Bittersweet feelings permeated the Team Penske garage once the final race of the 2013 season had concluded. Will Power drove a commanding race to take his third victory of the year, while Helio Castroneves gave the championship chase a mighty swing, but was ultimately unable to get the job done – Scott Dixon claimed his third series championship with a fifth-placed finish.
Power was now showing a new confidence on oval tracks which had in the past cost him shots at championships of his own. Elated upon exiting the car, he described it as “the most satisfying win” of his career.
The 500-mile curtain call spectacular to Season 2013 was a definition of attrition. After 250 laps of the two-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, nine drivers were classified as having finished and only five had completed the entire distance.
At one point or another, eleven drivers led at least one lap, while yellow-flag caution periods covered much of the event. Pippa Mann, Sebastian Saavedra, Carlos Munoz, AJ Allmendinger, Alex Tagliani, Sebastien Bourdais and many others all met the wall in a way they hadn’t planned on, keeping the Holmatro Safety Team very busy.
Ryan Hunter-Reay led much of the opening stint, with Castroneves storming his way to the front, knowing a podium finish and severe misfortune to his Ganassi rival, Dixon, was his only feasible path to his first IndyCar Series Championship. Helio was with the leaders before the first pit stops, which began from Lap 35.
The biggest crash of the day came on Lap 111, with six drivers involved. Justin Wilson spun on his own and in an effort to avoid T-boning the Dale Coyne machine, Josef Newgarden veered right and inadvertently collected Oriol Servia. Tristan Vautier had slowed considerably, but couldn’t avoid him and made contact – an impact which caused Wilson to suffer a fractured pelvis. Wilson was slowly extricated and taken away in an ambulance, leading to serious concerns at the time, but was later reported to be OK despite the fracture. James Jakes was also caught up in the accident, hitting the wall while trying to take evasive action of his own.
One problem affected the entire field over the course of the race was debris and dust on the racetrack and their effect on engines after being sucked into radiators. Rising engine temperatures were proving to be a serious concern all along the pit wall, with dirt, dust and carbon-fibre shards from other accidents having an effect.
Late in the race, when Charlie Kimball – who was leading strongly at the time and looking a real shot for the win – suffered an engine failure, it was surprising to hear this was not a result of what was being sucked into his radiator out on the circuit. With regular maintenance via an ordinary dry-vacuum, teams were able to manage the problem to get the cars to the finish.
Midway through, Scott Dixon started to make his way to the north end of the field and at that point, the fortunes of the race swung in his favour. For Helio, it all came to an end very late in the race when following Alex Tagliani’s accident on Lap 210, Roger Penske himself accidentally called him in for a pit stop, not realising the pit lane was closed.
This forced Castroneves to drive through past his crew, dropping to 11th place. A front wing failure and subsequent green-flag pitstop drove the final nail into the coffin that was the championship chase, despite Dixon also needing to make an unscheduled stop to clean out his radiator ducts.
Hindsight being 20/20, most pundits will point to Houston two weeks earlier and the 74-point swing in Dixon’s favour as the scene where it all went awry for the open-wheel veteran and three-time Indy 500 winner.
After the race, Castroneves was pragmatic and once again promised to come back and try again next year, which was all he realistically could do.
2013 IndyCar MAVTV 500 World Championship – Final Classification (250 laps):
|Driver||Entry / Team||Laps||Avg Speed|
|1.||Will Power||Team Penske||250||3:13:42.8699|
|2.||Ed Carpenter||Ed Carpenter Racing||250||217.932mph|
|3.||Tony Kanaan||KV Racing Technology||250||217.566mph|
|4.||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport||250||217.798mph|
|5.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||250||217.979mph|
|6.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||249||1 lap behind|
|7.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||248||2 laps behind|
|8.||Simona de Silvestro||KV Racing Technology||247||3 laps behind|
|9.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||242||8 laps behind|
|DNF.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing||238||217.986mph|
|DNF.||JR Hildebrand||Barracuda Racing||237||215.967mph|
|DNF.||Sébastien Bourdais||Dragon Racing||229||218.513mph|
|DNF.||Simon Pagenaud||SPH Racing||217||216.447mph|
|DNF.||Alex Tagliani||Chip Ganassi Racing||209||217.419mph|
|DNF.||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||200||216.606mph|
|DNF.||AJ Allmendinger||Team Penske||188||218.894mph|
|DNF.||Takuma Sato||AJ Foyt Enterprises||144||no time|
|DNF.||Justin Wilson||Dale Coyne Racing||110||Collision|
|DNF.||Oriol Servia||Panther Racing||110||Collision|
|DNF.||Josef Newgarden||Sarah Fisher Hartman||110||Collision|
|DNF.||Tristan Vautier||SPH Racing||110||Collision|
|DNF.||James Jakes||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||110||Collision|
|DNF.||Carlos Muñoz||Team Venezuela||100||Accident|
|DNF.||Sebastián Saavedra||Dragon Racing||69||Contact|
|DNF.||Pippa Mann||Dale Coyne Racing||68||Contact|