IndyCar: Auto Club Speedway Fontana preview

Whilst Honda’s plight in IndyCar is not as serious (or as publicly embarrassing) as their troubles in Formula 1, this weekend trip to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana is unlikely to offer much respite from their season-long thumping by Chevrolet.

Based on their form at Indianapolis, Honda teams will be hoping for mechanical gremlins to afflict the leading Penske and Ganassi Chevrolets. Otherwise the best they can hope for is to flirt with the top 10 and maybe get lucky on the top 5. Once again you expect the new and improved Graham Rahal to lead the charge but I have feeling about Marco Andretti.

Andretti Autosport is too successful an organization to continue their current run of very poor results indefinitely. Andretti has always been fast on ovals and at Indy this year it was he – not Rahal – that initially looked like the only Honda capable of taking the fight to the Penske and Ganassi cars.

Seconds out, round 11

Domination by Chevy might have taken some of the excitement away from the 2015 championship but we still have a title fight that will go down to the very last race. Juan Montoya is in the catbird seat despite Will Power slowly chipping away at his points lead since Indianapolis. After 3 rounds of street courses, the Fontana oval will suit Montoya better than Power however the greatest challenge is likely to come from Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan over at Ganassi.

Dixon is entering the part of the season where he usually ignites the afterburners and challenges for the title. Fontana was the scene of Kanaan’s first win for Ganassi last season and prior to his crash at Indianapolis, the Brazilian was certainly in contention.

False dawn #2 for CFH Racing?

Josef Newgarden’s win at Barber was supposed to mark the emergence of CFH Racing as a serious contender. The merger, it appeared, had worked and CFH would be firmly in the mix, especially going toward races like Indianapolis and Detroit. Of course it turned out to be the exact opposite.

Spirits will be high in the CFH camp after Newgarden’s second win in Toronto. But it will be tinged with apprehension. The team – with co-owner and 2-time Indy 500 pole sitter Ed Carpenter driving – went to Indy with high expectations. Instead of challenging for pole the team looked completely lost on set up and baffled by their performance.

To build on Toronto and to genuinely establish a foundation from which to challenge consistently, CFH Racing needs a strong performance in California. The potential is there and with the Chevrolet package, they have the car to do it. Carpenter finished on the podium in 2014 and Newgarden had one of his best oval races with a top 10. Whether the team can convert that in to another good result is definitely a talking point for this weekend.

Still waiting

Pre-season I thought the pairing of Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth was going to be the match-up of the year. For many reasons – a good number of them self-inflicted – this simply has not come to pass. Sato and Hawksworth sit 13th and 18th respectively in the point standings which is much lower than they would have expected.

The team is hampered by running the inferior Honda package but we have seen others take the fight to Chevy. Street and road courses were where we expected the AJ Foyt racers to shine meaning Fontana is not likely to witness a significant turn around. Nonetheless with only 5 races remaining after Fontana, time is short to salvage something from the year. And it’s going to be a very long off-season scratching heads and wondering what went wrong.

Another date change

I really feel for the team at Fontana. They have stood by IndyCar and in return have been bounced around the schedule. Since 2012 the California event has started in September, moved to October, jumped forward to August and now forward again to June. Putting that significant issue to one side, switching from season-closer to a late June date is bad enough on its own. Crowds were not great last year despite it being the season finale but that was attributed in part to the oppressive heat and the fact the race had moved so far forward in the calendar.

The weather should be less uncomfortable for fans but it would be foolish to expect the race promoters to pull in a similar size or bigger crowd compared to 2014. I really hope they do but I fear they will not. At that point it will be vital that IndyCar works out a date that suits and sticks to it for at least the next 3 seasons – as should be the case for every ‘semi-permanent’ race on the schedule.

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