For the third straight year, Will Power found himself relegated to the role of bridesmaid, watching on as arch-rival Ryan Hunter-Reay did what he needed to do, finishing fourth and taking the 2012 IZOD Indycar Series Championship. Up the front, Ed Carpenter drove the race of his life to take his second career victory and first for his new team.
Will Power has yet to master the oval racing discipline. In three full Indycar seasons, Power’s average finish on ovals coming in to today’s race was 13th – very poor. On road and street courses, he is rarely beaten, but the championship goes to the best driver on all circuit types, and once again, Power’s nerves in the consistent left turn race type showed through as he got it all wrong early on and found himself on the sidelines.
Both championship contenders qualified poorly and knew they would be starting among the pack, and from the drop of the green flag, both kicked off equally poorly and moved backwards through the field. Once they got going, both settled into a rhythm and found themselves slowly moving through until Lap 56 when the pivotal event of the season took place. The back of Power’s car got loose in Turn 1 and snapped around. A meeting with the wall was the next thing Power knew and as he said later, the first thing he said to himself was that “that’s it, the championship is gone”. Once the car was delivered back to the team, the mechanics thought differently and promptly went to work repairing the No 12 Verizon Team Penske machine.
Back on the circuit, other cars were involved in their own incidents, from Justin Wilson, Rubens Barrichello and Alex Tagliani, who all failed to finish.
By Lap 122, the Penske boys had repaired Power’s car and were sending him back into the race to try and maximise the outcome and any potential points haul. However, once it became apparent the car was no longer up to the task, Power parked it and climbed out, and nervously watched on to see how his season would unfold.
Up the front of the field, Takuma Sato, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan were all fighting for the lead and frequently swapping positions. Ryan Hunter-Reay was initially finding himself stuck in eighth position, which was three spots lower than the fifth place finish needed to secure the title. Hunter-Reay was developing a problem with his right-rear shock absorber also, which was affecting his speed. He learned to manage the problem by taking a heap of downforce out of the front wing at the next pitstop, neutralising the problem. Drivers ahead of Hunter-Reay were starting to drop out or crash, promoting the Andretti Autosports driver towards the magic finishing number needed to take the title.
With 9 laps to go, Hunter-Reay was running in fifth place and had the title, when Tony Kanaan, who was going for the A.J Foyt oval championship in his own right, crashed on the exit of Turn 4. Chief Steward Beaux Barfield earned Michael Andretti’s ire by surprisingly calling a red flag and stopping the race. This was done to ensure the track was cleaned up and that the race would run as much of the 500-mile distance under green flag conditions as possible. It was a unique call not before seen, but it was done to improve the show for the crowd on hand. The stoppage lasted only a couple of minutes before the restart unleashed the pack for an 8-lap dash to the finish. Hunter-Reay at this point was firmly entrenched in the top five and held on to take the Indycar Drivers Title by 3 points.
Ending his season with a bang, Takuma Sato ended this 500-mile race the same way he ended the Indianapolis 500-mile event, spinning in the first corner of the final lap and hitting the wall. Ed Carpenter soon rounded the final corner and took the win, the second time he had won the final points-paying race of the year.
But while Ed Carpenter Racing were celebrating their win, the majority of the focus was on Ryan Hunter-Reay, who took his maiden championship, on the same weekend he signed a new deal to remain at Andretti Autosports for the next two seasons.
For Power, it was yet another fall at the final hurdle. As baseball legend Mickey Mantle famously said…
“There’s always next year.”
2012 IndyCar Series MAV TV 500 Final Classification (250 laps):