A thrilling conclusion to Saturday night’s MAVTV 500 saw a closing-lap duel between Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti and Ed Carpenter end just after Carpenter claimed the lead, as Takuma Sato crashed and yellow flags froze the field through the final corners on the 250th – and final – lap of the IZOD IndyCar Series season-ending event at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
Franchitti and Carpenter traded the lead several times over the last six laps, a repeat of their closing-lap battle for victory at Kentucky Speedway last year – a race also won by Carpenter in a photo finish.
In addition to Franchitti, his Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon, Takuma Sato and Alex Tagliani all had extended runs at the front of the 26-car starting field. As the race approached Lap 200, Honda-powered drivers were running first through fourth, led by Dixon; and at the Lap 125 mid-point in the 500-mile run, Tagliani, Sato and Franchitti were 1-2-3 for Honda.
A crash by Tony Kanaan on Lap 240 set up the wild finish. Race officials briefly halted the race to clear the track and then restarted on Lap 244 with a six-lap dash to the checkers. When the green flag waved for the final time, Franchitti was in front, with Carpenter and Ryan Hunter-Reay – who needed to finish fifth or better to claim the IZOD IndyCar Series drivers’ championship – rounding out the top three. Sato, in fourth, Dixon and a charging Helio Castroneves rounded out the potential race winners.
Franchitti and Carpenter quickly pulled out an advantage of several car lengths over the rest of the front-runners, who staged their own equally fierce battle for third through sixth. At the start of the final lap, Carpenter made one final pass on Franchitti as the pair exited Turn 2 and, just an instant later, Sato spun and crashed without injury to end the race. As a result, Dixon grabbed third, while fourth place was just enough for Hunter-Reay to edge Will Power for the series title.
Tonight’s MAVTV500 concludes the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series with Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay claiming his first IndyCar drivers championship. Honda-powered Simon Pagenaud is the 2012 IndyCar Rookie of the Year and Honda finished second in the Manufacturers’ Championship.
Dario Franchitti (#10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) started 9th, finished 2nd: “Ed [Carpenter] just got a big run around the outside. I was down low, and that had been working for me all night, but this time the car started to push up the track and it was either lift or wreck us both, so I lifted. He got by and out came the yellow flag [for Sato’s crash, to end the race]. So that happens. Ed drove a great race and I can’t take anything away from him. And ‘well done’ to [new series champion] Ryan [Hunter-Reay], he drove a great race. Congratulations to him and all the Andretti Autosport guys.”
Simon Pagenaud (#77 Schmidt Hamilton Racing Honda) started 20th, finished 15th, 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year: “It was a long race, for sure. It started out to be a good race. As soon as the sun went down, the car was really dialed-in. It was super fast with a good setup, I never had any surprises. We definitely had a shot at a top-five finish, but we collected some debris in the radiator that led to overheating, and it cost us a couple of laps in the pits to correct. But it was a great first year for me and the team, and it is an honor to win Rookie of the Year. We will come back even stronger in 2013.”
Roger Griffiths (Technical Director, Honda Performance Development) on tonight’s season-ending race: \"Obviously, it was a disappointing end to the season, following a significant effort from all the associates at Honda Performance Development to finish on a high note. Had it not been for the two late-race cautions, I believe tonight’s results would have been very different. But we will learn from this, and apply those lessons and everything else we’ve learned this year to improve the Honda IndyCar program next year. Winning the Indianapolis 500 was certainly a positive for us, and the engine manufacturer competition we had from Chevrolet and Lotus certainly injected new interest into the series this year. Thanks to everyone at HPD and our partner teams for their extraordinary effort throughout the season.”