Four-way IndyCar title battle reaches climax

IndyCar

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:

http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/charts/2012indycardrivercolours.csv

St. Petersburg Barber Long Beach Sao Paulo Indianapolis Detroit Texas Milwaukee Iowa Toronto Edmonton Mid-Ohio
Will Power 27 77 127 180 200 232 256 274 286 301 336 379
Ryan Hunter-Reay 35 53 81 121 143 169 181 233 283 335 362 374
Helio Castroneves 50 86 103 135 164 177 203 231 261 289 339 353
Scott Dixon 42 84 96 109 153 206 220 239 271 281 301 351
James Hinchcliffe 32 60 95 123 164 176 208 243 256 268 286 316
Simon Pagenaud 28 58 100 118 136 171 199 216 246 264 276 311
Tony Kanaan 10 22 54 71 113 141 160 200 235 267 279 307
Dario Franchitti 17 37 52 82 136 176 192 205 216 230 258 271
Ryan Briscoe 30 46 73 83 128 142 177 193 205 217 241 267
Graham Rahal 18 50 62 76 97 109 149 171 193 205 237 256

Will Power

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.

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.

Helio Castroneves

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?

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon, Ganassi, Mid-Ohio, 2012Dixon won the title in Dario Franchitti’s absence in 2008. Then Franchitti returned and beat Dixon to the next three titles.

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.

The rest

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
Length: 3.72km
Laps: 85
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
Length: 3.28km
Laps: 75
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

Track: Oval
Length: 3.22km
Laps: 250
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:

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21 comments on Four-way IndyCar title battle reaches climax

  1. Enigma (@enigma) said on 19th August 2012, 12:33

    Looking forward to the championship battle, looks like it’ll be very exciting. I really hope Hunter-reay can clinch the title.

  2. I wonder if F1 will have a close battle towards the end; I for one am hoping there is!

  3. So, the last race of the season is gonna be what looks like 4 hours long? Insanity.

    • Dizzy said on 19th August 2012, 13:56

      It won’t be anywhere close to 4 hours long, The last 500 mile race held at Fontana in CART in 2002 was about 2 ½ hours long.
      The 2005 Indycar race held there was only 400 miles & was just under 2 hrs long.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 19th August 2012, 14:01

      @journeyth I shouldn’t think it would be that long. Four hours to do 500 miles would only be an average speed of 125mph (201.168kph). Compare that to the record lap speeds quoted in the article and it’s clear that, although speeds aren’t that high any more, even if there were a large number of laps under caution it’d be hard to get this up to four hours.

      IndyCar’s last race there in 2005 was 200 laps and took 2hr 22’22.6114. Increasing the duration by 25% to match the increased lap count suggests a 250-lap race with a proportionally similar number of laps under caution would take just under three hours (2hr 57’58.26).

      Comparing the pole position times from Indianapolis from 2005 and 2012 suggests this year’s car will be a little slower than 2005, but not much, and remember Indianapolis was very hot this year which may have had an effect on lap speeds.

    • davidnotcoulthard said on 19th August 2012, 15:45

      The final race will be on an…oval.

  4. SoLiDG (@solidg) said on 19th August 2012, 12:44

    I really hope Will Power can finally do it.
    He really deserves it!

    • SoLiDG (@solidg) said on 19th August 2012, 12:53

      Also the Fontana track always reminds me of the 99 Cart season finale.
      It was the race where Montoya took the title from Franchitti on race wins (equal on points),
      but it was also the race where Greg Moore lost it’s life in the worst fatal crash I have seen live on tv.
      Maybe on par with Wheldon’s crash even tough that was less clear how bad it was.

  5. Lateralus (@lateralus) said on 19th August 2012, 15:51

    241 MPH is absolutely insane. I remember watching CART in 99-2000 and seeing them lap at those speeds, but I didn’t quite understand just how significant they were.

    Surely that’s the fastest ever qualifying speed for open-wheel circuit racing cars?

    • SoLiDG (@solidg) said on 19th August 2012, 17:39

      Those speeds were incredible.
      I remember they had problems at some tracks and even had to cancel a race for blackout fears.

      The Firestone Firehawk 600, a CART race, was to be held on April 29, 2001. During practice and qualifying, however, 21 of 25 drivers [2] complained of dizziness and disorientation during two days of practice. Drivers experienced sustained G forces over 5 Gs, more than the typical human tolerance. With their powerful turbocharged engines and superspeedway downforce packages, the Champ Cars were averaging speeds well in excess of 230 mph. Much faster than the speeds seen regularly by Sprint Cup cars, and faster still than IRL machinery of the time.
      With the possibility of drivers blacking out on the track, CART cancelled the race two hours before the scheduled start.

      • dkpioe said on 20th August 2012, 11:34

        that was not to do with the average speed but, it was to do with the heavy banking of the track.

      • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 20th August 2012, 19:09

        @lateralus @solidg @bluestar77 The problem at Texas was not due to high G-loadings in a single direction but a combination of both lateral and vertical G. There’s a fascinating explanation of what happened in former CART safety chief Steve Olvey’s book Rapid Response – here’s an excerpt:

        [Paul] Tracy’s manager showed me the graph. I was shocked to find that Paul was experiencing more than 3.5 vertical G. Race drivers normally don’t experience much in the way of vertical G at all. Coupled with the high vertical G the graph showed lateral G of 5.5, sustained in the fastest part of the race track! We had see lateral G of this magnitude before on some of our tighter road courses, but never coupled with increased vertical G.

        Combined high G-loadings such as these are familiar to fighter jet pilots. It can cause what they call G-loc, where the high G reduces the flow of blood to the brain and causes brief loss of consciousness.

        This was one of two potential ways the G-loadings caused crashes. The other was that the same impaired blood flow caused a loss of function in the inner ear. This is obviously vital to a driver’s sense of balance, and led some to ‘correct’ non-existent oversteer or understeer, with inevitable consequences.

        What is also interesting is that only a modest increase in average lap speed was required to produce these results. CART had tested at the oval in the off-season but the average speeds reached during that test had been some 30mph lower than those reached on the race weekend, and therefore had not produced sufficiently high G-loadings to trigger blackouts in the drivers. Nor had a recent IRL race where the drivers lapped at an average speed of 225mph to CART’s 236mph.

    • Kimi4WDC said on 21st August 2012, 5:20

      Followed CART from ’96 to ’99. Absolute blast. Can’t watch those toy cars they have this year, some how I can’t take them serious.

  6. TED BELL said on 19th August 2012, 16:54

    After the tragic end to the 2011 season, this series has responded in 2012 well with new cars, new driver line ups and a new sense of direction that has produced good racing and competitive racing. Their show is good and the fans are enjoying it.

    The cars do look a bit odd but in speedway configuration I think they have a very aggressive look. Sponsors are given alot of space for their livery. I congradulate them for having the vision they now have after coming off the Las Vegas disaster.

    Thank you Dan Weldon for getting the new car off the ground and in the most cruel of ways being the one who was so instrumental in preparation for a future that he wasn’t to see.

  7. BasCB (@bascb) said on 19th August 2012, 18:30

    Definitely looks to be a nice set of races to decide the title this year. Looking forward to them already.

  8. AndrewTanner (@andrewtanner) said on 21st August 2012, 13:25

    Really looking forward to this. I’ve probably neglected the past couple of races a little too much but we’re set for a great end to the IndyCar season.

    Whoever wins it, I don’t think it will be as exciting as seeing good ol’ Sato have a go at Franchitti on the penultimate lap of the Indy 500…and wall it!

  9. Himmat said on 22nd August 2012, 3:29

    Ok, so whats the difference between a road course and street course? Are they not one and the same?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 22nd August 2012, 8:08

      The chief differences between the two are that road courses are permanent, purpose-built facilities with extensive run-off, whereas street circuits are temporary facilities built using existing roads and the room for run-off is compromised by the lack of available space.

      But the difference between the two isn’t always clear. For example in F1 Valencia has the characteristics of a street circuit but the tarmac for it was specially laid and does not carry normal traffic the rest of the time (note the lack of road markings).

      There are also other kinds of temporary circuits in IndyCar racing, such as tracks which use airport roads (e.g. Edmonton).

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