Thursday, September 4, 2008

Chicago Preview

The Chicagoland Speedway was created by a very diverse group of entrepreneurs and motorsports businessmen including Tony George, Bill France, and Dale Coyne called the Motorsports Alliance. After plans to build the track outside of Plano, Ill fell afoul of Illinois' annexation laws, Dale Coyne, who owns the Route 66 Raceway, suggested that the group take a look at a site nearby his dirt track and drag strip facility. The location near Joliet, just southwest of Chicago, was perfect for the new speedway and operations began in 2001. That first IndyCar race in 2001 was won by Jacques Lazier, but it was the 2002 race that really caught everyone's attention. Sam Hornish, Jr. won by the closest margin ever in the IndyCar Series, finishing ahead of Al Unser, Jr. by only 0.0024 s. When watching the below video of the final laps, note Helio's huge block of Cheever on the backstretch. The more things change...

This racetrack not only produced numerous close finished for the IndyCar Series, but also for the Indy Lights series. Last year, Alex Lloyd lost to his teammate Logan Gomez by the closest margin ever in any motorsports event, 0.0005 s, that's half of a millisecond!

Gomez beats Lloyd by 0.0005 s, a new world record.

Last Year:
Coming into the Chicagoland race last year, Dario Franchitti led Scott Dixon in the series championship by a mere three points. The championship title fought for all year long by Scott and Dario came down to a single race. Whichever driver finished ahead of the other would be the champion. All race long, the two swapped the lead with Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves, with Sam leading more often than not. In the final laps, though, it was all Scott and Dario with 3rd place Sam Hornish a full lap down. Dario tried repeatedly to find a way to get around Dixon, but to no avail. Then in Turn 4 on the final lap, Dixon's car sputters and loses power. Dario, stunned and amazed, passes the equally stunned and amazed Dixon to claim not only the race win, but the series championship! I don't think I've ever seen as dramatic of a season finale than the 2007. Here's a view from the stands.

Was there other moments of exciting racing during last year's event? Sure there was, but it was all lost in the commotion of that final lap. As it turns out, Scott Dixon's car was about one "beer can's worth of gas" short, as Scott himself put it.

What to Watch:
This year, the championship again depends upon the result of the Chicago race. The margin isn't as close this year as it was last year, with Helio trailing Scott by 30 points. If Dixon finishes 8th or better, the title is his regardless of what Helio does. 8th place should not be any problem at all for Dixon who has absolutely demolished the competition on the 1.5-mile ovals this year. However, this year there will be 28 cars, not 22 cars on the track and two of those cars will be VERY hungry for a win.

This past Tuesday, Target Chip Ganassi Racing announced that in 2009 it was going to replace Dan Wheldon with Dixon's former rival Dario Franchitti. Wheldon will be moving to Panther Racing next year to drive the #4 car, which puts Vitor Meira out in the cold looking for a ride. Both Wheldon and Meira will really take the whip to their cars as they will be racing for a win and nothing else. Wheldon won't try to impede Dixon in any way, but I wouldn't look for him to go out of his way to help, either. Vitor, already an aggressive driver as he showed at Indy this year, will push his car even more this race. Whatever happens, its bound to be interesting.

As has become tradition, there will be a couple of new drivers to get a ride for the final race of the year. Driving the #41 of AJ Foyt Racing will be Frank Perera, winner of the Firestone Indy Lights race in Sonoma, and former driver of the #34 IndyCar Series car for Conquest Racing before being replaced by Jaime Camara because of sponsorship issues. The #36 car of Conquest Racing will feature Alex Tagliani with Enrique Bernoldi still on the sidelines with an injured thumb.

Returning to the racetrack this Sunday are the two part-time operations of Luzco Dragon Racing with Tomas Scheckter in the #12 Symantec car, and Sarah Fisher as owner/driver of the #67 Dollar General car for Sarah Fisher Racing. Both teams are hopeful of at least expanding their operations for next year if not running a full season. This is the last opportunity for them to make a positive impression at the track for their potential sponsors. A lot of people will be really hanging it out there on Sunday, so expect a very action packed race!

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