On Saturday night the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series will conclude in style; a 500-mile race run from sunset to darkness with three championship contenders – including two team-mates – battling for honours.
Will Power started the season as favourite but despite slipping up many times, incurring unnecessary penalties he still leads the championship from Penske stablemate Helio Castroneves by 51 points. Normally this would be an insurmountable lead, but as this race will run for 500 miles there are double points on offer. There is also Simon Pagenaud in the mix, driving for the relatively small Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He lies 81 points behind, but stranger things have happened in IndyCar.
The race will be held in California on Saturday night, which means a very early wake-up call or pulling an all-nighter in Europe. Here’s five reasons why no matter what time zone you’re in (and you can always record it), you should make sure to check out how the 2014 season finishes.
It’s a fight between team-mates
IndyCar championships always seem to go down to the wire, no matter what combination of tracks or points systems for different races are used. But in recent times we’ve seen the lead drivers of two different teams battle it out: Dixon-Ganassi and Castroneves-Penske in 2013; Power-Penske and Hunter-Reay-Andretti in 2012; Franchitti-Ganassi and Power-Penske in 2011 and so on. This year the two most likely contenders will both be from the same team. Roger Penske hasn’t won an IndyCar championship since 2006, with Sam Hornish, Jr. One of his drivers will lead their team to glory whilst the other’s pain at coming second (or third!) will be compounded by not being the one to give The Captain the trophy. Only a disastrous race for Penske would prevent either of them from doing it, but that would be small consolation.
Power might muck it all up…again
Surely Will Power is too far ahead to realistically be caught? Well, there’s a running joke in Power’s championship campaigns: somehow, sometime in the last race he will choke and hand victory to his rival. It happened with Franchitti in 2010 and with Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012, both times spinning out in the last race and giving his rival a minimum target to beat in order to become champion. Last year Power laid all of his oval demons to rest with a dominant victory, although he was out of the running for the championship by then. But it could happen again; Fontana has quickly established itself as a race of attrition – only 9 cars finished last year – and Power might easily be a casualty.
The little guys might win
Since Simon Pagenaud came back to IndyCar racing in 2012 as a rookie in name only (Pagenaud used to drive in the rival Champ Car series before it merged with the Indy Racing League in 2008 and was left without a seat), he has established himself as one of the best drivers in the series. He finished 5th in 2012 and had an outside shot at the championship going into the penultimate round last year. His performance has been even more incredible considering he doesn’t drive for one of the big three teams – Andretti, Ganassi and Penske – but for the small team of Sam Schmidt. Size hasn’t mattered however as the two have gelled into a potent winning combination. The team even opted to not test for the previous race at Sonoma in order to concentrate on the final lucrative race. It might well pay off.
IndyCar finales are awesome
Did you think the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix was the most exciting finish possible to a world championship? Think again.
Cautions are part-and-parcel of oval racing. If you are at the front, you have to respond to them as best you can; if you are down the field, you can switch strategy and take victory from nowhere. The 2007 season finale at Chicagoland saw a late caution come out, resulting in a mad dash to the finish. Rivals Dario Franchitti (then at Andretti) and Scott Dixon found themselves fighting both for race victory and the title. Going into the last lap they were side-by-side when…well, watch the video and see for yourself.
In 2012 there was a similar situation, when the race was red-flagged to guarantee that it would finish under green. Power was already out of the race but team-mate Castroneves was hunting down Ryan Hunter-Reay so Power could still be champion by the slimmest of margins. Again, there was high drama.
It might start a long love affair
I was once very sceptical of IndyCar races. “But they just drive around in circles – literally!” I would cry. I was wrong even when the Indy Racing League only ran on ovals and nowadays that statement is even more incorrect. The IndyCar Series of today is the most diverse open-wheel series on the planet: short ovals, super speedways, street courses, closed-course race tracks, it has nearly everything that can be raced on by a car. Ovals might look like simply driving around but they’re not, requiring immense skill to drive at over 200 mph with downforce settings that would be too low even for Monza. One mistake and your race is over – it’s like Monaco on crack. Turn 1 of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been likened to “driving on the highway and then having to turn into your own driveway”.
The first IndyCar race I watched since the two rival series had unified was the 2010 championship decider. It opened my eyes to the nuances and complexities of oval racing. From then on I’ve been an IndyCar fan, marvelling at how the champion needs to be the best on all kinds of courses to beat the rest. And since the DW12 chassis was introduced the racing has become superb, rivalled only by Moto3 for sheer entertainment. I found my new favourite racing series by giving it a chance and the same could happen with you!
The MAVTV IndyCar World Championships will commence on Saturday 30th August, 6pm local time (Pacific). UK viewers can catch it on ESPN at 2:30 am.