1. Title contenders get in track time in Fontana: Eight drivers, including IZOD IndyCar Series championship contenders Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power, tested the new chassis-engine package Sept. 6 on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval in advance of the MAVTV 500 INDYCAR World Championships at Auto Club Speedway.
Power, driver of the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, takes a 17-point advantage over Hunter-Reay into the 250-lap season finale (7:30 p.m. ET Sept. 15 on NBC Sports Network). Both will return - along with 20 others - to put in another day on the racetrack Sept. 12.
"This track will be great to race on; it is so wide and we'll have room to drive," Power said. "We all have a long way to go, but I think I have already run three completely different set-ups and we still have lots to learn before we come back and test next week and then qualify and race.
"During a 500-mile race anything can happen and it will be very exciting for sure. We want the championship and will work with a 100 percent focus to get it. Now till the checkered flag falls, no slowing down."
The race weekend schedule includes a 90-minute practice session (1:45 p.m. ET start Sept. 14) that precedes qualifications. A 45-minute practice follows at 8:45 p.m. (ET).
Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti - all of whom competed in the last IZOD IndyCar Series race at the speedway in 2005 - joined Katherine Legge, James Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay and Power in the test sessions Sept. 6. Franchitti won the '05 race by .1117 of a second over charging Andretti Green Racing teammate Kanaan.
"I haven't driven around the track since 2003 in a Reynard and I can tell you the track has picked up some 'character' since then," said Hunter-Reay, who grew up nearby. "But the race will be the same for all of us and I fully expect that the fans will see a fantastic race. We are chasing Will and want to keep hunting him to win the championship.
"We've already put a number of set-ups on the car and I think when we get to the race the fans will like what they see and I think that Chevy engine is up to the task. We are going to put on a great show -- very similar to Texas -- and I hope that we come out on top with a win and the championship."
INDYCAR president of competition Beaux Barfield attended as he sought driver feedback to help INDYCAR confirm the aero spec for the race. Lap speeds were in the 215 mph range in the morning session.
"I think the initial indications are it's definitely going to be a handling race, so I think it's no different than Texas," said Penske Racing president Tim Cindric, who is Power's race strategist. "It's early because we've only run here for a couple hours, so I think this is the worst case. The new tires and the cars are pretty good and pretty stable. We're not running fuel in them, so as you get throughout the run it becomes a bit more difficult. So I think you're definitely seeing a handling race at this point."
Scheduled to participate in the Sept. 12 test:
Team AFS - Sebastian Saavedra
A.J. Foyt Racing - Mike Conway
Andretti Autosport - Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay
Dale Coyne Racing - James Jakes, Justin Wilson
Ed Carpenter Racing - Ed Carpenter
KV Racing Technology - Rubens Barrichello, Tony Kanaan, E.J. Viso
Lotus HVM Racing - Simona de Silvestro
Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing - Charlie Kimball
Panther Racing - JR Hildebrand
Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing - Oriol Servia
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing - Josef Newgarden
Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing - Graham Rahal
Target Chip Ganassi Racing - Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti
Team Penske -- Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves, Will Power
2. If You Missed It - Tim Cindric Conference Call: Earlier today Tim Cindric, the president of Penske Racing participated in an INDYCAR conference call to discuss his team's role in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship.
Under Cindric's leadership, Team Penske has scored three Indy car titles, 2000 and 2001 with Gil de Ferran, and the 2006 IZOD IndyCar Series title with Sam Hornish Jr. The team has five Indianapolis 500 race wins, recently with Helio Castroneves in 2009. Cindric serves as the race strategist for Will Power, who leads the championship point standings by 17 points over Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Q. Tim, this is the fifth year in a row you've joined us for this call. A Team Penske driver is battling for the series title again, and I seem to ask this to you every year, but what is it about Team Penske that teams putting drivers in position to win the IZOD IndyCar Series title?
TIM CINDRIC: I think we've been able to consistently continue to win races and that type of thing. But for whatever reason, the last five years or whatever we haven't gotten the job done at the end of the season for different reasons. And hopefully this year will be different, but having a chance every year is something that you can be proud of but at the end of the day you got to finish it.
Q. They say you have to lose a championship sometimes before you win a championship. I know Will's been in this position the last two years and come away finishing second. Is he much different as a driver than he's been the last two years?
TIM CINDRIC: He's been through the different experiences of the highs and lows. He continues to perform better and better in my opinion on the ovals. I think this year in Texas he got a blocking penalty, and he was definitely the car to beat in Texas.
I think Fontana's going to be a similar race to Texas. Probably different in some ways, but I think his frame of mind and he's been through and understands what that all means to come down to the last race. I think there is certainly progress on that front.
Q. I know you're out at Fontana right now for a test with Will. With the aero package, do you think you'll see a race kind of like Texas with the cars coming to the front and then fading?
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, I think the initial indications are it's definitely going to be a handling race, so I think it's no different than Texas. It's early because we've only run here for a couple hours, so I think this is the worst case. I feel like it's been almost the aero configuration right now seems the new tires and the cars are pretty good and pretty stable. As you get throughout the run. Again, we're not running fuel in them either, so as you get throughout the run, it becomes a bit more difficult. So I think you're definitely seeing a handling race at this point.
Q. Going into this race in Fontana, how much of your team strategy will be focused around helping Will win the championship or is it similar to another race where it's every driver on the team for himself?
TIM CINDRIC: It will certainly be something that we consider throughout the race. I think our number one goal, obviously, is to win the championship. The other two guys have things that they're trying to accomplish as well. I think Helio realistically is racing for third, and Ryan has an outside chance of being in the Top 5. So the better his teammates run, the better it is overall. So there is really no reason not to run well.
Q. I'd like to know, when you're sitting on the pit stand, how much do you watch what Will's doing and calling that race as opposed to what Ryan Hunter-Reay will be doing or some of the other guys racing pretty hard for the win?
TIM CINDRIC: I think you're typically always watching whoever your competition is, whether it's for that race, who you feel is most competitive for that race or for the championship. So I think you always have one eye on your car and another one on whoever you feel like your competition is, whether it be for the championship or the race win itself.
I don't think that mindset is a whole lot different. But it is a little bit different than normal because the race really isn't important to us as far as Will's concerned. It's just a matter of insuring that we beat Ryan at the end of the day.
Source: IZOD IndyCar Series