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INDYCAR championship to be decided tonight

September 15, 2012

JR Hildebrand rode the rim early in final practice and was joined by the balance of the field at the top of the Auto Club Speedway track
Anne Proffit photo

Shortly after the final practice last night, INDYCAR released the official starting lineup for the MAVTV 500 scheduled for late Saturday afternoon on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval in Fontana, CA.

The final practice in and of itself was fascinating, as drivers tested all avenues of the banked oval track. JR Hildebrand was the first to brazenly traipse the high line and watching him hug the wall at the top groove going through the first and second turns could only bring a big “O” and wide open eyes. He was soon joined by Will Power on the top groove, and then everyone else in the field got with the program and all tried out the high line.

There was a single incident with less than 10 minutes remaining in the 3/4-hour session when Wade Cunningham spun and impacted the second turn wall, washing out the right side of the No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car. He was fine but the AJ Foyt Enterprises crew was likely in the garage until kicked out last night – it’s certainly easier to work on the car in the cooler night temps than what’s greeting the teams in Saturday daylight.

Speaking of which, these are some of the hottest temps we’ve seen at this venue, which is, after all in the middle of the southern California desert. Fontana is known for its summer heat and September is known for its Santa Ana winds. We’ve had some varying winds, but they’ve been humid ones and that’s made everyone even more uncomfortable with these 100-plus-degree temperatures. It’s going to make for a difficult day for the teams as they prep for this evening’s race, and for the hardy fans that will come out for the autograph sessions and ancillary entertainment prior to the headliner 250-lap contest.

The Firestone Indy Lights championship will be decided between two Sam Schmidt Motorsports drivers – as usual – with Tristan Vaultier battling Esteban Guerrieri for the title, which seems to belong in perpetuity to Schmidt’s organization. That race goes off in the ultimate heat of the day from 3-4PM PDT. Got to feel for all those guys and their teams.

In other news, Ryan Hunter-Reay is sticking with Andretti Autosports for another two years, according to IndyStar’s Curt Cavin’s tweets. It’s a good and smart move for RHR, who was with six teams before settling into the AA fold. And HVM is formally separating from Lotus for the 2013 season, which should make it easier for them to actually race next season. Which engine maker they align with is another story at this time, but the team’s perseverance through this difficult year – and driver Simona de Silvestro’s attempts to be competitive – should not go unnoticed. Their loyalty to Lotus under dire circumstances ought to be rewarded – and quickly, by either Chevrolet or Honda.

Here’s the lineup as published by INDYCAR – because of the engine changes:
1. Marco Andretti
2. Ryan Briscoe
3. Tony Kanaan
4. JR Hildebrand
5. Ed Carpenter
6. Rubens Barrichello
7. Katherine Legge
8. Oriol Servia
9. Dario Franchitti
10. Sebastian Saavedra
11. EJ Viso
12. James Jakes
13. Will Power
14. Josef Newgarden
15. Scott Dixon
16. Alex Tagliani
17. Helio Castroneves
18. Graham Rahal
19. James Hinchcliffe
20. Simon Pagenaud
21. Takuma Sato
22. Ryan Hunter-Reay
23. Charlie Kimball
24. Wade Cunningham
25. Justin Wilson
26. Simona de Silvestro

If that doesn’t look intriguing to you, I guess nothing does. The front of the field is strong, the center of it has championship implications as does the rear (with RHR in 22nd and just 17 points back of 13th starter Will Power). Helio Castroneves is fighting to keep third place and Scott Dixon is looking to take it away…

If there was ever an oval contest to watch, this should be it!

By Anne Proffit

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