Increased Drama with Every IndyCar Practice Session in Sonoma; Unpredictable Qualifying Ahead

An uneventful Friday morning practice at Sonoma Raceway ended with Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Hitachi Chevy, Team Penske) running the fastest lap and a slew of Honda-powered machines behind him. Marco Andretti (No. 27 Snapple Honda, Andretti Autosport), Graham Rahal (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda, RLL), Jack Hawksworth (No. 41 ABC Supply Honda, AJ Foyt Racing), Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda, Andretti Autosport), and Mikhail Aleshin (No. 7 SMP Honda, SPM) filled out the Top 6 as Championship contenders Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevy, Team Penske) and Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevy, Team Penske) finished in P10 and P17.

The Team Penske teammates agreed that you’d see truer lap times in the afternoon session, due to temperature and wind not being comparable to qualifying conditions in the mornings here. Pagenaud expanded on that,

“It’s so fast with these cars these days with the aero kit, that the temperature makes such a big difference. Also, as we know, it’s a very abrasive tarmac here, so the tires get really used up. When it gets hot, it’s even more the case. It will change as the day goes on. It may be more interesting to run this afternoon.”


wp-1474141387418.jpgThat proved to be true. While Honda dominated the Top 10 in the morning, with 7 cars ranked up high, the afternoon flipped things with Team Chevy occupying 7 spots in that Top 10 with Castroneves, Power, and Pagenaud taking the top 3. Could this be foreshadowing of the podium at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday? Or even the final Championship points count? Castroneves thinks so,

“As far as my position… if it can help out so we can finish 1-2-3 in the championship, that would be a phenomenal year, even though I don’t have the chance to win (it). You know, looking good so far. But practice doesn’t pay anything. We just got to keep digging. You just heard Alex(ander Rossi) saying how on top of the game you got to be. That’s what we’re going to do. So far so good.”

The afternoon also saw Conor Daly (No. 18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda, Dale Coyne Racing) end his session 12 minutes early with an on-board fire and Alexander Rossi (No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, Andretti Herta Autosport) coming to a stop on the start/finish line with two minutes to go. The incident originally drew a red flag but then was joined by a checkered to bring the second practice to an official end. When asked if he ran out of gas, Rossi joked, “No, I’ve done that enough this year. I don’t know. Hopefully nothing catastrophic engine-wise.”


It would appear that it was not that serious, as he was able to run in the Saturday morning practice without issue. In fact, he ended up seventh quickest, and kept company with all of his Andretti Autosport teammates in the Top 10.

jgs_3671-1Marco Andretti topped the leader boards, something that is quite honestly a surprise, given the depressing season the third-generation racer has had. The Top 10 cars all ran faster Saturday morning than anyone ran on Friday, with temps cooler than yesterday’s afternoon practice. Given those facts, we might even see the track record topped during qualifying.

Will Power set the track record during the Firestone Fast 6 qualifying round 3 in 2015, capturing the pole position with a 1 minute 16.2597 second lap. This weekend’s top practice lap was Andretti in session 3 with 1 minute 16.3052 seconds.

Andretti may be having a sudden upswing to the end of his season, but Josef Newgarden (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevy, ECR) and James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow Honda, SPM) are struggling in their last contest after 2016 seasons that they should be proud of. Both drivers suffered impacts with the wall during the final practice, leaving only 3 hours to get their cars back in qualifying condition.


From initial glance, it seems that Josef’s car sustained less damage in his Turn 2 wreck. This is likely because he was traveling uphill and lost speed easily as he headed off track. Hinchcliffe, on the other hand, was maneuvering around the hairpin towards track-end and made hard contact with the wall in Turn 11. In replays it appeared that his wheel started spinning and he had no way to regain control. Once he exited the No. 5, he immediately began to examine the suspension on the front left. Here’s hoping that his SPM crew will be able to get the Mayor’s ride ready for qualifying this afternoon.

On a happier note, the Top 10 in the third and final practice session was split five Chevy and five Honda, and they were mixed in a way that makes me think… yeah, I have no idea how qualifying is going to pan out at Sonoma Raceway!


Verizon IndyCar Series track times for the Go Pro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway:

Friday, September 16th:
Practice #1 – 11:00 – 12:15 p.m. PT / 2:00 – 3:15 p.m. ET
Practice #2 – 2:45 – 4:00 p.m. PT / 5:45 – 7:00 p.m. ET

Saturday, September 17th:
Practice #3 – 11:00 – 11:45 a.m. PT / 2:00 – 2:45 p.m. ET
Qualifying: 3:05 – 4:20 p.m. PT / 6:05 – 7:20 p.m. ET (NBCSN live)

Sunday, September 18th:
Warm Up – 11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. PT / 2:30 – 3:00 p.m. ET
Go Pro Grand Prix – 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. PT / 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN live)

All three practice sessions will be livestreamed.
Practice #3 will be broadcast on NBCSN on tape delay at 2 p.m. PT / 5 p.m. ET.
Qualifying and the race will be broadcast live on NBCSN.
All links to livestream and IndyCar radio coverage is available here.

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Marco Andretti photo by Joe Skibinski / IndyCar