Before I start this post, a little sidebar: when I saw that the forecast high for Fontana on Saturday was going to be 103 degrees, I got a little excited as I had hoped it would mean it would be 45 degrees celsius and I could bust out a reference to the Midnight Oil song "Beds Are Burning". But alas, 45C is equal to 113F. Darn.
Anyway, what is it with 500 milers and oppressive heat? If you remember back to Memorial Day weekend, we had to sit through a race day that pushed 100 degrees as well. Not that I'm complaining, if they put on a show like they did 3 1/2 months ago I will happily sit through that kind of heat every day and twice on Sunday.
What makes Saturday's race different is that unlike Indy, which was run in the heat of the day, the race starts at 5 p.m. local time, meaning the track will change drastically the start of the race and when it ends 2 1/2 to three hours later.
I'm saying 2 1/2 because the last time they raced 500 miles at Fontana averaged either 195 or 197 mph (depending on track measurements) in winning the race in two hours, 33 minutes. And by the way, Tony Kanaan was the polesitter for that race and Oriol Servia turned the race's fastest lap, which was just a tick faster than TK's run.
In yesterday's test, the track temperature at 5 p.m. was 112 and the air temp was 89. Three hours later, the air temperature and dropped to 78 and the racing surface was down to 85.
So somehow the teams will have to adjust their cars on the fly to an almost 30-degree drop in track temperature. The car will drive completely different at the end of the race as compared to the beginning, and what makes it even more difficult is that the track is very, very bumpy. There will be no room for error.
Scott Dixon led the way in the test with a speed of 215.861 mph which he set just before the session expired. Marco Andretti was second quick at 215.779, which he set in the heat of the day. Dixon also lost a motor in the early minutes of the test.
Hmmmm...don't know what to make of that one, other than it would have been interesting to see Marco's lap times as he put more mileage on the tires.
As is my norm, I'm going to wait until after practice and/or qualifying to throw out some predictions, but I am going to narrow it down a bit. Of the 26 drivers in the field, just seven of them have raced here before: Dixon, Kanaan, Servia, Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Alex Tagliani and Ed Carpenter. (Edit! Add Wade Cunningham to the list as he raced at Fontana in Indy Lights in 2005) Because I think experience is going to be what it takes to win Saturday's race, I'm going to say one of those seven will be the winner.