NIGHT PRACTICE ACCIDENT

The night/final practice for the MAVTV 500 Verizon IndyCar Series race at Auto Club Speedway was cut short after a horrific accident involving several drivers.

Mikhail Aleshin

Mikhail Aleshin

Mikhail Aleshin No.7 SMP Racing Honda spun out down low in Turn Four, spun up high to the safety fence and was unavoidably hit by Charlie Kimball No.83 NovoLog Flex Pen Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Aleshin went up into the safety fence, tearing it apart, up in the air and landed down in Pit Lane. A wheel and wheel tether landed over the wall. Taking great care, Aleshin was extracted from the car, put on a stretcher and transported.

Kimball walked away, as did Marco Andretti No.25 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda. Several other cars were caught in the melee, including KVSH Chevrolet teammates, Sebastien Bourdais No.11 and Sebastian Saavedra No.17, and Jack Hawksworth No.98 Castrol Edge BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian Honda. All the other drivers are allright.

An update from the IndyCar Medical Director, Michael Olinger, said that Aleshin was conscious and being air lifted to Loma Linda Medical Center, complaining of injuries to right shoulder and right foot.

This was the first incident of the weekend.

Kimball, who was checked in the infield care center and cleared to race, was interviewed afterwards, in the garage, by Jim Peltz of the Los Angeles Times, while Kimball watched his team repairing his car. Kimball told Peltz “The 7 car spun from the bottom and I really had nowhere to go.”

The safety fence panel will require replacing.

The session, scheduled for half an hour was ended – after 19 minutes.

At the end, Ryan Briscoe No.8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was fastest, running 218.660 mph. He was followed by Scott Dixon No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, and Will Power No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Kimball was running fourth when he was hit. James Hinchcliffe No.27 United Fiber & Data Andretti Autosport Honda was fifth.

Charlie Kimball

Sebastien Bourdais

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Left to Right: Charlie Kimball, Sebastien Bourdais & James Hinchcliffe.

Aleshin was running fourteenth when the accident occurred.

Juan Pablo Montoya No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet had a less than stellar evening, finishing in P20

Power is still the points leader. He was the first out of the chute when the session opened. The Aussie went out and came back, twice in quick succession, for tire changes, and then a third time for data download/dump.

Will Power awaiting start

Will Power tire change

Will Power Data Download

PENSKE 1-2

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves No.3 Southern California AAA Team Penske Chevrolet took the Verizon IndyCar Series Verizon P1 pole position at Auto Club Speedway Friday afternoon in the blistering 97 degrees F sun, while the track was 147 degrees F.. His pole lap was 218.540 mph/355.30292 kph/105.2247 seconds, set on the last qualifying run. The ebullient Brazilian was so happy he jumped up and down, while the Team Penske crew cheered in the pit lane.

This was Castroneves’ third Auto Club pole, his 26th on an oval, and his third pole this season. His sum total is now 41 poles, breaking the tie with Rick Mears, Penske driver with four championships and now Team consultant. Castroneves is now fourth on the all-time pole list.

Helio Castroneves & Mikaella

Helio Castroneves & Mikaella

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Up to the point Castroneves took the pole, his teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya No.2, who had gone out second, held the pole position – and when any close contender ended up slower than JPM, the guys cheered. Montoya stood on the pit box, glued to the T&S monitor. He will start second.

Completing the front row will be Josef Newgarden No.67 Hartman Oil/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda.

Will Power

Will Power

Last year’s pole sitter/winner, Will Power No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet qualified a disappointing P21 out of 22 drivers. He still holds the qualifying record for an average of two laps – 220.775 mph/1:05.2247, set last year. Power won last year’s race from the pole

Power said “”For starting positions we would have liked the Verizon Chevy to start from the front, but starting in both the front or very back can help keep you out of trouble. From the back you learn what your car is like in traffic and we will have 3 hours to do it. It will be a long race. We have another practice tonight to work on things, as the Verizon Chevy was too lose. The start is to be there at the end and it’s far from over. The Verizon Chevy boys are going to do everything possible to make it happen.”

