IRL: Fontana: Season finale preview

INDYCAR SERIES DRIVERS, TEAMS PREPARE FOR CALIFORNIA INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2005 -- The IRL IndyCar® Series concludes its 10th season of competition with the Toyota Indy 400 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Oct. 16. Like...

INDYCAR SERIES DRIVERS, TEAMS PREPARE FOR CALIFORNIA

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2005 -- The IRL IndyCar® Series concludes its 10th season of competition with the Toyota Indy 400 at California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., on Oct. 16.

Like its sister track Michigan International Speedway, California Speedway is a d-shaped, 2-mile oval, but the tracks are not identical. Each track features subtle differences, which makes the racing very different.

In the following first-person narratives, newly crowned IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon of Andretti Green Racing and Rahal Letterman Racing technical director Ray Leto discuss what's needed for a successful race at the facility.

THE DRIVER:

Dan Wheldon, driver of the No. 26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda/Firestone, will be making his third appearance at California Speedway, and is looking to cap off his record-setting season in style.

Wheldon, who became the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series championship in the same season, clinched the IndyCar Series title on Sept. 25 at Watkins Glen International.

Wheldon, who briefly lived in Southern California early in his racing career, has recorded back-to-back top-four finishes at California Speedway. He finished fourth in his debut race at California in 2003 and third in 2004.

"I think California is going to be a really good race because obviously the championship has been decided, but second, third and fourth are up for grabs. There's going to have to be some big things happen for those positions to change. Then I think you have the fifth through 10th pretty close. I think everybody's going to be going for broke."

"Fontana's the kind of track that encourages that because it's so wide and so big that it can allow for very, very close racing. We don't really get disturbed by dirty air too much. It's going to be really, really tight. I think you're going to see a lot of people driving very, very aggressively.

"For me, I prefer to finish the season out at Fontana than I would at Texas because Texas allows for everybody to run real, real close. Certainly, you can do that at Fontana, but you've got to have a good race car also. Fontana rewards a good race car. I enjoy that kind of superspeedway. I think it's going to be a race that everybody is gunning to win."

THE ENGINEER:

Veteran race engineer Ray Leto has served in several positions at Rahal Letterman Racing ranging from race engineer to technical director to team manager.

One of the most experienced race engineers in Indy-style racing, Leto joined the IndyCar Series paddock in 2004 as race engineer for Vitor Meira, leading the Brazilian to the IRL Rising Star Award.

This season, Leto is the race engineer for 2005 Bombardier Rookie of the Year Danica Patrick.

"Of all the big ovals we go to, Fontana is the least banked, so it has the lowest amount of grip, which makes it by far the hardest of the big ovals to set the car up for. There are some pretty big bumps you have to keep in mind, and unlike some of the other tracks we run at Fontana is not a multi-lane track. Running the single groove at Fontana flat is a challenge.

"The biggest challenge for us this weekend is to get the car to work in traffic during the race. It is easy to go out in qualifying and trim the car out and run the single groove and be fast. The challenge lies in compromising that setup by adding downforce, but not so much that you create too much drag.

"You really have to balance what you do with what the other teams are doing. I think we found a nice balance at Chicagoland. Since the rules package is the same at Fontana as Chicagoland, just without the high banks. That is a great starting point for us heading into the weekend."

WHERE THE RUBBER MEETS THE ROAD:

Firestone's race tire development team considers the configuration of each track as it chooses the tire compound to be used at each track.

According to Firestone engineers, California Speedway's banking and surface requires the highest heat-resistant compounds and most durable construction. The tires used this weekend are similar in characteristics to the tires used at the other speedways on the schedule.

RACE FACTS:

WHAT:
Toyota Indy 400, 17th race in 17-race 2005 season

WHERE:
California Speedway, 2-mile D-shaped tri-oval

WHEN:
3:30 p.m. (EDT), Sunday, Oct. 16

DISTANCE:
200 laps/400 miles

PAST RACE WINNERS:
2004 -- Adrian Fernandez; 2003 -- Sam Hornish Jr.; 2002 -- Sam Hornish Jr.

TV:
ESPN (live), 3:30 p.m. (EDT), Oct. 16.

RADIO:
Qualifying webcast: 5:45 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 15, www.indycar.com. Wrap-up show: 7:30 p.m. (EDT), Oct. 15, IMS Radio Network.

Race: IMS Radio Network, 3 p.m. (EDT), Oct. 16.

***

The 10th season of IndyCar Series competition concludes with the Toyota Indy 400 at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) on Oct. 16 at California Speedway. The race will be broadcast by ESPN and the IMS Radio Network. The race broadcast also will be carried on XM Satellite Radio channel 152 (XM Extreme). The final Menards Infiniti Pro Series race is the California 100 on Oct. 16 at California Speedway. The ESPN2 race telecast will be available live on ESPN360.com. It will be telecast at 3 p.m. (EDT) on Oct. 20.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Adrian Fernandez , Dan Wheldon , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira