(For more IndyCar news, see the Tuesday edition of the Sports Journal of Central Indiana. Request your free email subscription today.)
FONTANA, Calif. – The IZOD IndyCar Series championship was Will Power’s to lose entering the MAVTV 500 INDYCAR World Championships at Auto Club Speedway. After Lap 55, it became Ryan Hunter-Reay’s to win.
For the third consecutive year, contact in the season finale altered the title aspirations of the Aussie. The No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car of Power “caught a seam” in Turn 2 of the 2-mile oval, spun and made contact with the SAFER Barrier while running 12th — a few car lengths ahead of Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda car.
“It’s depressing to lose the championship again that way,” said Power. “It’s the season, you can’t make mistakes like that. I had understeer all night, I was having to lift, half a lane lower than I was before and caught a seam, and yeah. Man, I don’t know what to say, it’s depressing. I was surprised, I had been pushing all day and just went a little bit different than what I had, and nothing I can say. It’s just depressing. My team was pushing me to get around him, and it was just a mistake. Just a mistake.”
Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti relayed to a surprised Hunter-Reay, who 18 hours before had signed a two-year contract extension, that he had to finish sixth to claim his first series championship by one point.
But wait. In this season of surprises, ultra-tight competition and high drama, all three collectively focused on the Team Penske garage as the crew converged to repair the Dallara chassis and collect 11 more laps to finish 24th and ahead of the retired car of E.J. Viso.
That’s exactly what transpired, forcing Hunter-Reay to finish at least fifth. Crews from rival teams cheered as the No. 12 entry was wheeled onto pit lane.
That went by the wayside as Alex Tagliani’s engine expired with 20 laps left and then Tony Kanaan’s car made contact with the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier on Lap 241, creating a red flag with the restart on Lap 244.
Ed Carpenter earned his second IZOD IndyCar Series victory for the second consecutive year in the finale and with Dario Franchitti as the runner-up. Scott Dixon finished third and Helio Castroneves was fifth.
“This feels great for a brand new team that just started in November.” said Carpenter. “I probably should have won Indy but I kind of messed up a little bit. We have been trying to win ovals all year and finally got it done tonight. A good way to end the year.”
Hunter-Reay was running third on the restart and lost two positions, but the 31-year-old Floridian regained one spot when Takuma Sato’s car crashed on the final lap. The points difference, in over 15 events on the most diverse set of racetracks in motorsports, was three points over Power.
“I have no idea (how I got won this championship),” said Hunter-Reay from the champions circle. “It was team effort right there. We were struggling all weekend. I didn’t want to let anyone really know about it. We were really in the woods. This hasn’t sunk in yet. I just drove 500 miles for my life. I can’t believe we’re INDYCAR champions. I can’t even believe this. DHL, Sun Drop, Circle K, Chevrolet, the fans, INDYCAR. My dream has come true. This is unbelievable.”
Hunter-Reay also clinched the A.J. Foyt Trophy for most points scored on ovals. He entered the race tied with Kanaan.
“This is an incredible day,” said Michael Andretti, Hunter-Reay’s car owner. “It wasn’t going so good right at the start there – we were struggling a little bit – and then we saw Will (Power) have his unfortunate accident and we knew it was open from there. We needed to get the job done and it was a lot of hard work. Ryan did a helluva job, and the whole team did – getting the car better and better throughout the race. We had enough there at the end to get it done. I’m just so proud of everybody here with the DHL/Sun Drop team…. There’s a lot more to come. This team is still getting better and better and I think we’re going to be even stronger next year.”
Franchitti, who won the last IZOD IndyCar Series race at the speedway in 2005, tied Al Unser Jr. and Bobby Rahal for fifth all time with 88 podium finishes. He also passed Rick Mears with his 112th top-five finish and tied Castroneves and Dixon for eighth with his 29th runner-up finish.
(Courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)