Simon Pagenaud No.77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda has an outside chance at the title championship this weekend, what with double points and all. He qualified fourteenth.

Castroneves was ever so jubilant. He brought his daughter, Mikaella, with him to his pole conference. He said “I really have to thank my guys and Will (Power) and Juan Pablo (Montoya). Going out last (in qualifying) really helped because I was able to get my teammates’ feedback and we made some changes that really helped us get the pole. Now, we need to keep going. We are starting up front but it is a long race and we know what we need to do to make it happen. This is the first step. Now we need to make sure we end up where we start tomorrow night. I am concentrating on my own race, and not being concerned by (my teammate and title contender) Power.”

Montoya said “We really had it set up for race trim, so I wasn’t expecting it to be that good for qualifying. But it was. It was really quick, especially for the hot conditions that we had to qualify in. We ran the same time that we ran this morning and it was much hotter. I’ll be honest I didn’t think that time would hold up that well. Congrats to Helio (Castroneves) on the Verizon P1 Pole Award. It’s going to be an interesting race tomorrow night.”

Josef Newgarden

Newgarden, the highest qualifying Honda for the last four races, still wasn’t completely happy. “We’re always right there but can’t get the top spot. Today was the perfect day to do it. No one knows what line to use. Guys going high, low, middle throughout their run. If the game plan was right, you could hoodwink people. Our first lap could have been way quicker with a better line choice in T1 and T2. Judging off everyone’s performance, I think we could have been pole today.”

Qualifying was single file, using the average of two green flag laps. The Qualifying Order was done by blind draw. After Qualifying the temperature rose to 99 degrees.

Helio Castroneves' Car

Will Power's Car

Josef Newgarden's car

There are 11 IndyCar Observers stationed around the two-mile speedway, spotting for Race Control this weekend at the Speedway. This is the most ever for this event, and it’s working out quite well.

Next up is Night/final practice. The reason the time was pushed back to 7:15pm PDT was so that the drivers could check how the evening light would be. Last year the race was in October, and this year it’s in August, which means the sunset time frames are different.

THE USUAL SUSPECTS

The Verizon IndyCar Series cars completed their first practice session at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana CA, with the usual suspects leading the charts on the D-shaped oval.

Points Leader Will Power No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and his closest contender – and teammate, Helio Castroneves No.3 Southern California AAA Chevrolet were 1-2. Power’s time of 32.5220/221.389 mph was faster than his two-lap qualifying record set last year of 220.775 mph, and also faster than the top test time Wednesday, set by Scott Dixon No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – 32.8075/219.462 mph. Power is last year’s winner.

Power and Castroneves turned the fewest laps – nine each.

Ed Carpenter

Ed Carpenter

Dixon was fourth fastest behind Ed Carpenter No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Carpenter won the IndyCar race Auto Club Speedway in 2012, and finished second last year.

This is Carpenter’s last race as the single-car owner of Ed Carpenter Racing. Next year he’s merging with another single-car team, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, and the team will be known as CFH Racing. Current SFH Racing driver, Josef Newgarden No.67 Honda, has just resigned as driver for the new team. Still no word on any other details regarding engine supplier, any other drivers, staffing, etc.

Ed Carpenter Racing logo

Target Chip Ganassi cars

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing logo

Fifth was Tony Kanaan No.10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The top six and eight of the top ten cars were Chevrolet, which has already clinched the IndyCar Manufacturers Championship.

The top Rookie was Mikhail Aleshin No.7 SMP Racing Honda – the top Honda of the morning. Two of the four Rookies – Carlos Huertas No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda and Jack Hawksworth No.98 BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian Honda turned the most laps. Huertas ran 49 laps for P22 while Hawksworth ran 45 laps for P20.

The other Rookie, Carlos Munoz No.34 Cinsay AndrettiTV.com Andretti Autosport Honda was fourteenth, with 19 laps. Earlier in the day he was chatting up NBCSN journalist, Tony DiZinno, who is celebrating his birthday today. Happy Birthday Tony!

