FONTANA, Calif. -- The IZOD IndyCar Series championship was Will Power's to lose entering the MAVTV 500 INDYCAR World Championships at Auto Club Speedway. After Lap 55, it became Ryan Hunter-Reay's to win.
For the third consecutive year, contact in the season finale altered the title aspirations of the Aussie. The No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car "caught a seam" in Turn 2 of the 2-mile oval, spun and made contact with the SAFER Barrier while running 12th -- a few car lengths ahead of Hunter-Reay's No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda car.
Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti relayed to a surprised Hunter-Reay, who 18 hours before had signed a two-year contract extension, that he had to finish sixth to claim his first series championship by one point.
But wait. In this season of surprises, ultra-tight competition and high drama, all three collectively focused on the Team Penske garage as the crew converged to repair the Dallara chassis and collect 11 more laps to finish 24th and ahead of the retired car of E.J. Viso.
That's exactly what transpired, forcing Hunter-Reay to finish at least fifth. Crews from rival teams cheered as the No. 12 entry was wheeled onto pit lane.
That went by the wayside as Alex Tagliani's engine expired with 20 laps left and then Tony Kanaan's car made contact with the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier on Lap 241, creating a red flag with the restart on Lap 244.
Ed Carpenter earned his second IZOD IndyCar Series victory for the second consecutive year in the finale and with Dario Franchitti as the runner-up. Scott Dixon finished third and Helio Castroneves was fifth.
Hunter-Reay was running third on the restart and lost two positions, but the 31-year-old Floridian regained one spot when Takuma Sato's car crashed on the final lap. The points difference, in over 15 events on the most diverse set of racetracks in motorsports, was three points over Power.
Hunter-Reay also clinched the A.J. Foyt Trophy for most points scored on ovals. He entered the race tied with Kanaan.
Franchitti, who won the last IZOD IndyCar Series race at the speedway in 2005, tied Al Unser Jr. and Bobby Rahal for fifth all time with 88 podium finishes. He also passed Rick Mears with his 112th top-five finish and tied Castroneves and Dixon for eighth with his 29th runner-up finish.
Officials with Andretti Autosport confirmed that driver Ryan Hunter-Reay will return to the team after he signed a contract extension.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (President, Chairman and CEO, Andretti Autosport): "We are happy to have Ryan (Hunter-Reay) back with us for the 2013 and 2014 IndyCar seasons. He is a tough competitor and has become an important part of our team. He is the ultimate team player and I know we can count on him, along with his teammates, to continue to be a foundation for us. We believe that he, Marco (Andretti) and James (Hinchcliffe) will continue to work together and take the team to great places with great success."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (Driver, Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda): "I have a lot of deep rooted relationships with the team and the team sponsors and I'm looking forward to continuing and further developing those relationships. I'm happy to be able to enjoy the off season knowing what the next two years hold. I'm looking forward to my return with Andretti Autosport and hope to have the opportunity to speak more on it soon, but today we are focused on leaving Fontana tonight with a championship."
I have no idea (how I got won this championship). It was team effort right there. We were struggling all weekend. I didn't want to let anyone really know about it. We were really in the woods. This hasn't sunk in yet. I just drove 500 miles for my life. I can't believe we're INDYCAR champions.
I can't even believe this. DHL, Sun Drop, Circle K, Chevrolet, the fans, INDYCAR. My dream has come true. This is unbelievable." (About the late race red flag): "I just wanted to get set in a rhythm because I knew when we got in a rhythm it was a little bit better.
With the red flag, that really got the nerves going. Sitting in pit lane, I knew the tires would take in a heat cycle and that it would slide around a lot. Everybody raced tough, but they raced clean. My god. I didn't think we had it for the first half of the race and we kept getting it better and better and better.
Michael (Andretti) did a great job on the radio and the guys did a great job in the pits. This hasn't sunk in yet." (About the Power incident): "I don't know how close it was. He was right next to me and I saw him lose it, so I bet it was pretty close. He was joking around that he would take me out if I was next to him and he almost did."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske): "It's depressing to lose the championship again that way. It's the season, you can't make mistakes like that. I had understeer all night, I was having to lift, half a lane lower than I was before and caught a seam, and yeah. Man, I don't know what to say, it's depressing.
