Morning-After Reflections On Fontana
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.