Carlos Munoz & Tony DiZinno

Carlos Munoz & Tony DiZinno

There was no drama during the 75-minute session. The temperature was the high eighties, with no breeze and low humidity. The air was not smoggy and there was a clear view of the nearby mountains. An eleven plus minutes caution for routine track inspection interrupted the practice. Debris which might harm tires is always a concern, and was so Wednesday for the test on the two-mile speedway.

Next up with IndyCar qualifying at 2:15pm PDT.

RELAXED FRIDAY

MAVTV 500 American Real 500 logo

Friday is Day One of the two-day Verizon IndyCar Series season’s finale MAVTV 500 race at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California, where the fast track times will be as hot as the ambient temperature which is already almost 80 degrees in mid-morning.

The overall schedule is very light – IndyCars on track Friday for a mid-morning 75-minute practice session, early afternoon qualifying and one late afternoon half-hour final practice. The last practice was just changed from running 6-6:45pm PDT, to a later time of 7:15-7:45pm PDT.

Afterwards a season-ending informal casual party will be held for participants, with live entertainment including musicial and comedic interludes from Drivers James Hinchcliffe No.28 United Fiber and Data Andretti Autosport Honda and Mikhail Aleshin No.7 SMP Racing Honda, among others.

Sunday’s schedule is even lighter – Gates open at noon, IndyCar autograph session, live-streamed Driver’s Meeting, and the live TV broadcast of the 250-lap race beginning at 7:20 pm PDT. NBC Sports Network is airing the race.

The only other track activity is the Historic indycars, all on display in one of the garages.

All of the 22 IndyCar drivers tested Wednesday at the Speedway in the last Open test of the season. Last week’s Sonoma Raceway IndyCar winner, Scott Dixon No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet topped the charts in each of the two sessions, and overall, running a total of 94 laps, with a best lap of 00:32.8075/219.462 mph. All drivers were fastest in the second session.

Mikhail Aleshin

Mikhail Aleshin

Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud

The top Rookie was Mikhail Aleshin, tenth overall. Sebastien Bourdais No.11 Hydoxycut KVSH Racing Chevrolet turned the fewest overall laps – 71, and he was twenty-first overall. Title contender, Helio Castroneves AAA Southern California Team Penske Chevrolet ran the most laps – 142, for fifth overall. Points leader, Will Power No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, ran 112 laps
for ninth overall. The only other driver with a far-shot mathematical shot at the title, Simon Pagenaud No.77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda, was sixteenth overall, with 93 laps.

Randy Gruenig & Pete Wagner

Randy Gruening & Pete Watson

Gary Barnhart, Beaux Barfield & Jo Anne Jensen

Gary Barnhart, Beaux Barfield & Jo Anne Jensen

Throughout the paddock things are underway for the first practice session. The Safety/Fire Rescue/Medical teams had their morning briefings, as did the IndyCar Course Observers who are stationed around the two-mile banked oval speedway. Two of them hail from San Francisco Region SCCA and have been working as Observers for many years. Randy Gruening has been doing it for 30 years, and Pete Wagner has 24 years at it.

At the other end of the communications loop is Race Control, with Beaux Barfield, Gary Barnhart and Jo Anne Jensen.
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Vintage indy cars

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GO PRO, DIXON!

Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoras

Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoras

Scott Dixon No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet won the exciting GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma Verizon IndyCar Series Race at Sonoma Raceway Sunday afternoon. He led once, for the final three laps. It was his thirty-fifth career victory, making him fifth on the all-time list, tied with Bobby Unser. Dixon now has 523 points, putting him fifth overall going into the season’s finale race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana – a double points race.

Dixon said “All in all it’s fantastic, a huge weekend for us, with 4-500 Target people in Victory Lane for this. All but one of my 35 victories have been with Chip Ganassi’s team. It’s cool.”

Regarding Sunday morning’s early wake up call registering 6.1 on the Richter Scale, Dixon said “I slept through most of the earthquake in Sonoma. I heard some screams. At the track, Hinchcliffe said his hotel was destroyed. I guess he thought he was dying. Must have been pretty interesting for him.”

Photos of Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud courtesy of Will Burghart.

