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

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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.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.