IndyCar: Fontana weekend analysis, musings and observations


FONTANA, Calif. – The 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season is in the books, and while we’ll have plenty of offseason and postseason coverage on MotorSportsTalk, we take a quick look back at the weekend itself at Auto Club Speedway:

  • It’s about time. The prevailing sentiment in the paddock Saturday night was that the right two guys won. Will Power finally got his championship, and after a second half of the season that should have produced at least one if not two wins, Tony Kanaan finally got on the board in the 10 car for Chip Ganassi Racing.
  • We got lucky. Friday night’s accident involving Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin nearly cast a dark shadow over the remainder of the weekend, although mercifully, Aleshin is beginning his recovery process. The track already has a sore spot for some after Greg Moore’s fatal accident in 1999. Perhaps the scariest part I saw from the video footage, after re-watching and after his car came back to the track from its time careening along the catch fencing, was that his head was seriously far forward in the cockpit, way beyond where it ordinarily would have been under normal crash circumstances. Looking into the crash, the fencing, the cockpit protection and the results of said crash should be added to the offseason to-do list for INDYCAR, if it hasn’t been already.
  • Cautious, clean driving prevailed. I doubt few of the remaining 21 drivers would admit it publicly, but after the Aleshin/Charlie Kimball accident on Friday there wasn’t the same sense of going for broke for Saturday night’s 500-mile race. What followed was a methodical race that, like the other oval races this year, largely depended on how well the drivers managed their tires. Speed dropoff was evident over a stint, usually about 6-7 mph per lap and particularly after the first 10 laps. There also wasn’t the frequency of “wow!” moments the same as a year ago. You could probably put a lot of that down to Power’s cautious but clean opening half of the race, and Carlos Munoz not running the low line as he did last year. Other than Power’s launch to the front after the race’s lone restart, there were few audible gasps, and perhaps that was a good thing.
  • “Fontana flu” strikes again. Mike Conway stepped out of A.J. Foyt’s No. 14 prior to the 2012 race at Fontana; E.J. Viso got sick a year ago and missed the Fontana finale as well for Andretti Autosport. This year, although he competed in all practice sessions and qualifying, Dale Coyne Racing rookie Carlos Huertas retired after 21 laps with dizziness, per the team. The reason out actually shifted on timing & scoring from “Medical” to “Driver Illness” during the race. It marks the second time this season (Iowa) the young Colombian has retired for this reason. Huertas has been a mostly positive surprise throughout 2014 but never got fully comfortable on the ovals, other than Indianapolis. To this point, neither Conway nor Viso has driven another IndyCar oval race again (although Viso temporarily filled in for James Hinchcliffe in Indianapolis 500 practice), and it remains to be seen whether this will hold true for Huertas.
  • If it wasn’t for bad luck… then James Hinchcliffe would have had none at all. The Canadian had a pit speed violation mid-race that took him out of a potential podium, if not winning position. He fought back to fifth by race’s end but all told it was a year where seemingly nothing went right for the driver of the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda car, even though the pace and chemistry seemed to be there.
  • The Fontana date conundrum. Three years into the return of IndyCar at Auto Club Speedway, there hasn’t yet been the perfect balance of time, date, temperature or buzz. If we’re honest, ACS is one of the few big ovals that can work – and work well – for IndyCar. It isn’t high banked (only 14 degrees in the corners), there’s no pack racing, and it works well as a 500-mile event that ties nicely with history in the area (dating to the old Ontario Motor Speedway days). The Verizon IndyCar Series has put on three good, if not great, races here the last three years. Yet the sanctioning body has moved the race date three straight years; it may do so again in 2015; and it was hard to accurately gauge both the number of fans live on site and who stayed up late to the finish past 1 a.m. ET. Meanwhile, an IndyCar promotional event for fans at The Grove at LA Live Thursday was good in theory but not necessarily in execution – watching Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud ride bicycles to make smoothies doesn’t exactly scream “go watch us race at 220 mph 50 miles east of here, where it’s way hotter.” It behooves both IndyCar and ACS to make this race work, and MAVTV’s sponsorship for two more years is huge, but there just doesn’t feel the proper spark that this race is as big a deal as it could be. We know ACS is trying; local promotion by the track president Gillian Zucker and her staff has been solid.
  • Some final thoughts. I get the frustration about the 7:20 p.m. PT start time and the resulting late evening on the east coast, but for the fans on site, baking in 100+ degree heat for three+ hours also would suck. And the drivers would be blind going into Turn 3 at 220+ mph. The start time saw the track, the series and the TV partner make the best of the circumstances, and even despite the late end, the rating didn’t kill off the year-on-year NBCSN gains. … Takuma Sato ended sixth, and after a season-best fourth in Sonoma just before, he’s ended the year on a very positive note. … Conor Daly and Daniel Abt made the rounds this weekend and while Abt has a busy fall lined up between GP2 and FIA Formula E, Daly will be full speed ahead on attempting to secure an IndyCar ride. I’ll say it once again, Daly and Sage Karam would be ideal to have as young Americans full-time. … For Power to have to hear a question about whether he wanted to go to F1 in the press conference was something of a joke. The questioner has been reprimanded by other series before this year, and at a certain point, IndyCar needs to step in and put a stop to it.

We thank you for reading our season-long Verizon IndyCar Series coverage here on MotorSportsTalk, and as mentioned, there will still be plenty to come throughout the offseason.

Raikkonen: No secret to qualifying charge in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 28:  Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari drives during final practice for the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 28, 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Kimi Raikkonen says that there was no secret behind his late charge to third place in qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but remains realistic about his chances in Sunday’s race.