I was surprised, I had been pushing all day and just went a little bit different than what I had, and nothing I can say. It's just depressing. My team was pushing me to get around him, and it was just a mistake.
Just a mistake. I think now there's a very slim chance (for the championship), kind of don't even watch the rest of the race. But you know, I don't know what to say. I don't know what emotion to feel right now, so disappointed."
There were definitely times there where it was looking hopeful. All credit to my guys, getting the car out and doing those 12 laps to get a couple of points. At the end of the day, Hunter-Reay is definitely a deserving champion. A real fighter. Probably as far as all around drivers go, he's probably the best in the series because he wins in each discipline.
If I look back on the season, once again the ovals - three crashes on three of the ovals this year, that's a massive hit in the points. Three years winning the road course championship, quite convincingly, so it's very obvious where I lack."
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus HVM Racing Lotus): "It was a frustrating season, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. We worked really hard to get the car ready and hoped that we would be competitive. I feel bad for the team.
They worked crazy hours replacing two engines this weekend and it would have been nice to have been able to finish the season on a high note. We've learned a lot this season and have to take that into what we expect to be a much better year next year."
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 18 Sonny's BBQ Honda): "It was a disappointing end to the day. The Sonny's Bar-B-Q Honda was pretty good out there. I'm not sure if we'd have been in contention to win it, but we were definitely moving forward every stint and I was really pleased with the progress we were making. It's so frustrating to be taken out of the race like that.
There was a big stack-up in front of me and I just got rammed from behind. Unfortunately that damaged the gearbox so that we couldn't get a gear and the clutch wouldn't work either, so that was the end of our race."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 GEICO/Mouser Electronics KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "I was trying to go for it. I had nothing to lose. I was trying to win the Oval championship. I got caught in the middle of traffic and just lost it. It's a shame. We had a strong car when I was in front. It is what it is. Let's move on and get ready for next year."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, winner MAV TV 500): "This feels great for a brand new team that just started in November. I probably should have won Indy but I kind of messed up a little bit. We have been trying to win ovals all year and finally got it done tonight.
A good way to end the year." (Passing Dario) "I got a good start, I thought that maybe that was going to be my last chance to get by him and then he just kept protecting the bottom and I started working the top where I would run all night through one and two and kept building momentum, and building momentum and finally got close enough to get a draft and get a run around him on the front stretch."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "(On last lap) "Almost isn't quite good enough. Ed just got a big run, I don't know if he turned to wake up or what there but he got a big run around the outside and down there had been working for me all night and the middle of the corner started to push up and it was either take us both out or and wreck us both or take left and I took left and he got passed and out came the yellow. So that happenes.
He drove a great race though I can't take anything away from him. Want to thank the Target boys, think we did a good job getting up there. Ultimately the smallest amounts, but you win by those and you lose by those." (On RHR) "That was a surprise.
Congratulations to the Andretti guys. Good friends of mine. I'm happy to see them do that. Well done to Ryan, he drove a great race. I just wish I could have hung on there for a couple of seconds and won this race."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central Honda): "Overall, it was a really good day for the team and I'm really pleased. The Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing team did a superb job. We stuck with it. There were times where we were good and there were times where we were bad. At the end of the day we stuck with the fight and we worked hard. We had a really good effort tonight."
RUBENS BARRICHELLO (No. 8 BMC | Embrase - KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "I enjoyed myself a lot out there. I had a good car at the beginning and it was all going really well, but unfortunately it ended literally in fumes. I enjoyed being back on ovals and at Fontana. I need to thank my crew for their hard work this year a look forward to next year."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Honda): "It's nice to finish out 2012 with a top-10 for the whole Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing crew. They deserved better than that tonight. We had a much better car but I made a mistake in the pits and it took me too long to figure it out early in the race but I know that the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen car is going to come back stronger next year.
We got this figured out. We're ready to go figure out the rest of our short-comings. We'll be stronger next year, and more importantly, faster."
E .J. VISO (No. 5 CITGO | PDVSA - KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "This was one of the most frustrating weekends of my career. Starting with testing on Wednesday I had a car that was extremely difficult to drive because it lacked grip. I believed at the time it was because the track was very slick especially with the downforce levels we were running.
