The conclusion to the 2017 IndyCar season is this weekend, where a champion will be crowned at Sonoma.
The battle comes down to the four Team Penske drivers of Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power, against Chip Ganassi’s star, Scott Dixon. Newgarden leads Dixon by three points, and Castroneves by 22 heading into the weekend. Both Newgarden and Castroneves are seeking their first ever championship, while Dixon is aiming for his fifth title. Pagenaud and Power will need major help in order to collect their second championship.
Penske appears to once again be the team to beat, as they took the top four spots in practice on Friday. Newgarden led both sessions, and had the fastest overall lap of 1:16.2485 seconds around the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course. Honda took the next 11 spots, led by the Andretti Autosport machines of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, followed by Dixon in seventh. Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, and Tony Kanaan rounded out the top ten.
Friday Combined Practice Results
“We’ve had a couple days here with the test yesterday, and we had a day before that last week,” Newgarden said. “We tried to use that to use that to our advantage and I feel like we’ve had a pretty fast car up to this point.” He said the team was mostly working on qualifying setup today, which is very important at a place like Sonoma. Five of the last nine races at Sonoma have been won by the pole sitter. The winner has started inside the top three in 10 of the 12 races.
Ganassi is ready for another battle with Penske. “I think toward the end of the day we had a pretty rough run on the red tires and were only about two or two and a half tenths off the pace. We’re right there though and we’ll have to see how things shake out for qualifying. I think we need to bring a little more speed and see what happens. I know this NTT Data car and Ganassi crew are not going to lay down and we’re going to try and get our fifth championship come Sunday.”
While Penske appears to have the edge at the moment, Dixon has history on his side. The Iceman has three wins here, and has completed all but one of the 970 laps here in his 12 starts. For Newgarden, he has never finished inside the top five in his five starts at Sonoma. Granted, none of those were with Team Penske.
The rest of the Penske crew have all tasted success, most recently with Pagenaud, who won last year’s race from pole position. Castroneves won the 2008 race, and has finished runner-up on two occasions. Like Dixon, Power has three wins at Sonoma, and has sat on the pole in five of his eight races here, while leading a total of 276 laps.
There will be one final 45-minute practice session tomorrow at 2 PM (online streaming), followed by live qualifying for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, which begins at 6:30 PM on NBC Sports Network.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar
Simon Pagenaud: “The car is really good. I’m very happy with how the car behaved, whether it’s on new tires or older tires, and I think our pace on older tires is best to anyone right now. So, I feel very confident that if we start up front, we can be gone. Adapting is going to be key to the race. I feel confident, yeah. I think last year, you know, obviously qualifying was the turning point on the weekend. We didn’t have the pace up until qualifying, but today and yesterday, I feel like we have the pace at any time. I’ve just got to put the lap together. If I put the lap together tomorrow, I think we’ll be challenging for pole position, and once that’s done, I’ll feel a lot more relaxed about our chance to go for the win.”
Josef Newgarden: “I think it was a good session for us, good two sessions really. I feel like the Penske cars are fast. We’ve had obviously a lot of test time, more than others recently. We had last week and then the Thursday, as well. So, it’s plenty of track time hopefully for us to sort out our stuff, and I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job with that, and I think that reflected in the times today from the whole team. We’re all pretty close and have a good handle, I think, on what we want. It’s a matter of putting that together tomorrow. I think we’ve done most of the hard part figuring out what we need, now we just have to try and put it together when it counts.”
Helio Castroneves: “We had a strong No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet today. My guys have done a great job giving me a fast car. We definitely found speed but still have some areas we can improve on to get a little more out of the car. Qualifying is really key here at Sonoma, so we’re going to try some things in the practice session tomorrow that we hope to apply to qualifying and see what happens.”
Conor Daly: “This is a really challenging track for sure for everybody but for me (especially) because last year we had a weekend cut short by a couple of engine failures, so I’m still learning this place. I have a lot to do driving-wise to improve but we are getting there on the car. It’s been nice to have an extra test day. The balance is improving every session, so we just have to continue to close the gap and I think that’s what we’re doing.”