Scott Dixon - Winner Circle x IMG_0869

Simon Pagenaud x IMG_0673

The GoPro race was one of the craziest, most unpredictable race, further proving that IndyCar racing is very exciting. There were eight different leaders with ten lead changes. Points leader/Pole sitter/favorite to win Power led the most laps but fell on hard times, and then afoul of the stewards, to finish tenth.

Three cautions punctuated the 85-lap race, for 11 laps.

Ryan Hunter-Reay No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda came in second, 1.1359 seconds behind. He was disappointed, but “I know the championship is still on the line as I’m fourth in the standings going into next week’s race, with 534 points. It was a fun day but unfortunately came up a little short.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon & Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Will Burghardt

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon & Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Will Burghardt

Finishing third was Simon Pagenaud No.77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda, and also now third in the standings with 545 points. “The whole race was interesting. We made the race really in the pits as we had such good, fantastic pit stops. At the end I had to save a lot of fuel. I’m delighted and going to Fontana with a chance at the title.”

Fourth was Takuma Sato No.14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda. Sato led once for a lap.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Takuma Sato

Juan Pablo Montoya

Left to Right, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato and Juan Pablo Montoya. Photos by Jeff and Will Burghardt.

Juan Pablo Montoya No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet finished fifth after an up and down day. He led twice, for four laps, and is now is sixth in the overall standings, mathematically still in contention for the Drivers Championship.

Mikhail Aleshin No.7 SMP Racing Honda was the top Rookie, finishing seventh.

Will Power

Sebastien Bourdais

Justin Wilson's No.19 Honda

Left to Right Photos: Will Power, Sebastian Bourdais and Justin Wilson. Photos courtesy of Will Burghardt.

Pole sitter Will Power No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet led twice for 33 laps, the most, and turned the fastest lap leader time of 106.305 mph. But a crazy spin on cold tires cost him the lead and his chance for more points. He also had a crazy last turn on last lap, going for a gutsy move past Justin Wilson No.19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda and Sebastien Bourdais No.11 Hydroxy KVSH Racing Chevrolet. He split them, hitting Wilson and putting Bourdais into the Turn 12 wall. Power thought it would be an easy move, but in his excitement, didn’t see the waving yellow flag at Turn 12 for the stalling car of Mike Conway No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Power and Wilson crossed the line in P9 and P10, respectively, but the order was replaced due to the waving yellow. Power was then credited with P10, and Wilson P9, moving Bourdais up to P11.

Power said “The way IndyCar races go, I maintain the points lead and go into Fontana to see what I can do. It was such a jolt when the car stepped out on me. I went around so quickly, it was crazy. I was really tight and I couldn’t believe it. I was on blacks (primary tires.) I was doing premature celebratory doughnuts.”

Regarding his last lap move in Turn 12, Power said “I was going for points and they (Wilson and Bourdais) looked like easy move. It was interesting, three wide. I actually can’t believe it and that was a hairy corner. I saw the opportunity and I wanted the points. Now, it’s head down, that’s it. I am ready to get some sleep, been up since 3:30am. The sleep-deprived Power was rudely awakened at 3:20 am by the 6.1 earthquake centered in nearby American Canyon, and the Penske Team was ‘evicted’ from their hotel, so headed to the track at 4 am.

This weekend is the tenth race Power led this season, and continues his record of leading at least ten races in the past five seasons. On the other side of the slate, the TV broadcasters said Power has the most penalties this season – five, with three on course and two off-track.

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves No.3 Team Penske Chevrolet remains in second place for the Driver’s Championship, despite finishing eighteenth. He turned the fastest race lap of 106.942 mph on Lap 10. Photo courtesy of Jeff Burghardt.

Mike Conway

Disappointment was widespread. Mike Conway led twice for 21 laps, but his fuel ran out within sight of the Checkered Flag. He said “There was not much more I could do at the end of the race.” He finished P14, after going for third, and faltered right past the Starter.

Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal No.15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda had highs and lows, as he led almost to the checkered flag, when he ran out of fuel, to end up P20. He said “They told me the fuel number I needed to get, then Dad stopped giving me numbers and I thought I was OK, and then the (fuel) light came on.” And then, on his last pit stop for fuel, he got a speeding ticket, the only penalty of the race.

