1. Test day shows the importance of contenders having help: James Hinchcliffe has a single focus entering this weekend's MAVTV 500 - help Ryan Hunter-Reay win the IZOD IndyCar Series championship.
"I told Ryan the day after Baltimore that I'm racing for you now. I've got less to fight for, so my No. 1 goal is to help Ryan win this championship," Hinchcliffe said.
Hinchcliffe and his teammate Marco Andretti got off to a good start in achieving that goal on Wednesday at Auto Club Speedway turning in some of the fastest laps among the drivers and teams preparing for the MAVTV 500. Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon topped the test at a little more 216 mph.
The work of the Andretti Autosport team was important to Hunter-Reay, who crashed his car two hours into the eight-hour test session. Hunter-Reay, who trails Will Power by 17 points entering the race, was uninjured in the crash, but lost valuable track time.
"The car was pretty loose on the first run and we went for a second run on it," Hunter-Reay said. "We probably got a little greedy with it as light as we were running on downforce. Just came around. It happens. It's part of it. The good news is the car is not that bad. And we still have two team cars still pounding around."
The data gathered by Hinchcliffe and Andretti will play a big role for Hunter-Reay when he returns to the 2-mile oval for practice and qualifying on Friday. Hinchcliffe said the work done today and Friday will be the most important thing he can do for his teammate.
"Once the green flag drops, in a lot of ways our hands are tied," he said. "There's only so much you can do. As teammates, our role is more important today - the test day - or Friday practice. With what happened to (Ryan) today, it just gets highlighted even more.
"I'm happy to report that we've made some gains with the Go Daddy car and we've gotten through a lot of the program we wanted to do. Hopefully, when he gets back on track on Friday, he's comfortable with the car we've given him and we can help him from there by tuning and tweaking it into a championship-winning ride."
The attitude is similar at Team Penske, which will field Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe as the wingmen for points leader Will Power.
Briscoe and Castroneves have their own positions to race for, but supporting Power as he attempts to win Team Penske's first title since 2006 will be in the back of their minds.
"We have to take points away from Ryan," Castroneves said. "That's the only way we can help Will at this point. We want to bring a championship to Team Penske. Whatever we can do to not let Ryan win this race, we're going to try to do."
2. If you missed it: IZOD IndyCar Series Championship Contenders Conference Call: Earlier today IZOD IndyCar Series championship contenders participated in an INDYCAR conference call to discuss his team's role in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship.
Q. Will, the last two years you've come second in the championship, so I assume you're hoping the third time is the charm in clinching the championship this season.
WILL POWER: Yes, of course. It's going to be obviously a tough race, 500 miles. I've been in this position for the last two years. We just focus on the job that we have to do to execute on the day. The rest will work itself out. Either we'll be champion or we won't.
Q. Talk about the season so far. You've been fairly consistent, although haven't won since Brazil. Are you a different driver than you were the last two years when you've come in with a chance to win the title?
WILL POWER: I think just naturally the more experience you get, the more knowledge you have about situations, how to react in certain situations, and probably become a better, more experienced driver.
The approach is the same every weekend. You go into the race to win it. Really you go into the race to make the most of every situation as it presents itself.
Yes, I would say I've improved for sure over the last two years, but I don't think my approach is very different.
Q Let's turn to Ryan Hunter-Reay. It's your first chance at a championship at the highest level of the sport. Do you feel the championship pressure or would you say it's more on Will?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It's on both of us, for sure. We have the biggest trophy in the sport on the line, and the championship is what you're always after.
I definitely like the position we're in, chasing. We've been doing that for most of the year. I think we've been getting better at it.
We need to go out and focus on winning. That's really what it's going to be about. 500 miles is a long race. The race that we have in the first 250 is going to be a lot different than we have in the last 250. We could see a lot of comers and goers. It's going to be changing the entire time.
We have to go out there and do what we know how to do, and that's contend for race wins.
Q. A few weeks ago it looked like your championship may be over after you were spun in Sonoma, then you won at Baltimore. Talk about this never-say-die attitude you and the Andretti Motorsports team have.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It hasn't been easy. Right when things looked like they were going exactly our way, other situations would come about, like the situation with Sonoma, then some of the reliability issues we had at Mid-Ohio. These things happen at racing. It's part of it. Will has seen that in his runs for the championship, as well. Right when things start to look like they're heading in the right direction, you could be thrown a curve ball.
