It’s hot Thursday in Fontana in more ways than one, for the IZOD IndyCar season’s finale race at Auto Club Speedway. The IndyCar and Firestone Indy Lights teams are setting up, going through their technical paces, and generally getting ready for a two-day schedule culminating with the IndyCar MAVTV 500 night race. The outside temperature is in the low eighties, with absolutely no breeze at all. The heat just radiates off the tarmac and buildings. There is very little shade except in the dark recesses of the garages.
It’s down to the wire in a heated battle, so to speak, between current points leader, SCOTT DIXON/Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and former points leader and now second-place guy, HELIO CASTRONEVES/Team Penske Chevrolet. Castroneves was leading until the last Houston race when he had mechanical issues and dropped to second in the standings, and lost his chance to set the 2013 record as the only IndyCar driver to complete every lap. Dixon took over the standings and leads by 25 points.
Saturday night’s race crowns neck and neck Championships for both Drivers and Manufacturers. Dixon vs Castroneves and Chevrolet vs Honda. The Manufacturer’s Championship points are tied coming into the weekend. The maximum Driver points to be earned is fifty-four – fifty for a win and up to four bonus points. There are so many possible scenarios that IndyCar has a complicated Points Possibilities chart.
And then there’s the financial rewards. The 2013 Champion wins a million dollars. Runnerup earns $250,000, third-$175,000, fourth-$125,000, and fifth $75,000. Among other lucrative lures this weekend is the Fuzzy Vodka’s Triple Crown prize of $250,000 which can only be won by Indianapolis 500 winner, TONY KANAAN, or Pocono Indy 400 victor, Dixon. The Triple Crown was brought back this year, after a long hiatus. The only driver to win it so far was AL UNSER in 1978.
Dixon’s long-time teammate, DARIO FRANCHITTI, was injured in a horrific crash at Houston and now is sporting colorful casts and chest protectors. He’s undergone a couple of surgeries on his right leg so far, and is wearing a decorative flak jacket to protect his broken vertebrae.
Franchitti can’t really be replaced, but driving his No.10 car this weekend will be ALEX TAGLIANI.
Penske is bringing back A.J. ALLMENDINGER in the No.2 Chevrolet for the last race, so Castroneves will have two helpful teammates.
Also heating up is Silly Season, IndyCar Style. The changes, they are a comin’.
So far, announcements have been made regarding the Ganassi team switching from Honda to Chevrolet; TONY KANAAN moving from KVSH (now so named to reflect the new partner – JAMES SULLIVAN) to Ganassi; SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS filling TK’s vacancy at the KVSH Chevrolet team; and JUAN PABLO MONTOYA leaving Ganassi’s Chevrolet NASCAR team to drive a Chevrolet for Team Penske with Castroneves and Power.
Still to be confirmed are the plans for SIMONA DE SILVESTRO, currently with KVSH; and JAMES HINCHCLIFFE, whose Go Daddy sponsorship with Andretti Autosport Chevrolet is leaving IndyCar, but remaining with DANICA PATRICK in NASCAR, along with a new primary sponsor to be named Friday in Talladega.
Reportedly, Hinch had a couple of offers, including KVSH and Ganassi, which had a very short deadline. But, so far, Hinch hasn’t committed, and perhaps all will become clear this weekend with some rumored announcements coming from the Andretti camp – both driver and engine wise.
Along with any number of announcements which could be made this weekend comes the 2014 IndyCar schedule, which is the focus of a special one-hour TV feature Friday on NBC Sports Network starting at 8pm ET/5pm PT. There are no surprises in the 18-race lineup, other than how compact is the season, with no long breaks and an early finale.
Friday’s schedule has Practice and Qualifying for both Indy Lights and IndyCar, plus a 15-minute exhibition of Vintage indycars.