Right to Left Photos: Mike Conway, and Graham Rahal courtesy of Pablo Matamoros.

Other race leaders included Josef Newgarden No.67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, who started second, led once for two laps, and finished sixth; and Tony Kanaan No.10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet once for three laps, and finished thirteenth after starting eighth.

Scott Dixon

Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves, and Carlos Munoz

Photos Left to Right: Scott Dixon, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves & Carlos Munoz. Courtesy of Pablo Matamoros

A melee on the first lap in Turn One involved several cars including Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe, plus Helio Castroneves, and Sebastien Bourdais who rear-ended Ryan Briscoe. Takuma Sato was also possibly involved as he pitted for body parts. This incident brought out the first full course caution. All drivers eventually continued. Bourdais pitted for a new nose and fuel, and Castroneves pitted for a new front wing and tires. Then Castroneves pitted again to remove right rear wheel guard and change all four tires, under a green flag, putting him in last place.

Throughout the broadcast, TV kept showing the Driver Championship standings as they would be at that moment, and IndyCar T&S showed the points on each lap. Then, after the race, someone somewhere knocked down or pulled the Internet cable, while all the media were desperately trying to beat their deadlines.

The top nine drivers started on the red option tires, as did Sebastian Saavedra, who started last. By Lap 16, Saavedra was up to P7. He went up to P3 during pit stops, being the only driver stayed out. Then dropped and raised throughout the race, finishing sixteenth.

The second full course caution was on Lap 30 for Rookie Carlos Huertas No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, who was towed in. The third yellow was for Saavedra who was involved with Sebastien Bourdais No.11 Hydroxy KVSH Racing Chevrolet and Castroneves on Lap 37, one lap after the second restart. This time cars tried fitting three abreast, into Turn 7 – the corner which is considered the most demanding on brakes. That incident underwent Steward’s Review, with no action taken. Saavedra put to the back of the field for pitting during closed pits. He didn’t have far to go.

Brake wise, the drivers brake seven times during a lap on the 2.238-mile elevated road course, with 14.38 percent of the lap spent on braking.

This year the Pit Lane has painted lines showing the safety zone in which the crew must remain during a pit stop. This was brought about by the pit crew accident on Pit Lane.

And speaking of pits and grid and GoPro, there were a bunch of those ubiquitous cameras, mostly held high on GoPro poles or home-made sticks high above people shooting photos of everyone and everything.

In the Pre-Race festivities, Driver Intros this time included all drivers throwing a white Tshirt to the fans. Graham Rahal threw as though he’d gone to Spring Training. Castroneves drop-kicked his.

The next and final race of the 2014 season the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday night, 30 August 2014 in Fontana CA. And yet again, the Driver’s Championship comes down to the final race. Doesn’t get more exciting than that.

WARMING UP

Sonoma Raceway Ferris Wheel

The sun shone for the half-hour Warm-Up session for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Sonoma Raceway, leading up to the afternoon GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Scott Dixon No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was final fastest in 10 am PDT session, with a lap of 1:19.0566/108.606 mph. Josef Newgarden No.67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, and Rookie Mikhail Aleshin No.7 SMP Racing moved up to third at the last moment.

Fourth and fifth were Ryan Hunter Reay No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Chevrolet and Ryan Briscoe No.8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. All but Aleshin had led earlier on.

Justin Wilson's No.19 Honda

Justin Wilson’s No.19 Honda

Other leaders included: Marco Andretti No.25 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda; Juan Pablo Montoya No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet; and Justin Wilson No.19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

Was it coincidence as at the moment Newgarden moved to the top of the charts with less than five minutes to go in the session, the news was being distributed about him being signed for next year to race with the new CFH team, with a one year contract and a second year option? The new team combines the merger of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing.

So now we have a team name and at least one driver. Now to learn what will be the engine package, and if Ed Carpenter and Mike Conway will also continue to race in the split formation, with Carpenter on ovals, and Conway on road and street courses.

