IndyCar, ACS At Odds?

While the people who run IndyCar Series and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana may be perfectly happy with their mutual agreement, the current arrangement is an awful gamble.

The 2015 MAVTV 500 was run in conditions that brought out the best in the cars but the worst fears of the drivers.

“It’s insane,” said Will Power, who crashed out. “If we keep going like this we’re going to have another incident.”

It made for great TV but barely a few thousand were there to see it.

“To do this for just 5,000 fans is stupid,” Tony Kanaan said.

Simply standing around was perilous in the 140-degree on-the-track heat. Fans stayed away, with less than 5,000 in the speedway’s grandstand which seats 60,000. Thing is, the heat is great for the cars, which can stick or slide as the thermostat rises. Drivers topped 218 mph in qualifying, and were pacing around 210 for the first 135 laps.

World class racers like Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon push the machines into formations five-across ACS’s two-mile banked oval — performing this daring feat a number of hair-raising times on Saturday.

But does that mean they should?

Kanaan, who finished second, was reminded of the death of Dan Wheldon in 2011 in Las Vegas, a track similar in many ways to Fontana.

“We can’t forget that I lost my best friend exactly the same way,” Kanaan said. “I understand what the fans want, and if we can have 100,000 fans here than I’d do it again.”

Castroneves, who qualified second behind Simon Pagenaud, crashed out on Lap 135 after a brush with the wall sent him sliding onto the infield.

“I was like, ‘This is a tough one,'” said Castroneves, recalling the crash. “I’ll tell you what, that was a long ride sideways.”

It was a made-for-TV miracle that nobody died.

Ryan Briscoe’s two cartwheels (pictured) through the infield with two laps to go made everyone watching hold their breath only to exhale at the sight of him walking away seemingly unscathed.

“What are we doing?” Power asked. “I’m just so happy nobody was really hurt.”

So racing in the heat of June both solved one problem but created two more — better TV but perilous racing and sparse crowds. Sure it’s awesome to watch but it’s clearly not a popular choice with fans. And now, the talent is unhappy too. Seems like a net loss despite IndyCar’s all-access approach which allows fans up-close opportunities not seen in NASCAR.

Perhaps the 2015 MAVTV 500 will bear future fruit, when those precious come-to-the-speedway fans — literally few and far between on Saturday — finally surface. Perhaps IndyCar will decide operating at Auto Club Speedway is more risk than reward and end their relationship.

Whatever the outcome of IndyCar’s costly wager, ACS loses.

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