Rules Force Massive Shake-up Of Fontana Grid

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 15 2012

Will Power was among drivers sent backward in the field by a rules violation. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

With the exception of front-row starters Marco Andretti and Ryan Briscoe, INDYCAR’s “fresh engine rule” will re-shape the starting grid for Saturday night’s IZOD IndyCar Series season-ending MAVTV 500, almost to the point of confusion.

Fourteen drivers – including championship leader Will Power and runnerup Ryan Hunter-Reay – will incur 10 grid-spot penalties from the sanctioning body for engine changes in their respective Dallara DW12 chassis at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Power, who holds a 17-point lead over Hunter-Reay, posted a two-lap qualifying average of 215.940 mph around the D-shaped, 2-mile ACS oval in his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet Friday afternoon – third-fastest of the 26-car field. But Power now will start the 250-lapper mid-pack.

Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, qualified his No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Dallara/Chevy at 212.773 mph to place a season-worst 17th. But like Power – also cited for using his sixth engine of the season –Hunter-Reay will slot-in among these other violators:

No. 3 Helio Castroneves (fitting sixth Chevy engine), No. 9 Scott Dixon (unapproved Honda engine change), No. 14 Wade Cunningham (unapproved Honda engine change), No. 15 Takuma Sato (unapproved Honda engine change), No. 18 Justin Wilson (unapproved Honda engine change), No. 38 Graham Rahal (unapproved Honda engine change), No. 67 Josef Newgarden (unapproved Honda engine change), No. 78 Simona De Silvestro (unapproved Lotus engine change), No. 83 Charlie Kimball (unapproved Honda engine change), No. 77 Simon Pagenaud (unapproved Honda engine change/fitting sixth engine), No. 98 Alex Tagliani (unapproved Honda engine change/fitting sixth engine) and No. 27 James Hinchcliffe (unapproved Chevy engine change/fitting sixth engine).

Pursuant to Rule 15.1.4, each “full-season entrant” will be provided with no more than five fresh-built engines throughout each year covered by an engine service agreement. Using more than five fresh engines in a season will result in a penalty. Engines beyond the fifth fresh engine may be fresh or part-used. Pursuant to Rule 15.6.2, using more than five fresh engines in a season will be considered unapproved engine change-outs.

Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief operating officer, addressed and defended the controversial rules package during a brief media session Friday.

“I flew all over the world two years ago and talked to engine manufacturers and one of the first things they said was, ‘We’ve seen what engines can cost you there, and we don’t want any part of that,’ ” Bernard said. “So we had to come up with a type of rule that allowed it to be very fair to let everyone have equal opportunity, and the way we did it was a way to keep costs down. So you can’t build tons of engines.

“Does it work to our fans that are confused? No. But does it work to keep the cost of our engines down and keep our competition thriving not at the expense of the engine manufacturers – yes, it does that.”

Asked if General Motors, Honda and Lotus will continue to provide enough turbocharged V-6 engines next year, Bernard said, “No doubt. That’s very important to us.”

For their part, the championship contenders – both seeking their first IndyCar titles – downplayed their penalties with good humor. “Honestly, the only thing that it’s good for is to maybe be keeping out of if something happens,” Power said. “Apart from that, you can start a lap down, still come back and win the thing. You can be a lap down halfway and still come back and win. So, yeah, it’s not a big deal.”

“Yeah, I agree,” said Hunter-Reay, of Andretti Autosport. “I think Will should start a lap down.

“You know, it doesn’t matter because it’s 500 miles. If you have a well-balanced race car, it’s fine. You don’t want to put yourself in a position to be buried in traffic and have to deal with cars that might have handling issues as well. It’s always better to be up at the front. It’s usually drama-free. We’ll be looking to get up there as soon as possible.”

There are a myriad of scenarios for either driver to claim his first series title. Basically, Power will win the $1 million bonus if he finishes ahead of Hunter-Reay.

The MAVTV 500 is scheduled to start at 8:45 p.m. EDT Saturday with live television coverage on NBC Sports Network beginning at 7:30 p.m. Live radio coverage will air on the IMS Radio Network on SiriusXM (XM 94 and Sirius 212). In addition, IndyCar live timing and scoring with the radio broadcast can be accessed at www.indy.car.com.

Marco Andretti’s two-lap cumulative time of 1:06.6455 with an average speed of 216.069 mph earned the third-generation star his first pole of the season, first at ACS, second of his IndyCar career and 10th for Chevrolet in 2012. Ryan Briscoe, driver of the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet, will start second after posting an average speed of 216.058 mph.

“I had my mind made up that I was going flat,” said Andretti, driver of the No. 26 Team RC Cola Dallara/Chevy. “Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. I even talked about it with my engineer – ‘If I do a lazy lift, we’re not going to have a chance for the pole.‘

“So, you know, I just went for it on Lap 1. She hung in there. But then Lap 2, I committed again to being flat. I had an even bigger lift. I should have, hindsight Lap 2, just done a lazy lift, just committed to lifting. Instead I committed to going flat and had to bail out big-time. That almost caught me out with Ryan. I was worried about that. I’ve been on the outside looking in on that hundredth of a mile an hour for the pole. I was on the good side of that today.”

Andretti’s previous pole was scored at The Milwaukee Mile in 2008, a span of 76 starts. Marco said his strategy for Saturday night is simple and self-centered.

