Morning-After Reflections On Fontana

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As we have been kind of slugging around our hotel this morning, I have been browsing around the internet taking the pulse of the reaction to last night’s MAVTV 500 from Fontana, CA. Some thought it was riveting, while others found it dreadful. It’s a very interesting mix of reactions. I can promise you – to those of us that were lucky enough to be there in person, the verdict was unanimous. It was an outstanding race.

I don’t get to that many races. Until last night, I had never been to more than two races per season. Last night was our third for this year – Barber, Indianapolis and Fontana. Barber was enjoyable, watching Ryan Hunter-Reay win and stake his claim for defending his championship. Indianapolis was historic with its record lead changes and seeing Tony Kanaan celebrate one of the most popular victories ever. Then there was last night. It was exhausting.

You knew going into last night’s race what was at stake. Helio Castroneves needed a near-miracle to wrestle the championship from Scott Dixon, after being the points leader for the past few months. You knew he was going to drive his heart out. He did.

You also knew that a five-hundred mile race on such a wide track was somewhat of a wild card. You didn’t really know what to expect. While the Indianapolis 500 had little attrition, last night’s race was brutal on cars. Did that make for a dreadful race? I think not. I thought it made the race more compelling. Between the crashes and many other cars picking up debris in their radiator inlets, you had the feeling anything could change in the last few laps. Helio had been running near the front for most of the race. Dixon was doing what he needed to do to maintain his championship lead. But he was having overheating issues and if he suddenly dropped out – tonight’s banquet would be honoring Helio’s first championship instead of Dixon’s third.

Oh, and by the way – Will Power won the race. He was on the pole and clearly had the fastest car. By the midpoint of the race, he had dropped to fifteenth due to problems with his visor. But he hung in there and won. This validates Power’s ability to win on an oval. Like many, I had put an imaginary asterisk on Power’s lone oval victory – winning the second half-race at Texas the year they split that race into two half-races (bad idea). I never gave Power credit for winning a real full-length oval. Now he’s fully earned his stripes.

In last night’s press conference in the media center after the race, Power said that if he can ever win Indianapolis, he knows he’ll win the championship, mainly because of his mostly poor record in May. Well, last night he proved his ability to win a grueling five-hundred mile oval. Power was absolutely beaming in the press conference. He was very happy to finally end a season on a high note. After a relatively disappointing 2013, I think Power is going to be a major factor in next year’s Indianapolis 500 as well as the championship.

Wil

Helio Castroneves was obviously a little more subdued. He had driven his heart out and came up short. You know he was wondering at 38, just how many more chances would he have. I was a bit surprised at some of the questions that the real journalists were asking Helio. One asked Helio if he would prefer to have his three Indianapolis 500 victories, or the three IndyCar championships that Dixon now has. He smirked slightly as he said “the three Indy wins”. I would agree. The someone else put him on the spot by pointing out that Roger Penske had called his last three races and made what could have been a crucial mistake by calling him in while the pits were closed. Did they really think Helio was going to trash his boss? Helio was classy and answered the question in the way you would expect him to.

Helio

Chip Ganassi was candid and slightly emotional in his press conference – especially when asked about the passing of his father a couple of months ago. But he went out of his way to praise Honda, even though it was his last race with the longtime IndyCar engine manufacturer. he also heaped praise on Mike Hull who was sitting to his side.

Chip

As expected, Scott Dixon was in a good mood in his press conference – although his mood seemed to be more of relief, than celebration. He spoke of what a wild year it had been, from total ineptitude at the first of the season, to his July victory sweep to the controversial races in Sonoma and Baltimore. He said last night’s race pretty much symbolized their entire season – with them ending up on top.

Dixon

I’m anxious to get back home to see how this race played out on television, but I can assure you – it was tension-filled and exciting to be there.

We are looking forward to attending tonight’s Championship Banquet. Check back for lots of pictures late tonight.

