BRONZE MEDAL: AUTO CLUB SPEEDWAY’S MAVTV 500
In an effort to replace Las Vegas Motor Speedway as host for the INDYCAR World Championships, the IZOD IndyCar Series turned to Auto Club Speedway to close their 2012 campaign. Bringing a combination of the Speedway wing package used at Indianapolis and low downforce used at Texas, the show was sure to be interesting. Throw into the mix that the championship was coming down to the wire as Will Power entered the event with a 17-point lead on Ryan Hunter-Reay, but, as IndyCar Series campaigns have shown consistently, it isn’t over until the checkered flag falls and the MAVTV 500 became a prime example. Both championship contenders suffered ill handling race cars and combined with grid penalties for engine changes, both started back in the pack. The race took a dramatic turn on lap 55:
Battling with rival Hunter-Reay, Will Power attempted to make a low side pass, got loose, and spun into the turn 2 wall changing the entire scope of this race. Hunter-Reay immediately had the best opportunity to win the championship but still needed to complete 195 laps and finish 5th, after Verizon Team Penske was able to repair Power’s car enough to run enough laps to make up one position, to score enough points to win the championship. The race was drama filled to the end capped of by a gutsy ‘red flag’ call by Beaux Barfield to give the race the opportunity to end under green flag conditions. Ed Carpenter managed to snatch the race from Dario Franchitti while Hunter-Reay grabbed the title from the clutches of Will Power.
SILVER MEDAL: 96TH INDIANAPOLIS 500 MILE RACE
It might be considered a travesty to not have the Indianapolis 500 as the winner of this award every season. The 2012 rendition of the 500 mile marathon just outside downtown Indianapolis could be enshrined as the best race in the event’s 100+ year history. The Chevy vs. Honda ‘Turbogate’ saga had been accepted and Honda’s new turbo cover had been approved my IndyCar’s technical department, but when Pole Day came around it looked as though it didn’t even matter as Josef Newgarden was the only Honda to crack the top-9 in qualifying. The race turned out to be a different story as the brand new Honda engines installed for the 500 miles seemed to have new life. The race began as a battle between Ryan Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe with Marco Andretti holding the lead through the middle stages of the race. Then Honda and Chip Ganassi Racing began to show their muscle.
On the final lap, Takuma Sato attempted to pass Dario Franchitti in turn 1 when he spun hitting the wall giving the race win to the Scot followed closely by teammate Scott Dixon and KV Racing’s Tony Kanaan. A race filled with close competition that set an event record for lead changes ended like the greatest stories ever told. The unenviable backdrop to the 2012 Indianapolis 500 was paying tribute to Dan Wheldon and the race ended with all three of Wheldon’s former teammates and best friends crossing the bricks three wide under caution for the most fitting tribute of all to Dan’s legacy.
GOLD MEDAL: FIRESTONE 550 AT TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
As drama-filled and exciting as the Indianapolis 500 was, how could any event unseat it as the best oval race of 2012?
The award for best oval track race goes to the Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway for a very simple reason. In the wake of the tragedy of Las Vegas, there was much apprehension and questions about the viability of IndyCars racing on the high banked 1.5 mile oval tracks that helped make IndyCar Racing famous, at least in the recent history of the sport. In order to remain relevant and draw fans, the schedule’s balance between ovals and road courses must be retained.
The tension was mounting in the Paddock as the first practice inched closer and closer. Drivers said they would no longer participate in pack racing on the ovals but elected to grid at Texas because they are professionals. The beauty of the new DW12 chassis is that it has a wealth of aerodynamic options to add or remove downforce. In conjunction with the drivers, IndyCar’s technical department came to Texas with a low-downforce package that would require drivers to lift in the turns instead of holding the throttle flat. This became an instantaneous solution for the pack racing and brought some serious excitement as cars were coming and going all the time. This was also a race for the ‘little guys’ as the Pole was won by Alex Tagliani while Justin Wilson took the race win for Dale Coyne Racing after Graham Rahal grazed the turn 4 wall with two laps to go.
This race gets top honors for 2012 oval track races because of what it means for the future of the sport. Leading up to the race, drivers said they would run the race but they would also be very happy to leave when it was over, but fast forward to after the race was complete and the attitude changed to ‘we want to do this again’. Justin Wilson may have crossed the finish line first, but the big winners in this race was the sport itself and its fans. Oval tracks are here to stay and make no mistake that the results of Texas had direct correlation to the addition of Pocono Raceway in 2013. A big ‘Thank You’ goes to Eddie Gossage for sticking with IndyCar through all the talk of configuration, pack racing, and fence talk to host IndyCar Paddock Pass’s ‘Best Oval’ of 2012.