Chicagoland’s Last Hurrah?

Castroneves beat Dixon to the line by inches in 2008... ©

With the seasons road and street courses completed, the 2010 IZOD IndyCar season draws to a close over the following five weeks with four ovals, taking in Kentucky, Japan’s Motegi circuit and Homestead in Miami – however the final stretch starts this weekend at Chicagoland Motor Speedway.

Chicagoland has in the last few years played host to some of the most outstanding races in recent history with some obscenely close finishes and even holds the record for the closest race finish of all time when Logan Gomez won an Indy Lights race there by a mere 0.0005 of-a-second – in other words, a mere three inches.
The circuit has also been the decider of some truly fantastic title battles too. In 2007, Scott Dixon was about to claim his second IndyCar when he ran out of fuel with half a lap remaining and had to watch as Dario Franchitti passed in the last corner to take the race and the championship.
Dixon got his own a year when he eventually did notch up title number 2 – this time in a battle against the Penske of Helio Castroneves. Due to misplaced transponders, the race was decided on a photo finish as Castroneves took the win by a mere 0.002 of-a-second. It wasn’t enough for the Brazilian – Dixon’s 2nd spot was enough to give him the overall glory.

A map of Chicagoland's now famous D-shaped track. © Copyright unknown.

This year’s event is just as important in the fight for the Championship. Penske star Will Power is currently 59 points ahead of Franchitti and nearly 100 points on the second Ganassi of Scott Dixon. At this stage, it is Power’s title to lose, but one simple slip up or crash could change everything and bring the Ganassi’s back into it.
Over the course of the year, Power has shown a prowess on the road circuits that has rarely been touched having won five of the nine events – in the four he failed to pick up, his lowest position was 4th (Barber). While the 29-year-old is definitely adjusting, he has yet to master an oval circuit, although he did secure a pole at Texas earlier this year – if Power can conquer the ovals, he may eventually become an unstoppable force in the series.

It’s something which may be worrying both Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe somewhat. Penske are apparently holding at three cars for next year, but a dearth of sponsorship will probably see that drop to two cars for 2012. Castroneves is 35 now and while he has three Indy 500 victories to his name, as well 20 other race wins, he has never claimed the title, whereas the younger Briscoe has several wins, but lapses in concentration continue to cost him. There is potential for ether one to be dropped should Penske scale scale back; however it is also very possible that neither driver may be retained.
As for this weekend, Ana Beatriz returns at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing while Mike Conway continues to recover and Tomas Scheckter takes up a seat with Conquest Racing alongside Bertrand Baguette.

This weekend may see continuing rumblings around the paddock for several reasons. At last Sunday’s race at Sonoma, ex-Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato took out Danica Patrick on the final tour after having a similar incident with during practice some days earlier. While emotions have tempered since then, there does appear to be some resentment bubbling underneath the surface between the duo.
It also emerged yesterday that several of the smaller team bosses are apparently reluctant to buy into the new IndyCar of 2012 as they feel they may not have the money to purchase new equipment come the end of next season. This could be posturing to try to get the price of the new Dallara tub decreased even further – if these teams had genuine worries, one wonders why it took six weeks to voice them.

This is an important race for the IndyCar Series, but not just because of the title hunt.  NASCAR’s new schedule plants it right in Chicago’s IndyCar date for next and should no new slot be found, the race will be gone from calendar.

2010 IZOD IndyCar Series
1. Will Power        Penske             514 points
2. Dario Franchitti  Ganassi            455
3. Scott Dixon       Ganassi            419
4. Ryan Briscoe      Penske             384
5. Helio Castroneves Penske             370
6. Ryan Hunter-Reay  Andretti-Autosport 360

Dixon would lose out to another Penske in 2009, this time Ryan Briscoe. ©

The Firestone Indy Lights Series is slightly more stretched out. Rookie Frenchman JK Vernay has shown the way this year in IndyCar’s leading support series and has claimed five wins from the ten races so far, which has left the once Formula 3 EuroSeries driver 71 points ahead of nearest rival James Hinchliffe. Charlie Kimball runs the ladder in third spot 14 points behind Hinchcliffe, while Mid-Ohio victor Martin Plowman sits several points behind Kimball.

With only three races remaining, it is unlikely that Vernay will lose this now; however it is hard to judge his oval record as he has only competed in two this year; scoring 13th at Indianapolis and 3rd at Iowa. If Vernay can maintain something relatively close to his Iowa form, then the title is his, but like the main series, all it takes is one slip up…

2010 Firestone Indy Lights Series
1. JK Vernay          Sam Schmidt Motorsport   412
2. James Hinchcliffe  Team Moore Racing        341
3. Charlie Kimball    AFS / Andretti-Autosport 327
4. Martin Plowman     AFS / Andretti-Autosport 320
5. Sebastian Saavedra Bryan Herta Autosport    284
6. Dan Clarke         Walker Racing            241

Qualifying for the IZOD IndyCar Chicagoland 300 begins at 7pm (BST) on Friday evening, while qualifying for the Indy Lights starts at 7pm (BST) on Saturday evening. Coverage for the Indy Lights race begins at 10pm (BST) on Saturday night, while the pre-race for the IndyCar event begins at 12.30am on Sunday morning with the green flag around 30 minutes later.
All events will be broadcast live from, while the IndyCar race will also be broadcast from Sky Sports 4 from 12.30am on Sunday.

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