Today I had the same feeling in the car, but I was really looking forward to the last race of the season. I was focused and I thought we had a chance to make it into the top-six. However, in the race I had to stop because I was lacking both front and rear grip. We aren't sure what caused it, but we definitely need to investigate that."
WADE CUNNINGHAM: (No. 14 ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "I knew we were facing an uphill battle coming in. If anyone told us we'd have to battle through a crunched car, four laps down and come back to finish 14th, well I think everyone on the ABC Supply team can hold their heads high. We had good pit stops- never lost positions relatively, everyone hit their marks and the ABC car rolls back into the trailer after 500 long miles, so there's a lot of satisfaction for me."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports): "It was a long race, for sure. At some point, I asked where we were in the lap count and Rob (Edwards, SSM team manager) told me not even half-way, and I thought 'ooh, that's a long race, longer than a stint in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.'
It was a good race for us though. As soon as the sun went down, the car was really dialed in. It was super fast with a really good set-up. I never had any surprises. We definitely had a shot at a top-five position. We were that strong, but unfortunately we had some heat issues. The car was close to overheating because we collected some debris in the radiator, and it cost us a lot of laps in the pits."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "I think this race pretty much sums up our season. It's been a tough year. Tonight we really couldn't find the consistency or the brakes. I think for the off season we'll look to apply everything we learned here and come out swinging in 2013.
It was good that we ran the whole race after the problem we had. It's better than not running it and it's great experience. I thought the race was great. I really enjoyed it. The low downforce was very tricky. I would have liked to have been a part of the front group. It was a shame that we had a problem and were out of the mix early on."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Auto Club Team Penske Chevrolet): "We had a good start. Certainly conservative. Car was good enough to keep going, unfortunately we kept having some vibration and thats what keeps stopping us moving forward. At the end of the day it was a hell of a restart. New tires, trying to pass everybody.
But unfortunately we needed one more lap or actually that yellow did not need to happen. But I thought it was a great race. I though the crowd had a good race. I am upset about the championship for Team Penske and well focus on dancing now."
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda): "I think we were the car to beat at the end," he said. "I won't lie, it's disappointing, but I would race with Honda any given day. I'm very thankful that they allowed us back into their group. I'm a Honda driver and I want to race with them for a long time.
These are things that happen. It's racing, it's mechanical and it's out of our control. Overall, I'm very pleased with the team and the way that everybody performed during the season. It's a hell of a job that the Barracuda Racing crew did. It's a shame because where we were heading at the finish would've probably put us in the top 10 in championship points, but it was an amazing comeback.
I'm proud of the way that we finished the season, showing how strong we are. We had our share of bad luck and this was another one. But next year is going to be a totally different situation. Next year is going to be our year."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team RC Cola Chevrolet): "It's a good thing we were prepared for war tonight. That's what we had. It was just fight, fight, fight. We were fast, but we had some clutch issues that caused us to stall a couple of times in the pits, so we would drop back and then have to claw our way back up there.
I wish we could have had a better result after starting on the pole, but we tried our hardest. Congratulations to Ryan (Hunter-Reay) on the championship, they deserve it, and the whole Andretti Autosport team worked really well together this year, and winning the championship is a great reward for everyone in the company."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet): "This is one of those times when we're all hoping that we get back to the shop and find that something was broken on the car. We had such a strong first stint, we moved up to seventh, and the guys were great in the pits and then it just fell off the wagon.
As soon as the sun went down, I'm not sure if it was just the set-up or a problem, but either way a very tough day for the Go Daddy guys. They deserve better than that. I really wanted the season to end on a high note, so for us it's a bittersweet day.
With Ryan taking the championship, it's huge for the team, and big congrats to him and everybody on the team for working so hard all year. We're thrilled for him."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI (Owner, Andretti Autosport): "This is an incredible day. It wasn't going so good right at the start there - we were struggling a little bit - and then we saw Will (Power) have his unfortunate accident and we knew it was open from there. We needed to get the job done and it was a lot of hard work.
