LIVE BLOG: Fontana, Friday

IndyCar, IndyCar commentary — By on October 18, 2013 11:14 am
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Welcome to More Front Wing’s live blog from the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale weekend at Auto Club Speedway! MFW Co-editors Paul Dalbey and Steph Wallcraft are on site providing live updates from trackside all weekend long. Be sure to check back on this page frequently as it will be updated constantly throughout the day. The most recent updates will be at the top, so if this is your first visit then please start at the bottom and work your way up. Feedback is always welcome — please leave a comment on this page or email us at feedback@morefrontwing.com!

For the weekend schedule, pre-race stats, session timesheets and much more, click here to visit our 2013 MAVTV 500 Event Summary.

7:10 PM PT (Steph): The final practice session of the weekend, a half-hour run in dusk conditions, went off without a hitch. There were cars running high and low and inches apart, so that’s a great sign for an exciting season finale tomorrow. (And at the end of the session, I overheard Pippa Mann thank her crew profusely and offer them a round tonight in gratitude for getting her back on track.)

The timesheets and notes from all of the days events are now available in our 2013 MAVTV 500 Event Summary.

We’re ready to call it a day here from Auto Club Speedway. Remember, our work this weekend is in support of the Cancer Support Community of Central Indiana, so if you’ve enjoyed it we’d certainly appreciate it if you could make a donation by clicking the banner above. We’ll be back at tomorrow for race day at the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season finale, the MAVTV 500!

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4:29 PM PT (Paul): Qualifying has concluded for the MAVTV 500, and to nobody’s surprise, it was a session dominated by Team Penske.  The shocker of the session though was that Helio Castroneves was bumped from the pole by his teammate Will Power, denying Castroneves of a critical point in the championship.  In losing that point, Scott Dixon can now secure his third IZOD IndyCar Series Championship by finishing no worse than sixth in tomorrow’s race.

Also as expected, Chevrolet largely dominated the session with Charlie Kimball being the highest qualifying Honda driver (5th).  Other Honda drivers qualifying in the top 10 included James Jakes (6th) and Scott Dixon (7th).

Of course, results of today’s qualifying are largely insignificant as a vast number of drivers will be replacing their engines tonight and thus receiving a 10-spot grid penalty.  We don’t expect to see an official starting lineup until after this evening’s final practice session so where the title contenders will actually be starting is somewhat unknown at this point.  Regardless, with 500 miles to run, few drivers seem terribly concerned about their actual starting position affecting their chances of finding victory lane (other than the increased likelihood of being caught up in another driver’s mistake further back in the field).

A couple other random thoughts on qualifying:

  • Recall the race with start with a 3-abreast starting lineup.  Unlike Indianapolis and Pocono, there will be plenty of room for drivers to go into turn 1 side-by-side so don’t look for them to necessary get single file right away.
  • Defending race winner Ed Carpenter qualified 9th.  He started 9th in last year’s race as well.
  • James Jakes once again badly out-qualified teammate Graham Rahal.  Jakes qualified 6th, nearly 2 mph faster than Rahal, who wound up 18th.
  • AJ Allmendinger was a bit of a surprise qualifying third.  I expect him to play it cautious at the start of the race and just log miles.  His last showing in an Indy car at Detroit was disastrous with a pair of first-lap crashes.
  • Sebastien Bourdais had a sensational qualifying effort.  Qualifying fourth, and with Castroneves already declaring he will take a 10-spot grid penalty, Bourdais should be starting on the front row tomorrow night unless the team has a late engine change.
  • Justin Wilson did not post a qualifying time after his car stalled twice trying to exit pit lane for his qualification attempt.

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1:26 PM PT (Steph): A few more housekeeping notes as we wait for qualifying to get under way as provided by IndyCar.

Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan and Pocono Indy 400 winner Scott Dixon have their eyes on a special prize Oct. 19 in the MAVTV 500 at the Auto Club Speedway as part of the final leg of the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown.

A $250,000 bonus established by Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka is available if either can win the 250-lap race on the 2-mile oval. Last December, Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka announced the renewal of a longtime tradition with the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown in which $1 million would be awarded to a driver who could win the Indianapolis 500, Pocono INDYCAR 400 and the MAVTV 500. If a driver wins two of the three, Fuzzy’s will present a check for $250,000.

And one more quick note:

IZOD IndyCar Series team owner/driver Ed Carpenter will be inducted into the Auto Club Speedway Walk of Fame. He won the 2012 MAVTV 500 for Ed Carpenter Racing’s first victory. In fact, he’s won the season finale the past two years.

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1:12 PM PT (Steph): Earlier today as part of its events for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Chevrolet hosted a group of cancer survivors at Auto Club Speedway and Team Chevy IndyCar drivers Simona De Silvestro, Sebastian Saavedra and Oriol Servia provided on-track rides in a Camaro SS, signed autographs, and participated in a question-and-answer session.