After seeing teammate Sebastian Vettel drop out in Q1, Raikkonen led Ferrari’s charge at the Yas Marina Circuit by finishing third behind the Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

Raikkonen managed to edge out Force India driver Sergio Perez for P3 with his final lap in Q3, but the Finn said that there was no secret to his late charge.

“No real secret,” Raikkonen said. “Obviously the car has been handling pretty well all weekend.

“The laps haven’t been ideal many times. Even the first run, it was OK the lap, but I knew there was quite a lot of room to improve so I just tried to make one a bit better lap and it was enough.

“Obviously still a bit of a way off from what these guys can do but we did our best today.

“The Mercedes have been very quick today and yesterday, in the lap times they are a bit faster than us, but the race is tomorrow, so let’s see.

“I did my maximum today. Tomorrow is another day, we can only do our best and see where we’ll end up. We’ll try to make a good start and then see how it pans out, going from there and making the right decisions.”

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 7am ET on Sunday.

Porsche confirms unchanged line-up for 2016 WEC season

Porsche 919 Hybrid, Porsche Team: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
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Following Audi’s press conference earlier today confirming its plans for the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season, Porsche has followed suit by announcing it will be retaining all six of its existing LMP1 drivers for the new campaign.

Porsche enjoyed immense success in 2015 as Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard took the drivers’ championship in dramatic fashion at the 6 Hours of Bahrain, adding to the manufacturers’ title the marque had won three weeks earlier in Shanghai.

The 919 Hybrid LMP1 car took pole position for every race in 2015, and also won Porsche’s first 24 Hours of Le Mans since 1998 with the third entry of Nico Hulkenberg, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber.

However, Porsche confirmed that it will be only racing with its two regular WEC entries at Le Mans next June, reflecting Audi’s move to help cut costs.

Porsche will once again run the same two line-ups, with Webber, Hartley and Bernhard set to defend their championship together with the no. 1 car. Marc Lieb, Neel Jani and Romain Dumas will team up for a third successive year in the second 919 Hybrid.

“The advice of ‘never change a winning team’ is spot on,” LMP1 vice-president Fritz Enzinger said.

“Both our driver trios didn’t only perform brilliantly on track, but have also been with us since the beginning of the programme and have significantly contributed to the Porsche 919 Hybrid’s development.

“We are very proud of these six top drivers, and very pleased all of them are on board for the 2016 world championship and the Le Mans 24 Hours.”

The decision to not run a third car at Le Mans not only ends Hulkenberg’s already-faint hopes of defending his title, but also will leave Tandy and Bamber looking for drives elsewhere.

It also puts an end to speculation that Juan Pablo Montoya could be set to bid for the Triple Crown and race at Le Mans, having tested with Porsche in Bahrain last week.

GP2: Vandoorne breaks win record, Rossi secures P2 in championship

2015 GP2 Series Round 11.
Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi, UAE.
Saturday 28 November 2015.
Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL, ART Grand Prix) 
Photo: Sam Bloxham/GP2 Series Media Service.
ref: Digital Image _SBL9548
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Stoffel Vandoorne claimed a record-breaking 11th GP2 Series victory in Abu Dhabi on Sunday after seeing off challenges from Pierre Gasly and Raffaele Marciello at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Starting second, Vandoorne made a good start but was unable to pass Gasly on the first lap, forcing him to settle down in P2 for the opening stages of the race.

Vandoorne made his move for the lead on lap four, diving down the inside of Gasly at the turn seven hairpin before establishing an advantage over the field.

Gasly dropped down the order as the option tire runners began to lose grip, prompting an early round of pit stops and allowing Raffaele Marciello to hit the front as the lead driver on primes.

Marciello retained this advantage until stopping at the end of lap 26, but emerged from the pits behind Vandoorne. The Italian was just ahead of Mitch Evans, leaving him to battle for second place in the closing stages against the prime-shod Russian Time racer.

Vandoorne was able to ease home at the front to record his seventh win of the year and 11th in GP2, beating Pastor Maldonado’s existing record of ten to become the most successful driver in the history of the series.

Marciello fended off Evans to finish second by less than one second, while American driver Alexander Rossi closely followed them home in fourth.

The result ensures that Rossi will finish the year as GP2’s vice-champion behind Vandoorne in the final standings.

Tomorrow’s sprint race will see Alex Lynn start from pole position for DAMS after finishing eighth on Saturday. Rio Haryanto will start from P2 by virtue of his seventh-place finish, with Jordan King and Gasly filling the second row of the grid.

New Audi R18 e-tron quattro unveiled; two cars only for Le Mans

Photo: Audi
Photo: Audi
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Audi Sport has revealed its new Audi R18 e-tron quattro, the latest generation of diesel-powered TDI which now will run with a 6 mJ battery hybrid.

The new LMP1 car was unveiled at the annual Audi Sport Finale in Munich, among several other key announcements of note.

Audi will retain its same driver lineup, the lead trio of Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler in one car with Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval and Oliver Jarvis back as well. After the successive retirements of Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish and Dindo Capello the last three years, Audi now has the same lineup for consecutive years, for the first time in years.

However, and while the third car trio of Filipe Albuquerque, Marco Bonanomi and Rene Rast was on stage with the six others, Audi confirmed both it and sister brand Porsche will run two cars only at next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, rather than three as each did this year.

It was a jointly agreed upon decision; both operate under the VW Group parent company. It effectively rules out the same trio of Nick Tandy, Earl Bamber and Nico Hulkenberg repeating as a trio, although Porsche will announce the program for its own drivers next month.

“We stay with the TDI, 50 percent more hybrid power,” said Chris Reinke, Head of Audi LMP1. “Battery storage and high focus on aero as you can see. We are on our way to challenge for WEC and Le Mans wins.”

Here’s a few photos from the reveal, below: