Also back in action is Josef Newgarden, who broke his hand in a nasty wreck in the Sonoma race. His hand brace is bigger than Kimball's, and the scar much more noticeable, but he too has been cleared to race.
The consensus is in — drivers say that the cars at California, er, Auto Club Speedway, are fun to drive, a complete handful. AR1 caught up with Justin Wilson, who won the similar Texas event back in June in one of the biggest surprises of the season. Wilson is smiling again this weekend, a sign that he's confident that he has the equipment to run competitively. The sentiments were echoed by James Hinchcliffe, who also had some concerns. Hinch told AR1 that it's entirely possible that, at the end of 500 miles, that only 5 cars will be on the lead lap, and that it will be tough to avoid going a lap down early if your car isn't set up for the evening conditions. Getting a lap back will be tough, since Hinch anticipates long green flag segments, like we had at Texas when Scott Dixon was stinking up the show in the first half.
When AR1 asked Hinch what made Dixon so good on races like this, Hinch replied, "If I knew, I'd be doing it." Pushed a bit more, he surmised that Dixon was a great driver in a "free" (loose) car, and that makes a big difference on ovals. He compared that to Dario, who he surmised was a great drive in a tight race car.
******** When IndyCar historians write this history of this season, they will no doubt have to cover the Lotus debacle. In the hopes that the 22nd century version of Google finds this work, let me throw in my 2 cents: The Lotus debacle was a product of intentional mismanagement by Lotus. In IndyCar, three of the best potential stories of the season were ruined, and three of our best "potential" stars were buried in the back of the pack.
Simona, as most in the paddock will tell you, has the capability to run with the big boys on street and road courses. She sparkles in front of a crowd, and her outright courage made her a fan favorite a couple of seasons ago. She has enough star power to make herself, as well as her car, a star. We hope that her mental outlook, if not her career hasn't been ruined by this season. Certainly — in the understatement of the year — her team owner Keith Wiggins summed it up: "It's been painful for all of us."
Over at Dragon Racing we saw the fiasco unfold at St. Pete, when the cars arrived literally hours before qualification began. Not only did this endanger a bright, promising new team, but two drivers were forced into a frustration of back of the field runs, ended early by malfunction. There is no doubt in the IndyCar paddock that Sebastien Bourdais hasn't lost anything from the day when he won 31 race in CCWS, and finally with a Chevy motor he's begun to show it. However, one contemplates that Seabass would've been a champion contender with a full season of Chevy (or Honda, for that matter) power.
His team mate Katherine Legge came back to IndyCar, but the memory most of us had was of her huge shunt at Road America back in CCWS. She needed practice and experience, and given that she has showed she belongs in an Indy car. Not only is she talented, but she's attractive and personable, but it's tough to get a sponsor when you aren't running.
If Lotus really wants to make amends, they'll write a few checks to cover the damages — but no one is expecting any such thing.
With the retirement of Mike Conway from oval racing this week, AJ Foyt Enterprises has called up Wade Cunningham for this weekend. Wade had success in Indy Lights, but has since struggled to find a permanent ride in the big show. The likable New Zealander ("Kiwi" as recall?) was lounging around Indy when he got the call to come out, and was completely surprised by the turn of events. Wade ran this car at Indy, so he does have that experience, and he was very competitive at Kentucky last year, coming in 7th.
No one in the IndyCar paddock we talked to has criticized Mike from walking away from Oval competition. If anything, they admire his courage to not only return to ovals after getting serious injured, but his courage to walk away when it just didn't feel right.
Finally (for now), if the crowd doesn't fill the grandstands this weekend, it won't be because the staff didn't try. The promotional posters are incredible, the banner ads have been on millions of web pages, and the track has bought costly ads in the LA market. — Tim Wohlford, reporting from ONTARIO CA!!