Chevrolet will also contribute to the cause $200 for every lap run under caution during this weekend’s IZOD IndyCar Series race. A specially themed 2014 Corvette Stingray will serve as the pace car for the event.

“We’re proud that we’re able to bring this initiative to the IZOD IndyCar Series this year,” said Meagan Quinn, Chevy Racing IndyCar Marketing Manager. “Hopefully, the pink pace cars will help serve as a reminder that we all can do our part in the fight against cancer.”

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1:01 PM PT (Steph): There was one more major incident in the early practice session for Takuma Sato, who spun and made contact with the wall in turn 4. The car was heavily damaged, but the team has opted not to go to the backup — instead, they will skip qualifying this afternoon to effect repairs.

The timesheet and the rest of the details from the session can be found in our MAVTV 500 Event Summary.

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11:30 AM PT (Paul): This morning’s IZOD IndyCar practice had barely gotten underway when it was slowed for an accident by the #18 car of Pippa Mann.  The Dale Coyne Racing Honda lost the rear end in turn 4 and backed into the SAFER barrier with the right rear corner of the car.  I spoke with a disappointed Mann moments later, and, as many have said before her, she indicated she simply got caught out by the seams in the track.  Auto Club Speedway has a long history of cars crashing when crossing over the pavement seams at speed, and it was the same for Pippa.  Ironically though, Mann indicated that she didn’t lose the rear end as much as the seam just made her front tires excessively “sticky.”  Once the front end stuck, the rear end couldn’t keep up and wound up taking her into the fence.

Though disappointed, Mann was physically fine and expects to be back on track this afternoon.  Damage was mostly confined to the right rear and right front corners, along with a broken rear wing and minor front end damage.  Her Dale Coyne Racing crew pulled the back-up car out of the transporter, but it wasn’t immediately clear if Pippa would drive a repaired primary car or the back-up for the remainder of the event.

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10:54 AM PT (Steph): This is my first visit to Auto Club Speedway.

Fourteen years ago this coming October 31st, I vowed that I would never come here.

I eventually realized, of course, that to avoid the place forever would be ridiculous. If others were capable of coming back here and returning to normal — people who actually knew Greg Moore personally and raced beside him, unlike me — then I needed to get over my youthful angst and move on, too.

I hardly got any sleep last night. Instead, I lied awake worrying. I worried that I would get here and overreact to the emotion and wind up looking ridiculous; I worried that I wouldn’t feel anything — or rather, that I wouldn’t let myself feel anything, a horrible flaw of mine — and that the exercise would become pointless.

Since I’m the let’s-get-it-out-of-the-way type, I decided right after getting set up at the track that it was time to haul my sorry Canadian butt over to turn 2 and pay my respects.

The walk is a long one. This place is oppressively large, especially when it’s quiet. It’s a beautiful, temperate day today, but it’s dry around here and the infield is largely unpaved (or, at least, it’s unpaved in the areas I was directed through). As my feet sunk into the sand and the browning grass crunched underneath them, I felt a pit form in my stomach.

I had no idea what I was going to feel until the moment my hand touched that fence.

But when it did, I was caught completely off-guard.

What descended over me was a profound feeling of peace.

I stood about a hundred feet into the backstretch and looked up into turn 2, tracing the path that the #99 car would have taken all those years ago. (It wasn’t immediately obvious; that section of the track has been reworked since then, as one would expect.)

And I looked around. I examined the banking — it looks a bit higher in person than I expected. I looked past the track at the palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze and the mountains reflecting the morning California sun.

I thought to myself, “No one should ever be lost so young, with such great promise. But for someone whose life was dedicated to the pursuit of speed and victory — there are far worse ways to go.”

You know how we scoff sometimes when people say, “At least he died doing something he loved?” I won’t do that again. That statement rings very true to me at this moment.

As the Lights cars came out on track and began to climb up the banking at speed, I felt all of the grief and anxiety I’d anticipated in coming here be replaced with closure — and a flame reignited.

When I began writing about IndyCar racing for this website and its predecessor a few years ago, I did it purely due to a passion for the sport and I started out very fiery and opinionated. But as the race weekends tick by, it’s all too easy to get mired in the mundanity of nitpicky rules and disorganized schedules and which airports we’re flying through this week.

It’s too easy to forget why these men and women strap themselves into these rockets time and again and put themselves into the path of danger, and why we all care enough to watch.

Being in this place and remembering what happened here in 1999 brought the fight back into me to see IndyCar racing return to its rightful place in the world: the pursuit of raw, unadulterated speed, brought on by the drive to explore and expand the limits of the human body and the mind’s capacity for innovation.

The people who have come and gone before us in the name of these pursuits wouldn’t want us to react by wringing our hands and shying away and dialing back. We honor them best by coming back to these places and fighting to further these aims and ensure that they are never lost.

