Dixon, Castroneves Both Vow To Win Season Finale
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Helio Castroneves’ bid for the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series championship took a beating two weekends ago on the mean streets of Houston, where his once-robust 49-point lead over Scott Dixon morphed into a deflating, 25-point deficit during the course of two races in less than 24 miserable hours.
But Helio has a message for anyone who thinks he has fallen and can’t get up.
“We have nothing to lose. We are going for it,” said Castroneves, anticipating tonight’s season-ending MAVTV 500 around the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. “Whatever it takes, we are going for it. Taking risks – taking every risk, to be honest – to put ourselves in that position. We feel as a team we have the equipment and we have the power, so we’ve just got to believe it.”
This marquee pairing between championship contenders Castroneves, of Team Penske, and Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dixon is the latest between the series’ powerhouse organizations. It’s the sixth time one of Roger Penske’s drivers has been in the championship picture and fifth time in the last six years for a driver representing Chip Ganassi.
On cue, Will Power led a front row sweep for an expanded Penske camp during Friday’s time trials when he qualified on-pole with a two-lap average of 220.775 mph. Power’s run featured a session-high first lap of 221.057 mph around the D-shaped oval that secured his third Verizon P1 Award of the season. Castroneves posted a two-lap average of 219.677 mph to place second, while Penske’s A.J. Allmendinger was third at 218.894 mph.
Dixon, the series champion in 2003 and 2008, qualified seventh via a two-lap average of 217.979 mph. However, both Dixon (Honda) and Castroneves (Chevrolet) will incur 10 grid-spot penalties from sanctioning body INDYCAR for unapproved engine changes for an event that will feature a three-wide
start traditionally reserved for the Indianapolis 500.
Ironically, Power’s pole run took a bonus point away from Castroneves. “It was unfortunate that we didn’t have a crystal ball to tell my buddy here (Power) to slow down,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Auto Club Dallara/Chevy. “But Scott was behind him, so I am glad he went for it.”
A four-time race-winner this season and 33 times in his career, Dixon summed-up the qualifying session in typical pragmatic fashion. “It was more paramount to change the engine, make sure we took care of the performance game,” said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 TCGR Dallara/Honda. “Then just sort of had the straight-up speed and go off whatever we would have qualified. It can still get pretty messy back there, and I guess we’ll be 17th. Three-wide should be pretty interesting around here, but it’s fun to come back to Fontana for the championship finale.”
Dixon can clinch the title with a finish of fifth or better on a track where he placed third and led four times for 25 laps during the 2012 finale on Sept. 15. “It’s a good situation for us to be in and one that we’ll dig deep and try and carry out,” Dixon said. “But obviously with the competition against Penske and Helio, a very accomplished team and a very accomplished driver, it’s not going to be easy at all. As typical of many IndyCar Series championships, I think it’s going to come down to the last lap, last corner scenario. For us, we just hope that we’re on the good receiving end.”
Dixon is paired this weekend with Alex Tagliani in place of the recuperating Dario Franchitti. A four-time series champion, Franchitti is recovering from a concussion, two spinal fractures and fractured right ankle suffered in a last-lap crash during Race 2 of the Houston doubleheader on Oct. 6.
“The easiest way to approach it is how we typically approach a race weekend, and that’s setting our sights
on winning it,” Dixon said. “If we can achieve that, then it makes the championship story just sort of unfold. It’ll be a tough situation. Helio and Chevy were quick at the (Sept. 24) test. Chevys have proven to be very fast on these bigger circuits – 2-mile, 2-mile plus. It’s not going to be easy by any means and something that we’re going to have to fight to the bitter end.”
Castroneves’ lone win of 2013, and 28th of his career, was scored in the annual June nighttime race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Castroneves led the point standings for 10 straight races following that win, a streak that ended on the temporary circuit around Reliant Park after his season-worst 23rd-place finish in Race 2 of the Houston doubleheader. Castroneves insisted that he hadn’t been keeping track of points up-to-and-including his Lost Weekend in Texas.
“I was doing exactly what we’re supposed to do,” said Castroneves, a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. “When we have a good car, we go for it. When we don’t have a car we just play with what the car is able to give us. And it worked. Everything worked really well. But now the only thing we have in mind is a lot of points, is a win. We’re determined, we’re ready, we’re prepared, and that’s why we’re going for it. There is no other opposition that we need to be thinking about.”
Fierce rivals on-track, the Penske and Ganassi organizations have developed a mutual admiration and respect during open-wheel wars that date to their days in the Championship Auto Racing Teams and Champ Car World Series.
Mike Hull has been managing director of Target Chip Ganassi Racing since 1996. During that span, the Target Boys have won nine open-wheel titles _ four in CART and five in the IndyCar Series.
“I don’t know Helio well other than to watch him in action on the racetrack as well as off,” said Hull, who serves as race-day strategist for Dixon. “What I see in common (between the title rivals) is enormous competitive passion to be better every day. Two drivers that have that in common, have that very clear directional thing in common with each other, and what that then does is that drives the rest of the team. And that’s what I see. And if you can have that and you can race against people like that on the racetrack, it helps to drive you individually to achieve things that you didn’t think were possible.”
