series has run here since 2012. Its predecessor, the Indy Racing League, sanctioned events from 2002-05, and competitor CART held races from 1997-2002. Fans may be forgiven a double-take when they note that this year’s race is in June, because this race has come to define the end of the IndyCar Series over the past few years, not without its share of drama, as it has been run at night and for the series championship. The best evening of action of late was in 2013, when Will Power took the pole and the win to cement the season’s title after setting the two-lap qualifying record for the speedway at over 220mph. This year, qualifying is Friday afternoon. The race goes Saturday afternoon, with green flag scheduled for 1:36 local time. What? No spectacle under the lights? My guess as to the time being afternoon was that running the race in the evening would be difficult because as we saw with the race here late last summer, when the sun goes down, it’s impossible to see going into turns 3-4, which has the drivers looking west. But since it’s barely summer, waiting for sundown would put the start near 8pm, which would have nobody watching in the Eastern time zone. In fact, the answer as to why the mid-day start, according to an IndyCar official I spoke with, is more simple than that: “TV decision. NBCSN wanted it at that time. Nobody’s very happy about it, and if you look at what they’ve got in the evening slot, it’s horse racing and a Tour de France preview show.” He was more graphic, but let’s leave the detail at that. The official answer, which I got from hearsay via Derrick Walker, was exactly what I’d guessed, by the way. But one other idea floated was to run, say, at 4pm. The race would be over by sundown, then, and the race would be prime time for Eastern TV. Oh well. But so what? Well, you can “so what” yourself, because it’s just not fun being in a grandstand mid-day with the sun blazing down. And it’s summer in Fontana. Has been for about three months, in fact. Heck, even NASCAR at this track was hot, and that was in March. The good news? As of the weather report available late in the week, Saturday is supposed to be the coolest day of the week and weekend. But that also needs to be put into perspective, because “cool” is 94 degrees. Good thing the race isn’t Sunday, which is supposed to top out nearer to 100. But why Friday-Saturday rather than Saturday-Sunday, which would seem to be more likely to attract a crowd? I asked my source that too, and he just shrugged. Then he pointed out that the series brought their traveling Fan Zone out to Cali “basically for three hours Saturday,” because as he and anyone else with any sense knows, showing up for Friday would be nearly impossible for most fans, except the dedicated IndyCar fanatics who might take the day off. Getting to Fontana from LA on Friday afternoon, with qualifying scheduled for 4:45-6pm, would mean fighting east-bound traffic for miles. And miles. And more miles. But let’s turn to the fun stuff. Twenty-three cars, including three driven by rookies, were scheduled to compete for the weekend win. Those three newbies were the first to take to the track, running at 8:30 Friday morning, for an hour. They were Stefano Coletti, Sage Karam, and Gabby Chaves. The latter of the three came in highest in points amongst series rookies, in 15th. The other two were 20th and 21st. Juan Pablo Montoya is leading the series, followed by Will Power and Scott Dixon. They have five wins between them, with Montoya’s two including the season’s opener at St. Petersburg, FL, and the Indianapolis 500. Some would say that nothing else matters when one wins that race. But Montoya is charging, though his two races following Indy, both at Belle Isle in Detroit, saw him net two tenth-place finishes. He rebounded to fourth at Texas and then was seventh at the series’ last race, in Toronto. If there is any on-track controversy, it centers on the series’ use of aerokits this year. Conceived as a way to allow the engineers to show their stuff and to differentiate the Chevrolet and Honda entries (all cars run on the same spec Dallara chassis), they have been responsible, some say, for keeping the Honda cars in a decidedly second-class spot. Of the Honda teams, Graham Rahal is the class so far, holding fifth in the series’ points race. He has a career-best of sixth at this track in three starts. Castroneves and Kanaan have each made 11 starts at Auto Club Speedway to lead the series. Kanaan won last year in what was the last race of the season. Seven different drivers have won races thus far this year. Kanaan, if he starts, will keep alive his streak of starting every event since June 2001 in Portland. That’s 244 races. The series runs six races on ovals amongst its season-long competition. The series has a Triple Crown award which goes to anyone who can capture the three 500-mile events (Indy, California, and Pocono—August 23rd). Montoya, obviously, is the driver hoping to win this year’s award, but it’s interesting to note that he won Pocona last year, so if he wins this weekend at California, he will be what the series is calling the “virtual” TC winner, since he will have won the last three contests 500-mile events. This weekend’s race is the start of three in a row on ovals, with Milwaukee next and Iowa Speedway following that. This will take them to mid-July and leave just three races, the final one on August 30th in Sonoma. For more information about the Verizon IndyCar Series, go to indycar.com/