“We’re definitely showing up here to win,” said Marco, who drives for father and team-owner Michael Andretti. “I know my teammate (Hunter-Reay) is in the championship. We’re going to help him if we’re around him on the track by not interfering, but this is going to race like a high-speed short oval. There’s not much I can do drafting-wise to actually help him. I’m not going to hurt him or Will. I’m going to be out to try to win the race, end on a good note to carry some momentum into the off-season.”

Based up on Wednesday’s eight-hour practice, Team Penske’s Ryan Briscoe predicted an exciting event once the sun sets in Southern California. ACS is located approximately 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

“Wednesday night, I don’t know who was here, but it was unbelievable,” Briscoe said. “I’ve never seen so many different racing lines working on a single track, from some cars being on the white line, apexing at the white line, some cars running around the wall up the top, about a hundred feet in-between, with any other line working as well.

“Plenty of room. Big, long, fast track. Challenging start with the sun in your eyes for about 30 minutes probably. Then the sun comes down. We’re watching the track temperatures, they drop really dramatically as soon as the sun goes behind the grandstands. All of a sudden the car comes to life. You can get a lot more aggressive out there. I mean, great formula. We’re racing hard, but we’re not pack racing. I think it’s more exciting than any oval racing we would have seen last year.”

Mike Conway’s decision to step out of the No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda on Friday generally was supported in the paddock. Conway, a road-racing specialist and native of Great Britain, has been replaced by Wade Cunningham in the car fielded by open-wheel legend A.J. Foyt Jr. and son Larry.

“I look up to Mike,” Ryan Hunter-Reay said. “He was somewhere mentally that he didn’t want to be. He was man enough to say, ‘Hey, this is not working for me right now.’

“Instead of going out there and being in a bad place mentally in one of these cars, which is a very dangerous thing to do  – these cars are dangerous enough, racing on a track like this is dangerous enough _ but to be in a bad place mentally and do it is not right. That’s a smart decision from him. If he doesn’t feel like it, there’s other days to fight this whole thing out. He chose to do that.”

Power, an Australian who arguably is the series’ top road-racer, also empathized with Conway. “If the car’s not right around here, you don’t even want to be out there,” Power said. “Yeah, that’s ballsy to say, ‘Hey, I don’t feel comfortable.’ Full credit to him. He’s a great driver, too. He’s one of the quickest guys on the circuit. It’s just the circumstance.”

Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief operating officer added, “I like Mike a lot, but I think everyone knows that racing is very dangerous. I haven’t talked to him so I haven’t heard him say what drove him to his decision.”

Justin Wilson says Dr. Sid Watkins was so respected in the Formula One community “that if he said the cars could drive on the moon we would drive on the moon.”

Watkins, who was instrumental in advancement of safety procedures and protocols during his 26 years as the FIA Formula One safety and medical delegate, died Thursday at age 84. Watkins retired after the 2004 F1 season.

“I never had any close encounters with him, fortunately,” said Wilson, who competed in F1 in 2003 for Minardi and Jaguar Racing and now drives for Dale Coyne Racing in the IndyCar Series. “He was one of those people that even when you walk up to him, before he says anything, you can just tell he’s a caring guy who has everyone’s best interests at heart. He had that aura around him; everyone did everything he said.

“He’d been there in some of Formula One’s most tragic times and in some of it best times and helped progressed safety from some of those tragic times. He’s been a huge part of what we know as open-wheel racing.”

Primarily through Watkins’ efforts following the accident at Monza in 1978 that claimed the life of Ronnie Peterson, a medical helicopter, mobile hospital and vehicle to get a doctor to the scene of accidents was adopted as standard procedure.

The IndyCar Series’ 2013 schedule is nearing completion, and could feature doubleheader weekends.

“I want to have a complete schedule finished and out by October 1st,” said Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s chief operating officer. “That’s a hard deadline and we are getting real close. What we are making sure happens this year is that we have signed contracts before we put them on the schedule. We will put all of our schedule out on the same day.”

Asked about doubleheader events, Bernard added, “I think it’s definitely something we want to try, at a minimum two races. I think it will give you double exposure for viewership in those markets if we pick the right markets. We want to make sure that we can make very great races.”

Bits from the Auto Club Speedway pits: The MAVTV 500 will be the 11th Indy-car race at Auto Club Speedway and the fifth IndyCar Series event. It will be the first open-wheel race at the facility since 2005, an event won by Dario Franchitti. … Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) and Champ Car conducted six Indy-car races at ACS from 1997-2002. Mauricio Gugelmin won the pole for the first Indy-car race at ACS in 1997; Mark Blundell won the race. … Jimmy Vasser, Adrian Fernandez and Sam Hornish Jr., are the only drivers to win at ACS more than once. Vasser won in 1998 and 2002; Fernandez won in 1999 and 2004 and Sudden Sam won back-to-back races in 2002 and 2003. Franchitti (2005) is the only past winner entered in the MAVTV 500. … Five drivers who have won the pole at ACS are entered in the MAVTV 500: Alex Tagliani (2001), Tony Kanaan (2002), Helio Castroneves (2003), Scott Dixon (2004) and Franchitti (2005). … Franchitti (‘05) is the only driver to win at ACS from P1. … Seven drivers entered in the event _ Ed Carpenter, Castroneves, Dixon, Franchitti, Kanaan, Oriol Servia and Tagliani _ have made at least one Indy-car start at ACS. Nineteen drivers in Saturday’s field are poised to make their first start at the track.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, September 15 2012
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