By Jon D. Gaede
FONTANA – It had been seven long years since open-wheel racecars last competed at the Auto Club Speedway. Saturday night marked their return as enthusiasts filled the grandstands once again. The Indy Car Izod Series of racing brought the high profile drivers and their race teams to a track that has only had NASCAR events in recent years. This year’s guests were granted free parking from the Auto Club Speedway.
Andretti, Franchitti, Dixon, Castroneves, Kanaan, Power and Hunter-Reay, were just a few of the top drivers to compete at the Auto Club Speedway on Saturday night. Dario Franchitti, a crowd favorite who won the iconic Indianapolis 500 in May, as well as the past two Izod Indy Car championships, did not contend for this year’s checkered flag. Racing fans would be treated to not only the final race of the season, but also a competition between two drivers for the title. Ryan Hunter-Reay, who just five years ago, could not find a racing team to support him, would do battle with Will Power at Fontana for the 2012 Indy Racing title.
This year’s race, billed as the MATV 500 Indy Car World Championship, started at 6 pm and went well into the Southern California evening. Front-runner Will Power enjoyed a 17-point lead over Hunter-Reay before the race. Of the many scenarios, these two figured in most. The only other drivers who had a mathematical shot at the championship were Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon.
The drivers race for 250 laps on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval. These open-wheel cars go a little faster than the typical NASCAR as they reach speeds upwards of 240 miles per hour. The track record for one lap is 241.426 mph, at Fontana, by Gil de Ferran. As the race developed under the 105 degree trackside conditions, contenders Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay found themselves adjacent with each other as they jockeyed for 13th place on lap 55. This lap would prove be Reay’s good fortune because Power slammed into the wall of turn 2. Team Penske tried to repair extensive damage to the right side of Power’s Chevrolet, however, they just couldn’t get up to necessary speed and quickly went down 11 laps to the field. Hunter-Reay eventually moved up to the top ten, where he stayed for most of the 500-mile distance. Hunter-Reay eventually moved up to fourth, finishing high enough in the points to take this year’s Izod Indy Car World Championship. In the post race, Reay said, “This is unbelievable, I can’t put it into words, how hard I had to fight”
“What a race. I was on the edge the entire time, just trying to hold onto the car. This is amazing, you know. This is what racing is all about, what sports are about. I’m going to let this one sit in for a second and really enjoy it” -Ryan Hunter-Reay In the actual race, Ed Carpenter took the checkered flag in the Fuzzy Zoeller Chevrolet. The professional golfer’s name and golf motif adorns the Carpenter vehicle to promote Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka. Zoeller has been associated with racing for several years.
The return of open-wheel action to the Speedway in Fontana was a success. From free guest parking to great competitive racing at the highest level. Roger Penske, the man who built the race track said, “A 500 mile race at the Auto Club Speedway should be an Indy Car Series staple and finale, once again”
In another development, legendary driver and owner A.J. Foyt announced that he would endorse Indy Light race driver Chase Austin to enter the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 next May. “My son Larry and I have watched Chase and we want him to have a chance” said A.J. Foyt, four time winner of the iconic race. Austin, the 22 year old from Indiana would be the third African American to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.