James Hinchcliffe: “Today was a challenge. From what we’re seeing with the tires here only being good for one run, you really have to kind of maximize each sticker set and commit to a change that you hope works, because trying to fix it on a second run, usually isn’t very productive. It limits how much running we can do, and I think we’ve been seeing that across the board. Getting on the reds (Firestone alternate tires) for the first time this afternoon was helpful heading into qualifying tomorrow, but that definitely unveiled some issues we still have with the Arrow car. Not where we want to be on the time charts, but we’re working hard at it, and hopefully, we’ll be back stronger tomorrow for qualifying.”
Jack Harvey: “This morning was quite positive. I certainly felt like we had a more competitive car, better balance. This afternoon, I think the track conditions changed significantly, and I don’t think we adapted to them particularly well. I think at least we know what didn’t work so we can now go in the opposite direction and see what does work a little better. The AutoNation Sirius XM crew and I will just keep working, keep trying and use tomorrow morning’s session as a good opportunity to learn something ahead of qualifying.”
Max Chilton: “We made a nice step forward in the right direction today, but still haven’t gotten into the top 10. I think with where we started yesterday, we’ve been able to close the gap and get pointed in the right direction. I think we’re dissecting the gaps into small bits and seeing where we can make up time and gain more ground. It’s a process. We made a good step forward in final practice today but then we went the wrong direction with the downforce and hurt the balance of the Gallagher car. As a whole, we need to up our game overall, so we’ll see what can be done to close that gap tomorrow here at Sonoma.”
Scott Dixon: “I think toward the end of the day we had a pretty rough run on the red tires and were only about two or two and a half tenths off the pace. We’re right there though and we’ll have to see how things shake out for qualifying. I think we need to bring a little more speed and see what happens. Qualifying tomorrow is one thing, and I think last time we won this, we qualified ninth, so anything is possible really. There is a lot that can happen especially with strategy in the race. I know this NTT Data car and this Ganassi crew are not going to lay down and we’re going to try and get our fifth championship come Sunday.”
Tony Kanaan: “After yesterday’s test and this morning’s practice we saw where we were in regards to the Penske cars and we decided we needed to make some bigger changes with the setup from the first to second practice. This track is just difficult to get a handle on because the track changes so much throughout the day that what you learn in the morning might not translate to the afternoon. We feel like we’re in a good place with the information we have so far. Now we just need to tweak some things in the morning practice and be ready to run in qualifying tomorrow afternoon.”
Will Power: “It was a good day for the Verizon Chevy. We had good speed in the car. For those wondering, I didn’t have any problems with the knee. I don’t even notice it. In the car, my knee is bent, and I haven’t had any problems with it bent at all. Anyway, I liked the balance of the car and feel good heading into tomorrow. We’ll work toward a good qualifying session. As I’ve said, we can only control our situation and the plan is to win the pole and win the race, then we’ll see where it all falls at the end.”
Zachary Claman DeMelo: “Yesterday I just learned the track and learned the car during the test day and tried to get used to everything as fast as I could. It was more a learning day today than anything today. I started to push the Paysafe Honda a bit more. It was a good morning session. There was probably a bit more time in the car. I struggled a bit in the afternoon with the hotter temperatures and the new (red) tire but I’m still learning and I’m sure we will make good changes for tomorrow. The pit stops were really different than I have done before, but I think it came to me naturally. It was a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to doing it in the race.”
Carlos Munoz: “This morning wasn’t so bad, but this afternoon we made some changes to the car that didn’t work out. I didn’t extract the most out of the red tires and they are quicker, for sure. We just have to work hard for tomorrow because qualifying is quite important in this race and also to have a consistent car. I think we have made progress compared to yesterday, the car feels a little bit better than yesterday.”
