Saturday, October 19, 2013

California Oval finale for 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series has Power on Pole

Photo Credit: Michael L. Levitt for Chevy Racing

The final event of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series, the year concludes in Fontana, California at the two-mile Auto Club Speedway. Preparing for a 500-mile Saturday night closing of the 19-race season, a championship is up for grabs between two long-time titans of the open-wheel racing series. Also, aside from the fight to be the overall best of the 2013 season, the IZOD IndyCar Series' MAVTV 500 presents a final chance for drivers to add to their year's resumes. A victory on the very speedy Auto Club Speedway would be the ideal way to cap off the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series for every one of the 25 drivers starting on Saturday.

Qualifying using a two-lap time average, the 2013 MAVTV 500 pole was snatched by Australian Will Power. With a time of 1 minute, 5.2247 seconds, Power's #12 Dallara-Chevrolet recorded an average speed of 220.775 miles per hour over the two laps around Auto Club Speedway. Seated seventh in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar points standing, Will Power's year ends with him out of contention for the overall championship for the first time since he began running full-time for Team Penske. It was a surreal 2013 season for Will Power who struggled during multiple road course races (a type of racing the Australian driver excelled in over previous years). Recent wins at Sonoma and race two of the Houston event has returned Will Power to typical form.

Nearly 1.1 miles per hour slower than Will Power, Helio Castroneves still posts a strong time with the #3 Team Penske car. Entering this final race of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series, Castroneves is trailing Target Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon by 25 points. Castroneves held the point lead through much of the season but lost it due to struggles in The Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston weekend. The Brazilian is attempting to regain the points lead at the most crucial time. Hunting his third IndyCar championship and first since 2008, New Zealand's Scott Dixon qualified seventh with his Honda powered #9 car.

With the championship at stake, the teams of both Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon elected to place fresh engines in their race cars for the 500-mile Saturday night event. By doing so, each driver will be demoted 10 places from their qualifying spots. Therefore, Helio Castroneves will start 12th in his Team Penske machine while Scott Dixon will be starting 17th in his Target Chip Ganassi Racing supported vehicle. Based on the complexity of long-distance oval races on the IZOD IndyCar Series, starting position in the MAVTV 500 is not considered too serious for drivers and teams.

Returning for the finale, popular part-time driver AJ Allmendinger is piloting the #2 machine for Team Penske. In qualifying, a third fastest time by Allmendinger solidified the organization's quick pace on a two-mile track car owner Roger Penske built and originally operated.

Behind the Team Penske domination of the Auto Club Speedway qualifying, the Dragon Racing car co-owned by Roger Penske's son Jay will start the MAVTV 500 third over a fourth-fastest qualifying effort by Sebastien Bourdais. Posting a fifth-fastest time on Friday, Charlie Kimball driving the Chip Ganassi owned #83 car is starting fourth due to Castroneves' penalty. Tenth in the overall drivers' points, Kimball's 2013 racing effort is a considerable improvement over his previous two years in the series. Also worth of full marks is James Jakes who qualified at an average speed of 217.979 miles per hour for sixth fastest on Friday. Jakes' time was actually identical to seventh place Scott Dixon.  

Won last year by Ed Carpenter (who starts 8th on Saturday night), the MAVTV 500 is considered a wild card event where almost any competitor has a fair shot at winning. AJ Allmendiner, Alex Tagliani driving in substitution for an injured Dario Franchitti for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, 2013 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year standout Carlos Manoz, Pippa Mann and JR Hildebrand returning to the series driving the Bryan Herta Autosport #98 car are limited or one-race deals that could easily pull off an upset against the field of regulars. While the Team Penske cars powered by Chevrolet proved strong in qualifying, Honda won the last IndyCar oval event at Pocono with a race pace that also emphasized fuel economy.

Certain to provide an eventful end to the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series (as well as the final race with IZOD as the title sponsor), the 250-lap MAVTV 500 is set to receive a green flag at 6:10 PM local time in California (9:10 PM eastern time).

Qualifying Results

1. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 220.775
2. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 219.677
3. (2) AJ Allmendinger, Dallara-Chevy, 218.894
4. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Chevy, 218.513
5. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 217.986
6. (16) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 217.979
7. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 217.979
8. (25) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Chevy, 217.958
9. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 217.932
10. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Honda, 217.871
11. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Chevy, 217.798
12. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 217.566
13. (10) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 217.419
14. (5) Carlos Munoz, Dallara-Chevy, 217.050
15. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Chevy, 216.898
16. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 216.447
17. (4) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Chevy, 216.213
18. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 216.106
19. (98) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 215.967
20. (55) Tristan Vautier, Dallara-Honda, 215.207
21. (78) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara-Chevy, 214.679
22. (6) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Chevy, 213.262
23. (19) Justin Wilson, Dallara-Honda, no speed
24. (18) Pippa Mann, Dallara-Honda, no speed
25. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, no speed

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Alex Tagliani to Sub for Injured Dario Franchitti in Fontana IndyCar Finale

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Whether you are an active follower of the IZOD IndyCar Series, fan of any other form of motorsport or just a human being concerned for the health and welfare of automotive speed demons, this past Sunday's race on a Houston, Texas street circuit contained a occurrence we hated to see. On the final lap for race #2 of the Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston race weekend, a freak but serious crash put the lives of drivers and spectators at risk.

