Engine battle highlights INDYCAR finale at Auto Club Speedway

The battle for the Drivers' Championship is on the line this weekend in the INDYCAR season finale.

Engine battle highlights INDYCAR finale at Auto Club Speedway

This is a good INDYCAR racing weekend if you like finales.

In Fontana, Calf., the IZOD IndyCar Series marks its 19th and last race of the 2013 season on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval. This race is designated as the finale for series sponsor IZOD, which had a couple of years left on a five-year pact but is leaving after this weekend. It also marks the third rung of the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown (Indianapolis, Pocono, Fontana) and a possible $250,000 bonus to either Indy winner Tony Kanaan or Pocono victor Scott Dixon if they can win on Saturday night.

The championship is up for grabs between two drivers from a pair of perennially battling teams: Two-time titleholder Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing has 25 points in hand over Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 race winner but never a champion in his racing career (if you discount his “Dancing with the Stars” mirror ball trophy). Castroneves handily led the point standings from his Texas Motor Speedway win in June to the early October Houston round, where he fell on his sword twice during the street course doubleheader.

Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet
Helio Castroneves, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Kenneth May

There’s a wrinkle in this battle for the championship. In the current IndyCar universe, racers are subject to using no more than five engines per year – without penalty. Every time an engine is changed prior to the 2000-mile mark, the driver and his team are relegated 10 places back from where they qualify. For a 500-mile race like the MAVTV500 on Saturday night, that’s not really a big issue as pit and race strategy can change everything.

By electing to change engines, both Dixon and Castroneves take the 10-spot penalty and that causes harm to both Honda and Chevrolet, respectively. Sure, they’re both coming to this battle with updated engines for the finale, but this pair of manufacturers are in a dead heat for their own title: in 18 races held to date, Chevy has won nine and Honda has won nine. Saturday night will decide their championship as well.

A quick look at the data shows that 16 cars are eligible to take manufacturers’ points on Saturday night among 25 entries. Of those, all but AJ Allmendinger are on their fifth engine, which means those 15 engines must stay in the car in order to score manufacturers’ points. Allmendinger is returning to Team Penske this weekend for a three-pronged effort to attempt to take the title away from Ganassi, Dixon and Honda. As Roger Penske told Associated Press, “Helio’s got to win the race and that’s a long-shot.”

If Dixon wins the race, it doesn’t matter where Castroneves finishes. In fact, if Dixon finishes fifth, the Brazilian is a loser again. Which would mean Team Penske has lost five in a row, four with Will Power attempting the championship and this one with Castroneves. That’s got to be miserable for Roger Penske, who has lost to Team Target three times already and last year to Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.

The entire weekend will go forward without the services of three-time Indy 500 winner and four-time INDYCAR champ Dario Franchitti, who’s had two surgeries since fracturing his right ankle, fracturing two vertebrae and suffering concussion at Houston on he final lap of the second race. With oval standout Alex Tagliani subbing for the Scot, Ganassi has another weapon in his arsenal that could help dislodge any Penske plans for the weekend.

Ah, but back to the engine title: Ganassi is leaving Honda after this year; he’s been with them since 1996, a very long run. Does the engine maker’s victory not matter to Chip Ganassi? I’m thinking Scott Dixon is far more of a priority to him, hence this decision to swap engines. Of course Honda may have wanted Dixon to get the upper hand on the battle and encouraged the switch, too. That will remain one of those mysteries nobody will talk about.

Of the drivers eligible to take the top spot for their engine maker, Honda has only a few, but they could be true contenders: Justin Wilson, Tristan Vautier , Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand. Of that group, all but Vautier and Hildebrand are race winners. Pagenaud and Wilson are third and fourth, respectively in points and both are very good on ovals.

This quintet has got to battle with some very fine Chevrolet drivers, though, including Power, Hunter-Reay, Oriol Servia, Sebastien Bourdais, Tony Kanaan, last year’s Auto Club Speedway winner Ed Carpenter, Marco Andretti, three-time 2013 winner James Hinchcliffe and Houston podium holder Simona de Silvestro.

All of these meanderings are moot until the sun sets in Fontana Saturday night. Hopefully there will be a good crowd on hand to enjoy the battle and even more hopefully, this will be a clean, hard-fought race. While I am always a bit skittish when working an event on the track where Greg Moore died in 1999, I’m hoping this INDYCAR race will join last year’s finale as a race to be remembered for its winners, not its whiners.

shares
comments
Bourdais makes the move to KVSH Racing in 2014

Previous article

Bourdais makes the move to KVSH Racing in 2014

Next article

Viso out, Munoz in at Andretti Autosport

Viso out, Munoz in at Andretti Autosport
Load comments
IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still at fever pitch Prime

IndyCar’s longest silly-season is still at fever pitch

The 2021 IndyCar silly season is one of the silliest of all, but it’s satisfying to see so many talented drivers in play – including Callum Ilott. David Malsher-Lopez reports.

IndyCar
Sep 11, 2021
IndyCar young guns are great, but the elders aren’t done yet Prime

IndyCar young guns are great, but the elders aren’t done yet

The ace 20-somethings in IndyCar have risen to become title contenders, but the best of the series veterans are digging deep and responding – and will continue to do so over the next couple of years, says David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Aug 20, 2021
The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career Prime

The F1 champion who became an Indy king in his second career

Emerson Fittipaldi’s decision to go racing with his brother led to him falling out of F1, but he bloomed again on the IndyCar scene. NIGEL ROEBUCK considers a career of two halves

Formula 1
Jul 31, 2021
The lasting legacy of a fallen Indy car rookie Prime

The lasting legacy of a fallen Indy car rookie

Jeff Krosnoff was plucked out of obscurity to become a respected and highly popular professional in Japan, and then got his big break in CART Indy car for 1996. But a tragic accident at Toronto 25 years ago cut short a promising career and curtailed his regular teammate Mauro Martini's passion for racing.

IndyCar
Jul 14, 2021
The winners and losers in IndyCar 2021 – Mid-season review Prime

The winners and losers in IndyCar 2021 – Mid-season review

At the halfway point in the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season, we've had seven winners in eight races, spread between five teams – none of them Team Penske. In this unusual season, even by IndyCar standards, who’s excelling and who’s dragging their heels? David Malsher-Lopez reports.

IndyCar
Jun 18, 2021
The joy that exposes F1’s key weakness Prime

The joy that exposes F1’s key weakness

Long-awaited wins for ex-Formula 1 drivers Marcus Ericsson and Kevin Magnussen in IndyCar and IMSA last weekend gave F1 a reminder of what it is missing. But with the new rules aimed at levelling the playing field, there’s renewed optimism that more drivers can have a rewarding result when their day of days comes

Formula 1
Jun 17, 2021
Castroneves: How I kept it under control to make Indy 500 history Prime

Castroneves: How I kept it under control to make Indy 500 history

Helio Castroneves’ overwhelming vivaciousness outside the cockpit belies a hardcore racer who knows how to plot his moves – and then recall it all for us. A day after his fourth Indy 500 win, Helio explained his tactics to David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Jun 2, 2021
How 'chess master' Castroneves cemented his Indy legend status Prime

How 'chess master' Castroneves cemented his Indy legend status

Helio Castroneves joined AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears with the most Indianapolis 500 wins after sweeping around the outside of Alex Palou on the penultimate lap in a thrilling climax. In one race, he validated Michael Shank's and Jim Meyer's faith in him, and Helio himself discovered there's life after Penske after all.

IndyCar
Jun 1, 2021