After 15 races on a diverse combination of ovals, road courses and temporary street circuits, the race for the Firestone Firehawk Cup and the Firestone Indy Lights title has come down to a winner-take-all race on the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway.
The combatants have never been closer, as Brazilian rookie Raphael Matos leads Richard Antinucci by three points, setting up the closest title race in Firestone Indy Lights history.
Matos, who has won titles in nearly every series he has raced in since moving to the US in 2002, hopes to give AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing its first series title, having claimed wins on the street course at St Petersburg and the permanent circuits at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio. He's also shown speed on the ovals, earning pole positions at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Kentucky Speedway, but the title would be the highlight of his first season with one of open-wheel racing's best teams.
"The championship has been my goal all year," Matos said, as he homes in a second successive title to add to the one he took in Atlantics last season.
Antinucci, the nephew of Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever Jr, is trying to deliver a third straight drivers' championship to Sam Schmidt Motorsports and, like his biggest rival, has won at St Petersburg and Watkins Glen, taking the second race of the two double-headers after Matos won the first. The American, however, goes into the finale as the perceived underdog, not just because of his inferior points total but also because he is seeking his first series championship.
"The points have been tight all year," Antinucci said, "I have a lot of respect for Matos, as he is considered one of the best up-and-coming open-wheel racers in the whole continent. He's also one of the best I've ever raced against, so I'm not surprised that we have had to fight tooth and nail to keep the title at Sam's shop because the level this season is quite high."
Both are also trying to bring a second Indy Pro/Indy Lights championship back to their country. Thiago Medeiros, in 2004, is the only Brazilian to win the series title, while Antinucci is quick to point out that AJ Foyt IV was the last American who was able to pull off a championship run. By contrast, Britain has three titles to its credit already, courtesy of Mark Taylor, Jay Howard and, last season, Alex Lloyd.
"It's time for a driver who has an American flag on the cockpit to win this thing, right?" Antinucci said.