George Phillips

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15 Responses to “Morning-After Reflections On Fontana”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Disappointing Demolition Derby…

  2. I kind of liked the old school attrition of a 500 miler. It would be been better in person though. Tough to sit through those long yellows during the TV Broadcast.

    I know the legions of the miserable will proclaim otherwise, but kudo’s to Indycar for another great season where we had to sit up to see the last lap of the last race to know who won the championship.

  3. So when is the track going to remove the destructive “SEAM” and have a proper track surface upon which to race?

    I would anticipate INDY CAR or the drivers at the very least to present a force to demand such occur or NOT RACE at Fontana in 2014.

    Said destruction , starting with practice sessions and continuing with Justin’s hospitalization, plus Justin’s injuries do not justify such profound track surface (dis)concern by the track ownership.

    Houston at a minimum at least ground down the “Bump” prior to the race in an attempt to increase safety…… And Fontana …… ?

  4. Dan Loken Says:

    How could anyone describe this race as dreadful? It had everything. Attrition, spins, hi/lo lines, seams, drafting, engine failures, tire issues, a championship decided at the last race (again), an unexpected winner who broke through his own perceived weakness and unfurtunately an injury.. There was sand, wind adding to the difficulty. The distance of 500 miles testing the physical endurance and concentration of every driver. My usual complaint at Fontana is why there were not more people in the stands? I’m not sure what more that race could supply better. If people complain about it than all I can say is. “Go watch NASCAR then!” Good lord people stop complaining and go to a race!

    • What Dan said. What a race.

      Re the crowd, at rare times you’d catch a glimpse of packed grandstand seats with sharply defined lines between where tickets were and weren’t sold. You couldn’t just sit wherever you wanted … and on tv it showed ….. for the most part badly.

    • dzgroundedeffects Says:

      And another big “ditto, what he said” to Dan’ comment.

  5. Someone should ask Sebastian Vettel if he would rather have his four World Championships or four wins in Monte Carlo. We know the answer to that and it is counter to Helio’s. It was a fair question. As was asking him about his strategist’s screw up.

  6. What was up with all the crap on the track that led to the crap in the radiators? I don’t recall that last year at Fontana? Sand storm? Menacing hot dog wrappers?

    • Ben Twickerbill Says:

      My question as well… Coupled with lane seam issues, leading to many crashes and engine failures which led to copius amounts of debris combined with sand/dust clogging radiators… Quite a few environmental and track condition issues lending themselves to what amounted to more luck of the draw than actual racing…

    • billytheskink Says:

      The quote of the race was from (I believe) Wally Dallenbach describing Dixon’s car during a pit stop:

      “It looks like it’s been through Star Wars.”

  7. This actually reminded me of racing back in the 70’s and 80’s on the larger ovals. I really enjoyed it.

    • dzgroundedeffects Says:

      I agree. It was rough and tumble, fast and furious, and recalled those 500-milers of the past. I’m glad all the super-speedways will be 500 milers next year. Best decision they could’ve made. I plan to see two of the three in person next year.

      Mechanical attrition has been a missing element for so many years now, most can’t recall how wildly a late-race failure can produce immense drama on the track.

      Some teams handled the debris issues with ingenuity (Carpenter should get some ShopVac sponsorship for the free plug on TV). From what I’ve read, Dixon was extremely close to overheating near the end of the race… Can you imagine?

      I would’ve heard Tom Carnegie in my mind’s ear say, “Dixon is slooowwwing downnnn”

  8. billytheskink Says:

    If someone asked me why I enjoy Indycar racing, I might very well show them this race. It was compelling, it was fast, it was unpredictable; three things that I think make racing interesting and enjoyable.

    It’s been a long time since I have watched an Indycar race that was about survival as much as speed (Fontana 2000, maybe?). While I would not want every race to be fraught with extremely challenging track conditions, the race rewarded drivers who met those challenges (Power, Carpenter) and bit drivers who flaunted them (Munoz, Bourdais). I can appreciate that.

  9. Another spectacular finish for a IndyCar season.

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