Graham Rahal: “It was a challenging day. We can’t quite seem to get a hold on the rear end of the car here. It’s very neutral and difficult to drive. We have thrown a lot of changes at the problem and have improved but there is a long way to go. We are frustrated but we’re going to keep working hard.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “I’m pretty happy with the performance and consistency we had in the morning session, but not so happy in the heat of the day with the wind picking up in the second session. We lost performance and control over the car. We put the Firestone red tires on earlier than most of our opposition, but I don’t think it’s the full story. We still had a pretty big loss of balance and not a big gain of grip on the reds which is not normal and not representative compared to our opposition, so we have to work on it. It’s not something that I’m unused to, but it’s always frustrating when you work for two days on the car and you get to a certain point where you’re happy on the primary tires, and then you put on the options and it’s not so good. We’ll just have to work on it and see if we can find a better compromise.”
Ed Jones: “The track conditions changed a lot since we tested yesterday. There are also cars from other series that have been on track so the different types of rubber are making it more challenging and more unpredictable compared to what we were used to yesterday. We made some good changes and some not so good changes, so we have some work to do overnight, but I think we can get the car in a good place for tomorrow. Our aim is to be in the fight for the Fast 12. The wind was changing directions a lot more yesterday. During our runs it was changing a lot more frequently. Today it wasn’t too bad, so we’ll have to see how it will be during qualifying tomorrow because that could be a big factor.”
Spencer Pigot: “Between the two sessions, the balance of the car was completely different. We fixed one area of concern, but now we need to focus on a different area and get more speed out of it. We’ve learned a lot, but we need to be able to piece it other tomorrow for qualifying so hopefully we can do that.”
JR Hildebrand: “This place is always a challenging spot. You’re always kind of compromising here. I feel pretty good about where we are at. It’s just all very close. Hopefully we can find a couple of good changes overnight and be able to put our laps together. I think we’ve got a pretty good shot at getting through the groups in qualifying tomorrow. Sunday, I think it’s really going to come down to who plans correctly for whatever the conditions are because it’s changing a lot throughout the day. The team is doing a good job at keeping up with it. Hopefully we can get it right tomorrow.”
Takuma Sato: “The Dickinson Fleet Services car feels good, and I think it was a productive day. It almost feels like a Saturday because we have already been driving two consecutive days (since the test), but it’s good to have some time to go analyze the data and go catch up on things. We have some work to do for qualifying, but hopefully we will improve.”
Marco Andretti: “It was a decent day two for the UFD team, at Sonoma. We ended up seventh (in Practice 2) so the goal now is going to be to try and make the right changes to get into the Firestone Fast Six. We’re close to it, but the Penskes are in a league of their own right now. We just have to maximize what we have going on and we can have a pretty good result.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “I think we had a pretty good Friday to start the race weekend. We went from seventh or eighth yesterday to fifth today and we are the top Honda. We just have to turn that into a top five tomorrow, get into that Firestone Fast Six and go from there. Certainly the Penskes are what looks like our toughest competition right now, so we’re going to have to make another step overnight but so far, so good for the No. 28 DHL Honda.”
Charlie Kimball: “I feel like we made some progress this afternoon and were a little more competitive than we had been. We’re still not where we want to be at all. I think as a team we’re looking for some grip, but overall it was nice to make some progress this afternoon. The conditions this afternoon in the second practice were more relevant for qualifying and the race Sunday afternoon. We’ll go back and look at the data from today, especially from the No. 9 car. I believe he was a few tenths up the road. We’ll look at all of the data and see what we can learn. I think we have a concept and a direction for tomorrow morning.”
Alexander Rossi: “It was a good day and we got through a lot of test items. We missed the balance on the Firestone red (tires) so we know where the lap time is. It’s very close here yet again – showing why this championship is so competitive. We have to make sure everything is right for qualifying because since the competition is so close. Any miscalculation can cost you some spots. I’m happy with where the NAPA Auto Parts car is, and we should have a good day tomorrow.”