It’s hard to comprehend that another season finale is upon us. Seems like only a few weeks ago I was in Fontana, CA, watching Will Power win his first Verizon IndyCar Series Championship. The series is back in California this year for the finale as well, just further up the coast in Sonoma County.
The field of 25 drivers (a fitting number as we also pay tribute to the late Justin Wilson this weekend) ran a 3.5 hour practice session last night in addition to a shorter 45 minute session today. That most recent practice wrapped up with Andretti Autosport driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay running the fastest lap with a 1:16.8702 and Championship contender, Graham Rahal right behind him in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda with a 1:16.8989. Ten drivers were under the track record, set by Will Power in 2014 during the first round of qualifying. 1:17.2393 was the time to beat, and if the final practice is any indication, we should see that record broken multiple times during qualifying later today. Power was one of those ten drivers by the way, and he led the field in practice yesterday. Power is undoubtedly in search of another Verizon P1 Award today.
RLL Racing driver, Graham Rahal, who sat second in both practice sessions, also sits second in the points battle. Rahal is currently on the hunt to outrace Juan Pablo Montoya, the veteran driver who has led the Championship fight all season long. Can he hold on for one more race, giving Team Penske back-to-back Championships? Or will the ambitious Rahal turn his best career season yet, into an unforgettable one and win it all?
Rahal seems to be getting a better grasp on his car and how it performs at Sonoma as the weekend progresses. A high qualifying run later today could play a pivotal role in his odds for winning the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma tomorrow, as well as the Astor Cup and all the bragging rights that come with it! Rahal clinching the Championship would mean the first American IndyCar Champion since Ryan Hunter-Reay took it all in 2012.
In order for that to happen however, Rahal not only needs to win or place in the very top of the field, but Montoya has to have a less than stellar performance, and a finish in the bottom of the Top 10 or preferably mid-pack. He was only 9th fastest in last night’s session but made his way up to P4 in today’s final practice. As mentioned earlier, Montoya has led the points battle all season – since he came out victorious in the first race of the year, on the streets of St. Petersburg. He found victory just once more this year, but it was at the Indianapolis 500. And well, let’s be honest… if you’re going to win something in IndyCar, that’s kind of the one you want. He made podium in Long Beach, as well as at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and most recently at the event in Pocono last weekend. He has fallen outside the Top 10 only 3 times this season, otherwise remaining consistent in his results.
Rahal and Montoya have something in common here at Sonoma Raceway – they both hold a best finish of P5. Montoya will have his second start at Sonoma in his IndyCar career on Sunday, while Rahal will be embarking on his 8th contest on the wine country road course.
As far as starting grid history, Rahal definitely has the advantage. His best start at Sonoma was from the outside of Row 3 in P6. Montoya started last year from P19. Where will they start tomorrow? Tune in to NBC Sports at 6:00pm ET/3:00pm PT today, to find out. You can also live stream/listen to the Advance Autoparts IndyCar Radio live broadcast, by visiting racecontrol.indycar.com on your computer or by downloading the IndyCar 15 app on your smart phone or tablet.
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