The IZOD IndyCar Series championship has ebbed and flowed throughout the season, so it’s only natural that title contender Ryan Hunter-Reay believes that the final battle for said prize will do the same.
“500 miles is a long race,” said Hunter-Reay, who sits 17 points behind leader Will Power going into Saturday night’s MAV TV 500 at Auto Club Speedway, which will determine the champion for 2012.
“The race that we have in the first 250 [miles] is going to be a lot different than we have in the last 250. We could see a lot of comers and goers. It’s going to be changing the entire time. We have to go out there and do what we know how to do, and that’s contend for race wins.”
It was Hunter-Reay’s victory at Baltimore two weeks ago that enabled the IndyCar championship to come down to the last race of the season for the seventh consecutive year.
Meanwhile, Power is hoping to finally nail down his first career title after losing out in 2010 and 2011 to Dario Franchitti. He’s been in this situation before, but even with the pressure, he’s maintaining an even keel.
“I’m just treating it like another race,” said Power. “The best mental approach going in is making the most of every situation. And it has been the case in the last three, four races that we’ve been aware of the guy that we’re challenging in the championship, so you kind of base your aggression upon that.
“Obviously, if I’m ahead of [Hunter-Reay] in the last quarter of the race, at that point you become very aggressive and you have to go for it in the smartest way possible.”
Power also indicated that Saturday night’s 500-miler should expect to feel akin to what we saw this past June at Texas Motor Speedway — where a new aerodynamic package broke up the dangerous packs, put handling at the forefront, and produced a stellar race.
Extensive testing has taken place at Auto Club Speedway in advance of the event, and as a result, cars will be outfitted with a Speedway aero configuration that will have no rear wing wicker, which adds additional downforce.
“I think it will be a good race,” said Power, echoing Hunter-Reay’s comments. “I think there will be good passing, some cars will go off, some cars will be a bit better.”
The IZOD IndyCar Series isn’t the only open-wheel series that’s settling a championship this weekend in Southern California.
Its feeder league, the Firestone Indy Lights, also has a great title fight going for it in its final race of 2012. France’s Tristan Vautier has won four races this season but still sits only 11 points ahead of his teammate and lone challenger for the title, Esteban Guerreri of Argentina.
The 50-lap, 100-mile championship race will take place at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday afternoon before the MAV TV 500 main event. It will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network on Sept. 20 at 4 p.m. ET.
Vautier won the most recent FIL race in Baltimore.
Saturday’s MAV TV 500 will also mark the end of Bob Jenkins’ 34-year run as a sports broadcaster. Jenkins, who has been the voice of NBC Sports Network’s IndyCar coverage since it started in 2009 under the Versus banner, announced this past May that he would retire at the conclusion of the 2012 season.
Jenkins, who is also widely known for being one of ESPN’s first play-by-play announcers, will be honored with a special segment during Saturday’s telecast.
“I know I’ll be very emotional at the end of the evening, but I’m confident I’ve made the right decision,” Jenkins said in a statement. “I couldn’t possibly thank everyone individually, especially the fans, who have been so supportive of me in my career.
“My only hope is that at the conclusion of the race we have 26 healthy drivers. That will be the greatest send-off I could possibly ask for.”
In another statement, NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood hailed Jenkins as “the gold standard of auto racing play-by-play announcers.”
“He started his career with NBC and we are proud and honored that he will call his last race of his long and storied career with us as well,” Flood said.
Some quotes used in this article were taken from yesterday’s INDYCAR teleconference.