Drafting the Circuits
by Frank Santoroski @seveng1967
When the stars and cars of the Verizon IndyCar series roll into Fontana this weekend, they will continue a rich tradition of open-wheel racing in Southern California that dates back to the late 1960s.
Between Fontana, Long Beach and the now-defunct tracks at Ontario and Riverside, IndyCars have run a total of 73 races in SoCal. This weekend’s event, however, will mark the first time they will race in the heat of the Summer.
With a 1:30 PM local start time and temperatures forecast in the low 90s it could make for a miserable day for fans, crews, support staff and drivers.
The date change, the third for the venue in as many years, was prompted after last season’s Labor Day weekend finale failed to produce much of a crowd. Truth be told, the NASCAR Cup series also experienced attendance problems when they ran Fontana on Labor Day weekend.
Undaunted, the promoters are pulling out all the stops to draw a big crowd for Saturday’s MAV-TV 500. Discount tickets, package deals, $25 pit passes, free parking and free admission for children are among the offers on hand for fans.
The track itself is a 2.0 mile, low banked D-shaped oval, patterned after the Michigan Speedway. The track is well-suited for the IndyCars and it is also the site of the world’s record for a qualifying lap on a closed course. Gil de Ferran recorded a lap at 241.428 mph in 2000 in the CART Series.
While that record is certainly in no danger of being broken this weekend, we should see speeds in the low to mid 220s in qualifying.
The MAV-TV 500 is the second leg of the IndyCar triple crown that also includes the 500 milers at Indianapolis and Pocono. With the Indy win already under his belt, Juan Pablo Montoya has his sights set on this elusive prize.
Al Unser was the one and only person to win the triple crown, back in 1978. Al Unser was the honoree at Legends Day in May at Indianapolis when Montoya took the win.
Montoya’s car number this year is #2. The last person to win the Indy 500 with #2 was Al Unser in 1978.
In horse racing, the triple crown was won this year. The last time a triple crown was achieved in horse racing coincides with Unser’s feat, 1978.
Now, if you don’t believe in coincidences, consider the facts that Montoya is leading the points, he drives for one of the top teams in all of Motorsport and, with his years spent in NASCAR, he possesses more experience in 500 mile oval races than the rest of the field combined.
While I would rate JPM as a solid favorite this weekend, he will face a stiff challenge from his own Penske teammates and the Ganassi Team. Tony Kanaan is the defending winner at the track, and is eagerly looking for his first win of 2015.
We should also not count out Ed Carpenter and his oval-only schedule. While his prior two starts this season at Indy and Texas have been unremarkable, his team has two wins on the season with Josef Newgarden at the wheel. Throw in the fact that Carpenter is a former Fontana winner, and his car is equipped with the Chevy powerplant, and he becomes a decent dark-horse pick.
As far as the Honda teams are concerned, they will be hoping for a better showing, but my gut tells me that we will see several Chevy cars at the top of the finishing order again. Of course, anything can happen in a 500 mile contest. Certainly the strategists from the Honda teams are mulling over various scenarios
On the bright side, the rumors of Honda leaving the Series have calmed down somewhat in the month since the Indianapolis 500. Although the contract remains unsigned, indications are that Honda is more than likely to continue on with the Verizon Indycar Series.
The event gets underway Friday with practice and qualifying. Tickets are available through www.autoclubspeedway.com The race will be broadcast Saturday June 27th at 4:30 pm EST on NBC-SN or you can follow all of the action on the Indycar 15 app provided by Verizon Communications.
Images courtesy IndyCar