Q. If you both could give me a couple examples where if you win the championship, this is where you won it, because it's a season-long pursuit, a couple of examples where it went right for you and a couple where it went wrong.
WILL POWER: I think a race like Edmonton was definitely a place where I would say that could have gone either way, pretty badly or very well. It went very well. It was a point I would say potentially could have aided in winning the championship.
Obviously at Indy and Iowa getting taken out, yeah, obviously you can't get much worse than two DNFs. That's it.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I'm second in the championship, obviously. I'd be torn at the short oval events we had at Milwaukee and Iowa. Baltimore was a pretty big deal for us, just getting ourselves back in the championship race, bringing it on to Fontana. I'd probably have to go with Baltimore.
Q. Will, you said this year you've tried to relax and not let things bother you, concentrate on the stuff that matters. That plus going into here the third time with the championship on the line, can you talk a little bit about how that will help you with this final race and dealing with all the pressures. And, Ryan, do you see Will's experience in the final race as a bit of an advantage? Do you have to do something to compensate for the fact he's been there before?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I think definitely what Will has been strong at is learning how to race an entire season championship-wise, win the points, when to go for it and when not to. We've seen that year after year being in contention.
When it comes to one race, I don't think there's any advantage to it at all. This is one race. I look at it from the standpoint, just like I looked at Baltimore: we have to win to get ourselves there. It's pretty straightforward for me.
He's done a great job to get himself here. I've certainly learned a lot this year that I'll be able to apply next year in how to really go after a championship.
It's something that you apply over a season. It's more of an endurance stretch rather than looking at it as one 500-mile race.
WILL POWER: I think Ryan is right in this has come down to just one race. Basically either it's your day or it's not. But when you look at the overall season, you just are going to have your ups and downs. It's the downers that you need to make the most of, those days where it's just not looking good, but you get like a sixth place or something is what makes up for a very strong championship.
Obviously, you have to have the speed to win races. You will if you're going to be a championship contender. It's a bad day if it costs you the championship.
At the end of the day, it's always making the most out of every situation, whatever you're given. That's going to be the case on Sunday, as well.
3. Kanaan hopes history repeats itself at Auto Club Speedway: Tony Kanaan's history at Auto Club Speedway shows three podium finishes, five top-five finishes and a pole position in his previous five starts on the 2-mile oval.
So he enters the MAVTV 500 with hopes of ending the year on a high note by producing KV Racing Technology's first win since 2008 and earning the A.J. Foyt Trophy as the IZOD IndyCar Series' oval champion.
"I've been on the podium three times before, so coming back to (Auto Club Speedway) is a good feeling, especially in the situation we are in with the oval championship," he said.
Kanaan entered the year with high hopes after reuniting with engineer Eric Cowdin and much of the team that he worked with for almost a decade at Andretti Green Racing, which helped him win the 2004 IZOD IndyCar Series title.
The team had similar hopes after signing Formula One star Rubens Barrichello to join Kanaan and E.J. Viso in a three-car lineup. But neither has lived up to expectations, with Kanaan's second place at Milwaukee the high-water mark for the season.
"I said at the beginning of the year we're not Penske," Kanaan said. "We're not Ganassi. We have three cars, and from the outside people look at it and it's the same organization and the same layout. The team is well-dressed and has nice scooters, but once you get all the good people together it takes time for everyone to adjust.
"Rubens (Barrichello) is a big name, but he's still a rookie. Rubens needed me a lot more than I could use him. E.J. (Viso) made a huge improvement from years past. But compared to Helio (Castroneves) and Will (Power), Dario (Franchitti) and Dixie (Scott Dixon), and you add the other two Ganassi cars to the mix and then you have (Ryan) Briscoe. Those guys have been working together for a long time and they are at the level, but they feed off of each other. For us, the expectations were extremely high, so I spent a lot of time helping (my teammates) instead of the other way around, which is understandable. But the organization got extremely overwhelmed."
Kanaan, who has started all but one Indy car race in Fontana, hopes to use his experience in 500-mile races to his advantage at Auto Club Speedway and maybe play the spoiler role in the championship-deciding race.
"If I have any advantage it's my experience in a 500-mile race against some of the guys who don't have (that)," he said. "We're still in the hunt for the top five in the championship. But I thought we would win more races."
Source: IZOD IndyCar Series