Auto Club’s notorious seams may catch IndyCar’s best out this evening


The defining characteristic of the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway, site of tonight’s IZOD IndyCar Series season finale, the MAVTV 500 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra) are the seams in the race track.

The Fontana oval is far from billiard-table smooth and the seams are slight bumps in the road – particularly in the corners – that can upset the car’s balance. When Will Power crashed out in last year’s race, it was because he’d hit a seam in-between Turns 1 and 2, lost control of his car and smacked the wall.

Drivers throughout the 25-car field described the challenge of the seams here.

Oriol Servia of Panther Racing is one of the most experienced drivers at Fontana, having competed in the CART races here in 2000 through 2002, last year’s INDYCAR-sanctioned race, and Indy Lights races there in the 1990s.

“They’re bad, but to be honest it’s not the seams, it’s the paint used to cover the seams,” he explained. “It was different 5 or 6 years ago. If the paint wasn’t there it would be different. Yeah, the seams were always there but not the paint between them.”

Defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay – in his last ride with the No. 1 car this season for Andretti Autosport – added that the paint or tar is more what upsets the car than the seams.

“They were treacherous last year and are again now,” he said. “As stiffly sprung as these cars are, there’s not much suspension movement. I drove a Chevy Corvette pace car earlier in the week and those things looked like canyons. It’s a rough ride and car placement is a big deal.”

Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball said if drivers “straddle” the seams, it can upset the car.

“If you straddle them, it’s just like a vacuum cleaner, it throws a dust cloud up and a lot of sand, so it can kill the radiators,” he said. “You deal with it more in the heat though and the cooler temperatures this year should help.”

Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosport teammate James Hinchcliffe called the seams “unique,” while Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing sophomore Josef Newgarden and Dragon Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais thought it depends more on car setup.

Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports’ Simon Pagenaud didn’t sell the seams short, but said the concern about them is negated if the car is setup just right.

“We have a really good race car so it’s not an issue for us. Ultimate pace isn’t tremendous but we’re consistent over the long stints, which is what you need here,” he said.

Supercross: Enzo Lopes will race with ClubMX in 2024

Lopes ClubMX 2024
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Coming off his best Supercross season to date, Enzo Lopes has re-signed with Muc-Off / ClubMX Yamaha and will race for the team in 2024. The deal is for Supercross only.

Enzo Lopes won his heat race in Denver and finished fourth in the Main. – Feld Motor Sports

Lopes debuted in the Supercross series in 2019 on a Suzuki and scored his first top-10 finishes in his last two starts of that season. Showing consistent improvement, he earned six top-10s in eight Main events the following year and finished fifth in the 250 East standings. In 2022, he scored his first top-five at Daytona and finished in the top five in points again.

“I am happy to be returning to ClubMX for another season,” Lopes said in a press release. “It is like family to me there and that is very important. Although I had many options, staying where I am makes the most sense for many reasons. The bikes are great, the people are great, the tracks are amazing, and I am surrounded by people that care about me. We all want to win and together we will get there.”

While he improved his season-best performance by only one position this year, it was nevertheless a breakout season. Lopes barely missed the podium three times in 2023 with fourth-place finishes at San Diego, Seattle, and Denver.

His strong performance him rumored to be speaking with factory teams.

“We could see the growth from Enzo every time he gets on the bike,” said team owner Brandon Haas. “We all knew it was just a matter of time before he would be noticed by everyone, and we are proud of him on many levels. He had some heat race wins and qualified fastest at three events this season. It would be hard not to be noticed going that fast. He had a big decision to make and we are glad he chose to stay with us at ClubMX.”

Lopes had three podium finishes in heat races this year, including a win preceding his fourth-place finish in Denver.

Lopes will join Jeremy Martin, Phil Nicoletti and Garrett Marchbanks, who announced a two-year extension with the team in January, at the ClubMX team.