With the fight for the Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles taking center stage in Houston this weekend, two IndyCar teams are waging a private battle to make the cut to receive $1 million bonus for entrants finishing inside the top-22 in points.
The Bryan Herta- and Steve Newey-owned Barracuda Racing team, with its No. 98 entry, sits 23rd in the Entrants standings, Jay Penske's No. 6 Dragon Racing entry holds 24th and, as RACER has confirmed, the IndyCar Series will continue its Leader Circle program for the top-22 cars, leaving both programs to race their way into contention for what has become a crucial piece of the annual budget puzzle.
Barracuda's Luca Filippi ran as high as third in Race 1 on Saturday, but fell to 10th at the finish when a caution came at an inopportune time. The No. 98 car needs to gain 19 points on the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry which holds 22nd, and with Race 2 starting on entrant points due to qualifying being rained out, the Italian IndyCar rookie will have to motor from 23rd on the grid to capture meaningful points. If there's one salvation, it's that Vautier starts in 22nd…
“We've known we need to get as many points as we can; it doesn't change anything for us, but earning a Leader Circle contract is a big deal for us, obviously,” Herta told RACER prior to the start of Sunday's race. “Luca had a great race yesterday and we expect the same from today. It's in our hands. That's the way we're approaching it. We can earn that position, so that's what we're concentrating on doing.”
Herta and Newey will have JR Hildebrand in the No. 98 car at the season finale in Fontana and like the Dragon team with Sebastian Saavedra in the No. 6, they'll have one more chance after Houston to catch and possibly pass Vautier.
“We've spent a lot of time preparing for the final two events of the season,” said Penske, who needs 26 points to haul in Vautier. “I know Saavedra is ready to go and it's really important for us to move up into the top 22.”