IndyCar organisers have announced that the series will be returning to Fontana in 2012 for the first open-wheel race there since 2005.
The Auto Club Speedway - formerly called the California Speedway - is a 14-degree banking, D-shaped two-mile oval track that hosted CART races between 1997-2002, and IRL races from 2002 until 2005.
Previous winners here include Sam Hornish Jr., Jimmy Vasser, Adrian Fernandez, Cristiano da Matta and Christian Fittipaldi, while Helio Castroneves, Scott Pruett, Gil de Ferran, Alex Tagliani and Tony Kanaan have all claimed pole position. Mark Blundell won the 1997 CART race, while Dario Franchitti was the last winner of an IRL race at the venue in October 2005.
“We feel the time is right to bring IndyCar racing back to Auto Club Speedway,” said IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, confirming that the series will return to Fontana for a night race in the autumn of 2012.
The announcement follows Danica Patrick's call last month for more oval
events to be added to the series calendar after claiming that street and road courses were becoming too dominant in IndyCar, a view that Bernard said at the time he had some agreement with.
“We want to maintain the balance of ovals and non-ovals on our schedule," he said this week. "The addition of Auto Club Speedway adds a great venue that was built for the high-speed, wheel-to-wheel excitement of IndyCar racing."
However it's an open question whether the return of Auto Club Speedway will actually add to the overall number of ovals on the calendar, as Patrick would like to see. Poor attendance for last month's return to Milwaukee has led to suggestions that IndyCar would not be back there in 2012. With the 40,000-capacity Milwaukee Mile reportedly less than a third full for the series' return there after a year's hiatus, questions about the venue's financial viability on the IndyCar calendar have been raised especially after the following week's race at Iowa Speedway was close to being a sell-out.
But the return of Fontana to the IndyCar calendar is certainly a significant and welcome development on both sides.
"This facility was built to host open-wheel racing and Auto Club Speedway has arguably hosted some of the most exciting races in Indy car history,” said the president of Auto Club Speedway, Gillian Zucker. "We look forward to building on the area's history and tradition of open-wheel racing with new records and new races beginning in 2012."
Despite having not been on the IndyCar calendar since 2005, the venue still holds the series record for the fastest lap speed ever attained - 241.426 mph, set by Gil de Ferran in qualifying for the 2000 CART race, which is a world record for the fastest lap on a closed course. Fontana also saw the fastest average race speed on a closed course, 207.151mph set by Sam Hornish Jr. in the 2003 IRL event.