Under Tim Cindric’s leadership, Team Penske has scored three open-wheel titles _ the 2000 and 2001
Champ Car crowns with Gil de Ferran and the 2006 IndyCar Series with Sam Hornish Jr. The team also has posted five Indy 500 wins during his tenure, most recently with Castroneves in 2009.
“I think if you try and describe the two guys in terms of just their…what you see on the outside, I think you’d see two very different types of people,” Cindric said. “I know Scott probably as well as maybe what Mike does of Helio, just because they really haven’t been outside their organizations too much in the past, whatever it’s been, 10 years or so.
“Again, their competitiveness and their ability to really not make too many mistakes…I think when you look at the number of races that both of these drivers have been part of, and the big races and the teams that they drive for, both of them when you look at consistency are among the best in terms of bringing the car home and not putting a wheel wrong. And lap-for-lap you can put them out in a test or whatever else, and very rarely do they bring the car back in a different way than it left. I think they can do that while they’re also running up at the front.
“I think that’s something that’s always impressed me about both of them. They’re both very competitive, very passionate. Helio is probably a bit more outspoken than Scott is, at least in my viewpoint, in public, but they each have their own personalities that’s probably a little different than what the public sees.”
Team Penske and Castroneves joined the IndyCar Series fulltime in 2002, when the Brazilian finished second to Sudden Sam by 20 points. Castroneves, runnerup to Dixie by 17 points in 2008, insisted he feels at no disadvantage _ psychological or otherwise _ to his 33-year-old rival from New Zealand.
“I respect Scott and Team Ganassi and what they’ve accomplished in the past,” said Castroneves, 38. “And to be honest, it’s interesting to see that they were able to find all these championships together and we’re here another one, which really shows that veterans still do it extremely well. That’s what I love about sports. But in the same way, you know, what happened last year with my teammate Will and (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, they were kind of in a very similar scenario in the points and see what happens.”
Power’s bid for his first IndyCar Series title ended 55 laps into the Fontana finale when his car caught a seam in Turn 2, spun and made contact with the SAFER Barrier while running 12th. That opened the door for Hunter-Reay, of Andretti Autosport, to clinch his first title with a finish of fifth or better once Power’s car was repaired and returned for another 11 laps. Owner/driver Ed Carpenter posted his second career series win while Hunter-Reay’s third-place finish saw him clinch the title by three points over Power.
“There was many factors,” said Castroneves, who finished fifth at Fontana despite leading only once for two laps. “We’re talking about 500 miles. It’s a long-distance race. Anything can happen. Certainly we’re going to do our job. We’re going to try and push as hard as we can, not worry about them, which I wasn’t even before going to Houston. Houston was something extremely out of the ordinary.”
Saturday’s race will be televised live by NBC Sports Network from 8 p.m. to midnight (EDT), with green flag time at 8:10. The race also will be broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211, www.indycar.com and the INDYCAR 13 App for most smart phones and tablets.
The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Lefty’s Kids Club 100 on Saturday, also at Auto Club Speedway. The race will be televised by NBC Sports Network at 7 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday.
On Friday, Zach Veach claimed his initial Firestone Indy Lights Sunoco Pole Award, while championship contenders Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves will have some cars to get around during the race. Karam, who enters the season-finale with a 16-point advantage over his Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian teammate, qualified seventh with a two-lap average speed of 187.372 mph. Chaves qualified fourth at 189.043 mph for the 50-lapper.
Qualifying for the MAVTV 500 IZOD IndyCar Series race on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis/engine, and two-lap qualifying average:
1. (12) Will Power, Dallara/Chevy, 220.775 mph
2. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara/Chevy, 219.677
3. (2) A.J. Allmendinger, Dallara/Chevy, 218.894
4. (7) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara/Chevy, 218.513
5. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara/Honda, 217.986
6. (16) James Jakes, Dallara/Honda, 217.979
7. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara/Honda, 217.979
8. (25) Marco Andretti, Dallara/Chevy, 217.958
9. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara/Chevy, 217.932
10. (67) Josef Newgarden, Dallara/Honda, 217.871
11. (27) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara/Chevy, 217.798
12. (11) Tony Kanaan, Dallara/Chevy, 217.566
13. (10) Alex Tagliani, Dallara/Honda, 217.419
14. (5) Carlos Munoz, Dallara/Chevy, 217.050
15. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara/Chevy, 216.898
16. (77) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara/Honda, 216.447
17. (4) Oriol Servia, Dallara/Chevy, 216.213
18. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara/Honda, 216.106
19. (98) JR Hildebrand, Dallara/Honda, 215.967
20. (55) Tristan Vautier, Dallara/Honda, 215.207
21. (78) Simona De Silvestro, Dallara/Chevy, 214.679
22. (6) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara/Chevy, 213.262
23. (19) Justin Wilson, Dallara/Honda, no speed
24. (18) Pippa Mann, Dallara/Honda, no speed
25. (14) Takuma Sato, Dallara/Honda, no speedNo Comment