With three races remaining in the 2012 IndyCar series the top four drivers in the championship are covered by 28 points – equal to a sixth-place finish.
The identity of the champion will be decided at three very different circuits: a road course, a street track and a high-speed oval.
Three drivers who have never won the championship before are leading the standings. Can Will Power finally claim the title after two years as runner-up? Or will Ryan Hunter-Reay or Helio Castroneves beat him to it?
Four-way title fight
Here’s how the top ten drivers in the championship have scored so far this year:
|St. Petersburg||Barber||Long Beach||Sao Paulo||Indianapolis||Detroit||Texas||Milwaukee||Iowa||Toronto||Edmonton||Mid-Ohio|
Power is regarded as a street and road course specialist. And so when the 2012 IndyCar schedule was revealed to have far fewer oval races it was widely assumed this would tip the balance in his favour.
That was how things panned out to begin with. A strategy error cost him a potential victory in the season-opener, but after that he reeled off three wins on the trot at Barber, Long Beach and Sao Paulo.
Power came out of that part of the season still ahead in the title race by three points – yet surprisingly he dropped behind in the races that followed. But despite being pipped to victory by Scott Dixon last time out he did claim his title lead back from Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Hunter-Reay picked up a couple of podiums early in the year, then really came on song with three consecutive victories at two ovals (Milwaukee and Iowa) and on the streets of Toronto.
A technical problem in the last race in Mid-Ohio saw him slip back and lose the title lead to Power. But he remains in contention to become the first American driver to win the series since Sam Hornish Jnr in 2006.
Castroneves erased the memories of his poor 2011 campaign by winning the season-opener at St Petersburg. He added a second win at Edmonton, resisting considerable pressure from Takuma Sato.
He’s had a much more consistent year this season and been a lot closer to team mate Power. Could this be the year the three-times Indianapolis 500 winner finally claims the championship?
But Franchitti has had problems with the new car and Dixon is leading the charge for Ganassi. Victories in Detroit at Mid-Ohio have moved him well into contention for the title. But he will rue the drive-through penalty he was incorrectly handed at Milwaukee due to an error by race control.
With a maximum of 53 points available each weekend there are 11 more drivers mathematically capable of winning the title. Some have more realistic hopes than others, but at this stage they will may need a little luck to still be in with a chance at the final race.
The consistently impressive James Hinchcliffe has racked up eight top-six finishes in his second year in the series and could pick up his first win before the year is out.
Simon Pagenaud has also driven very well in his first full season of IndyCar racing with three podiums including an excellent second at Long Beach, chasing down Power in the final laps.
Veteran racer Tony Kanaan is close to this pair on points but his KV Racing team have had a rather disappointing season. And reigning champion Franchitti’s victory in the blue riband Indianapolis 500 in May looks like all he will have to celebrate from this year.
The races that will decide the title
Three rounds will settle the outcome of this year’s championship. We’ll be following them all on F1 Fanatic Live, beginning with next Sunday’s race at Sonoma:
Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma
Track: Road circuit
Date: 26th August
Sonoma (previously known as Infineon) is swoops, crests and curves. It’s a spectacular circuit for open-wheel racers but it has lacked passing opportunities in the past.
The race organisers aim to solve that this year with a few tweaks to the track layout. Power will be aiming for his third win in a row here.
Grand Prix of Baltimore
Track: Street circuit
Date: 2nd September
A popular new addition to the calendar in 2011, Baltimore returns to the schedule and has also had a few changes. These include removing the awkward chicane on the main straight which should open up more overtaking opportunities at turn one.
Auto Club Speedway 500
Date: 15th September
Auto Club Speedway, also known as Fontana, will hold its first IndyCar race since 2005. The record lap around the daunting superspeedway is Gil de Ferran’s pole position time from the CART race in 2000 – a thundering 388.537kph (241.426mph).
The race length has been increased to 500 miles (804km), making the high-speed course an even more demanding test for the engine builders.
How the new Dallara chassis would perform on ovals was a major talking point at the start of the season following Dan Wheldon’s fatal crash in last year’s season finale. So far it has performed very well, reducing the problem of pack racing while producing some very exciting races.
Memories of last year’s appalling tragedy at Las Vegas will inevitably hang heavily over this race. Here’s hoping for a spectacular but safe end to the season.
Catch up on the season so far
Read up on the season so far and watch highlights of all the races in the IndyCar Forum. And don’t forget to join us for the final three races on F1 Fanatic Live:
- IndyCar title goes to the wire at sombre Sonoma
- Justin Wilson, 1978-2015
- The F1 world pauses to remember Justin Wilson
- Justin Wilson dies from crash injuries
- Wilson crash overshadows penultimate IndyCar race
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