Now, finally, I feel ready to move on.

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10:15 AM PT (Steph): The press conference this morning was to announce that Dr Pepper Snapple Group will remain with Andretti Autosport for 2014. Marco told the media that he has signed a two-year contract with the team and had some casual discussions with other teams but nothing serious. He also joked that Andretti Autosport might run 16 cars next year (while stating that those decisions are up to his father).

Per the team’s press release:

Third-generation racer Marco Andretti is quite familiar with the Dr Pepper Snapple (NYSE: DPS) family. He’ll once again help promote one of DPS’s iconic brands when he takes the wheel of the No. 25 Andretti Autosport car next season.

The DPS-Andretti Autosport relationship enters its eighth season in 2014. In previous years, Marco Andretti has driven Indy cars highlighting Venom Energy Drink, Dr Pepper, Dr Pepper TEN and RC Cola.

“Marco and Andretti Autosport have been great ambassadors of our brands over the years, and we are pleased to be partnering with them for another exciting IndyCar season,” said Jim Trebilcock, executive vice president of marketing for DPS. “Our brands and IndyCar both have extraordinary and passionate fans, and we’re looking forward to working with Marco and his team to drive excitement and build on that passion.”

Andretti, concluding his eighth season in IndyCar Series competition at Auto Club Speedway this weekend, is ranked fifth in the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings with 14 top-10 finishes, marking his best season to date. The Nazareth, Penn. native has recorded two pole-positions this season and is nearing the 1000 laps-led mark, currently holding 944 laps as a race leader. Andretti and his No. 25 RC Cola branded car sat on the front row for this year’s running of the Indianapolis 500-mile race, the 26-year-old’s best start at the historic 2.5-mile oval.

“Dr Pepper Snapple’s products are among the most well-loved brands on the market, and they carry great appeal with our fans,” said Marco Andretti, Driver, No. 25 Car. “We’re excited to be teaming up with them once again next season. I feel we have been getting closer to a championship title and an Indy 500 win, and I wouldn’t want to win it with anyone more with the Dr Pepper Snapple family and with my dad. I feel like I have a lot of unfinished business and a lot of good results coming our way.”

In addition to touting its brands on his No. 25 car, Andretti has worked with DPS on one of its key philanthropic initiatives, serving as honorary chairman of DPS’s of its 2013 United Way campaign. Themed “Drive Home Giving,” the campaign raised nearly $2.2 million for United Way agencies.

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9:13 AM PT (Steph): Good morning from Auto Club Speedway, where the paddock is coming to life as things get under way for the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season finale weekend. Both Paul and I will be trackside providing live updates to this page all weekend long. Please check back frequently as we’ll be adding to it throughout the day’s events on Friday.

Let’s get our weekend started with a few pertinent links and bits of info.

First, the 2014 IndyCar Series schedule (sans IZOD) was released last night and can be found here. The only new event is the IMS road course event, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which is not a surprise. There are a number of event date changes, however, to accommodate the March-to-Labor-Day schedule. The full 2014 IndyCar Series schedule press release can be found here.

We also learned this week that Sebastien Bourdais will be driving for KVSH Racing team next year (a merge of KV Racing Technology and SH Racing). With that being announced, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we’ve learned there will be a press conference tomorrow afternoon to announce a new primary sponsor on Andretti Autosport’s #27 machine. (Anyone who follows the Canadian media won’t be surprised by what that news is expected to entail.)

And the news came out this week that the National Guard sponsorship will move next year from Panther Racing to Graham Rahal at Rahal Letterman Lanigan — a major coup for the latter team, but potentially a major situation for the former.

We’re also being visited in the media center later this morning by Marco Andretti to learn more about his 2014 plans.

Don’t forget, we’ve also got some pretty big changes in this weekend’s field: Alex Tagliani will be in the #10 subbing for the injured Dario Franchitti; Penske Racing will put AJ Allmendinger in the #2 to give them an extra car to put into Helio’s way as they try to steal the title away from Dixon; JR Hildebrand is back in the #98 machine for Barracuda Racing; Oriol Servia gets another turn in the #4 for Panther Racing; and Pippa Mann is in Dale Coyne’s #18 (though anyone who uses social media in the slightest was already well aware of that one!). And a last-minute update from Marshall Pruett: Carlos Muñoz will sub for EJ Viso this weekend, who is reportedly “sick.”

We have one more title fight to follow this weekend as the Firestone Indy Lights series crowns its 2013 champion as well. It’s between Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves and will be decided in a race to start at 2:30 PM local time tomorrow.

Check back frequently for live updates from trackside, and be sure to follow us on Twitter @MoreFrontWing for the very latest IndyCar news as it happens!

MAVTV 500 Event Summary.

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