Ryan did a helluva job, and the whole team did - getting the car better and better throughout the race. We had enough there at the end to get it done. I'm just so proud of everybody here with the DHL/Sun Drop team…. There's a lot more to come. This team is still getting better and better and I think we're going to be even stronger next year."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet): "It was a disappointing result, the No.2 IZOD car was running really well at the start of the race. But at the end of the second stint there with Will's crash in turn two we ran over his wing and I think it might have damaged our diffuser and we just struggled from then on throughout the night. I'm just proud of the guys, they did what they needed to do and it just didn't go our way tonight."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet): "It was a good night. Our car was good, especially that start in the middle was fairly strong, but we faded a little bit towards the end there and once we hit traffic it wasn't as good as what I had been. We worked hard at it, I got a little loose towards the end there.
Congrats to Ed, he had a hell of a race the whole night, and Hunter-Reay keeping his head screwed on and taking the championship. It was getting pretty close on points there towards the end, but he did it. I feel for Will, he definitely dominated the season, but that's really tough to take. We're excited for next year, the Target cars will be back strong. Hopefully we can win a championship."
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet): "Obviously we got off to a killer start and the National Guard Chevy was really good those first couple stints. On the restart I was running high and had to pedal it while Ed (Carpenter) stayed flat and drove straight through.
I felt like I had the pace to get back by him, but just by the nature of the two lines we were running I was getting a lot of dirty air on the exit of the corners. I knew that if I could keep the pressure on him I could get back by, I could see that he was struggling a little bit, but I was the one that ended up getting caught out.
Massively frustrating deal. I felt we had a car that was going to finish in the Top Five and I felt like we had a shot at winning this deal. I'm super frustrated for the team, cause we definitely rolled the dice with a couple things for this race and we had a chance to run up front all day.
Once I got stuck a little further back, the car was still good in traffic, but then everybody else moved up on that top line. We got a couple of our laps back, but obviously not enough to get back on the lead lap there by the end."
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 17 Team AFS Chevrolet): "I had a blast, to be honest, and I think we need to focus on the positive side of this race. It was an unfortunate situation where the tire temperatures just took us out. We were doing an amazing race.
We had a top-five car, but you know at the end I'm very happy to race with my teammates up-front there. And for (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, to be a part of team that wins the championship, to be a part of that process, and just so proud of them and big congrats to Hunter-Reay. This is the beginning of something big. We'll keep focused for next year and bring that No. 17 car back."
KATHERINE LEGGE (No. 6 TrueCar Dragon Racing Chevrolet): "The team did an awesome job, I had one of the fastest cars out there. It was my lack of experience, and my mistakes in the pits that cost us a top-six, top-eight. It really could have been very good, but I made three big mistakes. But to get ninth, we'll take that to move on to next year.
500 miles doesn't seem that much longer. You get in the zone, and get focused. When the red flag and you come in and start to heat up, that is when it is like 'oh, I still have eight laps to go'. It kind of sinks in. It was fun."
ORIOL SERVIA (NO. 22 Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet): "At the end…we struggled a little bit with the car at the beginning of the weekend. But in the race, I really liked my car. But we had something strange happen, we were having all this debris getting the radiator. We didn't want to blow our beautiful engine, so we had to keep stopping because it was getting over heated.
Our race was over then. We had to stop every 10-15 laps to clean the radiator. Strange. We had a couple of strange things this year. Filter, fuel and things that usually don't happen.
A few more DNFs than we want. We had a great season, especially since we got the Chevy power behind us, definitely. Good season. We want much more, but we had some strong runs. Hopefully we can come back next year stronger."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda): "It was an exciting race really; a long one. We were working on the car during the race and it was getting better most of the time but after the sun set the track speed increased and I was struggling a little bit on the top speed and the balance.
We were close to leading the race at one stage but we had an over-boost on a late restart and the engine started coughing and there was no acceleration at that time which was a real shame; I lost some positions. The end of the race was a real shame. I was side-by-side with Ryan through Turns 1 and 2 and I suddenly lost the back end on the final lap.
I feel sorry for the guys who have done a great job over the course of the weekend and also the whole year really. It was a fantastic season so it is a real shame to finish this way. It was an exciting race."