Season 2013 reaches its climactic conclusion this weekend as the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California hosts the final round of the IZOD IndyCar Series for this year.
Team boss Roger Penske, for all the success he has enjoyed as a pioneer and trailblazer of American open wheel racing, remains as competitive today as he has ever been, of that there is no question. But this past fortnight, it may be a safe bet that The Captain has been poring over archive security footage from the year 2007 to see when he broke a mirror, walked under a ladder or saw a black cat, for here we go again with another season climax and another championship seemingly all but won now close to slipping through his fingers.
Facts & Stats
|Date:||18-19 October 2013|
|Lap Length:||2.7km / 1.9 miles|
|Event Schedule:||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 10:45-12:15|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 18:05-18:35|
|Race (250 laps, 500 miles)||Sat 17:50-21:00|
|Past IndyCar Winners:||Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara Chevrolet)||2012|
|Dario Franchitti (Andretti Green Racing Dallara Honda)||2005|
|Adrian Fernández (Aguri-Fernández G-Force Honda)||2004|
|Sam Hornish Jr (Panther Racing Dallara Chevrolet)||2003|
|Sam Hornish Jr (Panther Racing Dallara Chevrolet)||2002|
All set for a championship showdown
Helio Castroneves first joined Team Penske way back in late 1999 and was due to debut for the team as one half of an all-new driver lineup at Round 1 of the 2000 season alongside Greg Moore.
Following Moore’s fatal crash at the final round of 1999, the equally fast Gil de Ferran came in to fill the second seat and achieved instant success, taking the CART title in both of his first two years with the team. To his credit, Helio was always fast and enjoyed his own success at Indianapolis – three bottles of the famed milk in 2001, 2002 and 2009 – but for one reason or another, was never able to convert this into a series championship either in CART or in the Indy Racing League, into which he followed upon Penske’s jump in 2002. Despite zero championships, Castroneves still won at least one race every year for Penske from 2000 until 2011 – an impressive statistic.
Despite being lured strongly by the V8 Supercar Series in the late 1990s, Scott Dixon moved from his native New Zealand to the USA with sufficient financial backing to test and eventually sign with Stefan Johansson’s Indy Lights team for 1999. Johansson was so impressed with the Kiwi, he also signed Dixon as a management client – a partnership that exists to this day.
Dixon was noticed by PacWest Racing after his inaugural year and switched to compete for the team in 2000, taking the Lights title with ease. Clearly ready, he was moved up to PacWest’s CART team for 2001 to replace the retiring Mark Blundell, instantly outpacing his more experienced team mate in Mauricio Gugelmin and taking his first victory at Nazareth in only his third outing for the team.
Target Chip Ganassi lured him away three races into the 2002 season, where Dixon has remained since, and has taken two IndyCar championships and one Indianapolis 500 since then. He is one of the most decorated and accomplished drivers in American open-wheel history.
|While Castroneves has largely been a model of consistency in 2013, Dixon has garnered more wins|
Other talking points
Fontana will also see the culmination of the IndyCar Triple Crown bonus, which is up for grabs in the form of a $250,000 cash prize to either Dixon or Tony Kanaan should either take the chequered flag this weekend. The circuit is a 2-mile super-speedway capable of delivering three-wide racing nearly the whole way around, with the bravest of drivers able to keep their feet firmly planted on the throttle throughout. Slipstreaming will contribute to the majority of overtaking moves and should lead to some ultra-tight and thrilling racing.
Both of the teams in contention for the title will have new faces strapping into their cars this weekend. At Penske, part-time pilot AJ Allmendinger will line up for the team for the first time since his pair of disastrous performances in Detroit. Despite being confirmed to return to NASCAR full- time next season, he will want to show The Captain his investment has not been a waste with a strong performance. Over at Ganassi, Alex Tagliani makes his return to the series after not being seen since Toronto. Tags replaces Dario Franchitti, who continues to convalesce from his horrendous accident at Houston which resulted in a fractured ankle and several recuperative surgeries.
Franchitti won’t be loaded back into a car until pre-season testing next year at the earliest, but should be on hand to provide moral support for Dixon, Tagliani and the team.
After the disaster that was Houston, Penske and many of the IndyCar teams travelled to Fontana for a test session, which saw Castroneves emerge as the fastest – a good sign leading in to the weekend.
But test sessions won’t win championships, and Helio has it all to do this weekend. On the presumption neither Dixon nor Castroneves claim any bonus points from pole position or leading the most laps, Castroneves needs to finish no further back than seventh place, with Dixon even further behind, to take his first series championship.
It promises to be another cracking race and a thrilling conclusion to the 2013 season.