With little more than a week until the IZOD IndyCar Series wraps its season with its return to Auto Club Speedway for the first time in seven years, preparations are well under way to handle the rigors and challenges of a 500-mile event, the MAVTV 500 in Fontana.
For Target Chip Ganassi Racing, 2012 marks a bit of an oddity – for the first time since 2005, the team arrives at the last race without a shot at the championship. Ganassi's team has twice won sets of four straight championships (1996 through '99, and 2008 through '11) but both Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti have had just enough shares of bad luck this year to where Dixon is alive only mathematically and would be out as soon as Will Power posted a qualifying time.
Still, with the chance to play spoiler, it's a more wide-open finale for the team with almost no pressure compared to the last few years, Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull is looking forward to the opportunity.
“I don't think the situation this year is any different than how we want to race; I think we have the resources and the drivers to be able to win races,” Hull says. “When we don't win races, it affects us. It affects us overall as a group. It makes us realize our strengths that we have need to be realized.”
Hull expanded on how the aero package is set to affect this year's race. Preliminary indications are that the race will be a handling affair based on the aero package, similar in racing style to Texas although the package itself, revealed for the first time Thursday in testing, looks closer to Indianapolis specification.
“You know what I liked about what happened at Texas is that we found a way to race, for really good racing,” Hull says. “We achieved what we needed to achieve to slow them down at the right focal point of speed, for less speed. That was really important to me. Based on experience there and what we gained at Texas, I think Fontana will be a really good race, but so much different than when we were there last time.”
This year's finale also marks the first race other than Indianapolis under IndyCar/IRL sanction that will be a 500-mile race. The last 500-mile race Fontana hosted was a decade ago in 2002, won by Jimmy Vasser (formerly of Ganassi but at that time with Team Rahal) in CART with an average speed of 197.995mph.
“Let's face it – in IndyCar racing, regardless of the length it is, whether it's 200 or 300 laps on an oval or a 400 or 500-mile race, it's still about optimizing yourself at full speed, for each segment of that race,” Hull explains. “I don't think you race a certain percentage of the race at a pace then amp up at the end.
“What will happen at Fontana that doesn't necessarily happen at Indianapolis, is that we'll start about 5:15 – you need to talk to a native [Southern] Californian about the weather at 5:15 in September! But it's gonna be hot! The track temperatures will be really hot. Later, as it looks like the southwest side of the track would be shaded, the track conditions are really gonna change.
“The last 25 percent of this race is where the drivers will need to able to adjust his/her drive style, and the teams use the data they have to help it, and make the changes they can make. I think it will provide a great shootout. The track changes at Texas, but it's already twilight, and it's that plus it's not a 500-miler. If you're a racing purist, and you love IndyCar oval racing, you'll want to watch the race.”
The series has one more test scheduled, next Wednesday, Sept. 12, before race weekend kicks off a week from Friday on Sept. 14.