Impacting the rear of Takuma Sato's vehicle, Dario Franchitti #10 car owned by Chip Ganassi Racing was launched violently into the track fencing. The heavy hit into the temporary caging barely retained the Honda-powered Dallara race car as Franchitti was whipped around multiple times. The #10 car settled on within a sea of debris that showered the track as well as an unfortunate crowd of people observing the Houston IndyCar event. Not without concern for the several spectators who required medical attention following the incident, drivers, teams and many fans were tensely watching the remains of the vehicle belonging to the four-time IZOD IndyCar champion driving for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Team owner Chip Ganassi (himself a former race car driver) quickly jumped on his motor scooter racing to the crash scene with immense concern for his driver. While head movement was observed with Dario Franchitti, the greatest relief came several minutes later when reports stated the Scottish athlete was awake and alert. Thanks to safety systems built into the Dallara chassis, the massive collision preserved the life of Dario Franchitti. Injuries to others outside of the race competition also proved non-fatal allowing for some relief. The memories of 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon's fatal crash at Las Vegas is still a memory of an occasion no one wants to live again.

Alive and talking, worry focused on potential injury to Dario Franchitti. Indeed, the Scot described pain to his back and ankle as he once carefully lifted from his car to an Ambulance. At a Houston hospital, Franchitti was diagnosed with a broken right ankle, two spinal fractures and a concussion following the wreck. Well wishes for the three-time Indy 500 winner have come from fans and fellow competitors eager to see the driver return to his race car. With reports on Wednesday Franchitti will require a second surgery for his ankle, the business of motorsports required Chip Ganassi to select a replacement driver for the #10 machine as the final 2013 IZOD IndyCar round at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California is set for October 19th. Wednesday afternoon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing named Canadian Alex Tagiani as the fill-in driver for the #10 team.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

A product of the Players Driver Development Program that operated for promoting Canadian drivers in the 1990s , the 14-year veteran of major open wheel racing brings a lot of experience to the #10 Dallara-Honda. Tagliani's racing resume includes a Champ Car series win at the 2004 Road America round, 2009 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year and a pole position at the 2011 Indy 500. “As a driver you never want an opportunity like this to come under these circumstances, but I’m up for the challenge and looking forward to working with my friend Scott and the whole Target team. I’m thinking of Dario as everyone else is, and wishing him a quick recovery. This team has a championship on the line and I’m ready to step in a help them win it.”, said Alex Tagliani in a team release. Chip Ganassi voiced, “Obviously the situation is not ideal with Dario being unable to compete in Fontana. As we look to the season finale we needed a driver with experience and the ability to step in and get the job done in the No. 10 car, and Alex was a logical choice for us”. Alex Tagliani has been a free agent since the conclusion of the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto race weekend in July.

Starting his CART career with Players Forsythe Racing, Alex Tagliani has driven for Rocketsports Racing as well as Team Australia co-owned by Derrick Walker (the current IndyCar Series President of operations and competition). Joining the IndyCar Series on a regular basis in 2010 as part-owner of the FAZZT Race Team, the #77 vehicle fought with limited success against the superteams of Team Penske, Andretti Autosport and Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Tagliani and the FAZZT Race Team owners were bought out by Sam Schmidt in 2011. Sticking with Alex Tagliani for most of the season, the Canadian was released late in the season. In 2012, Tagliani landed at Bryan Herta Autosport driving the #98 car who was pressing forward with its first full season of competition. Starting off the 2012 IZOD IndyCar campaign with the underpowered Lotus powerplant, results were dismal. A mid-season switch to Honda engines improved results topped by a 5th place finish at the Edmonton Indy. Part of the team for the start of the 2013 season, the effort simply could not improve on their 2012 performance. Alex Tagliani was released once again during the middle of an IZOD IndyCar season. During his hiatus from IndyCar, Tagliani drove a Ferrari 458 Italia GT car in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series.

Competing at Auto Club Speedway in the past with CART and the IZOD IndyCar Series, Alex Tagliani's best result at the track is third occurring in 2001 (Tagliani also won the pole position for that event). Last year's race at Auto Club Speedway ended with a late race crash for Tagliani after leading several times.

The October 19th MAVTV 500 will end the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Season.