Newgarden starts on the front row for the afternoon IndyCar race, his third time on the front row this season.

Carlos Munoz No.34 Honda

Carlos Munoz No.34 Honda

All cars went out very quickly, with Rookie Carlos Munoz No.34 Cinsay AndrettiTV.com Andretti Autosport Honda the last out of the chute.

The official IndyCar comment on the unexpected two-day schedule for the IndyCar race at the three-day Sonoma Raceway weekend: It’s to shorten test time. For the 2015 schedule, which will be released sometime after the end of this season, there will be more two-day weekends like next weekend’s season finale MAVTV race at Auto Club Speedway, which will be preceded by an all day open IndyCar test.

In the morning Warm-Up for the Indy Lights Series presented by Cooper Tires,
Rookie Luis Razia No.7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian was fastest at 1:28.4565. For the race, Championship Contender Gabby Chaves No.5 Belardi Auto Racing starts second behind Rookie Jack Harvey No.42 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian. Even if Harvey wins Sunday’s race, Chaves could win the Championship based on all his runner-up positions. Stay tuned.

Chevrolet's Director of Racing, Mark Kent interviewed by RACER's Marshall Pruett, being filmed by Robin Miller

Chevrolet’s Director of Racing, Mark Kent interviewed by RACER’s Marshall Pruett, being filmed by Robin Miller

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Director of Chevrolet Racing, Mark Kent, and Derrick Walker, IndyCar Director of Competition, met with the Media to discuss Chevrolets third consecutive Verizon IndyCar Series Manufacturer Championship since Chevrolet came back to the open wheel series after a seven-year hiatus.

Kent said “It has not been easy, and it’s really the result of great partners, great teams, great drivers, and great technical partners. It’s just like everything General Motors does, we’re in racing to win, and we try to develop the best race cars. We’re also trying to develop the best production cars in the world, so we always strive to do the best, and we’re looking forward to next season and trying to make it four in a row.”

Walker said “There could be some tweaks to the 2015 Mfr Championship,” and Kent added “We really like the current formula so I don’t know who’s going to be in that meeting with you, but we really like the way it is right now, Derrick.”

Chevrolet and Honda both now use twin-turbo charged direct-injected V6 engines – the power plant that Chevrolet has had from the onset, and Honda this year when mandated by IndyCar.

Also this year the number of allowed engine changes during the season was decreased to four, to reward durability and reliability as well as performance. The changes came about after many conversations between IndyCar, Chevrolet and Honda, and what we all wanted to do. We all wanted to achieve a championship that actually meant what it was all about. Ten points to the manufacturer for each of its four engines going the limit of 2500 miles.Those going over their allotment were penalized ten points. Walker said “The system would be tweaked between seasons, but it’s a fine line between regulating performance and reliability. It a little bit more just to try and make it even closer to what we need. But it’s tough to draw the line and say one actually constitutes the final result, but I think the formula we’ve got right now, Chevrolet certainly did what it took to actually win under those circumstances, and performance and reliability were what it was all about in my opinion.”

Kent added “I think our reliability of the Chevrolet engine has been one of the key elements of us clinching this championship here today.”

Kent was proud of the fact that a driver from every Chevrolet organization has won at least one race. “We won our first race and we won the last race, but in between it’s been an absolute dog fight. Honda has been a very formidable opponent.”

Kent agreed with Walker that both Chevrolet and Honda welcome any other engine manufacturer, and on the other hand, Walker said “Underneath the surface, there is a fierce competition between manufacturers.”

Walker said that “There are ongoing discussions with two manufacturers, but anyone joining the series is a long way out. It takes a two-year ramp up. We have to make our product attractive so they want to participate.”

Having won the Manufacturer’s Championship. now Kent is absolutely looking forward to Chevrolet’s chances to also clinch the Driver’s Championship. “Absolutely. If you look at our score cards every year, we race to win championships. We race to win the manufacturer’s championship and the driver’s championship. Teams put a lot of faith in us as an engine manufacturer, so if we can in turn help them out with the driver’s championship, it’s a great feeling. We hope we come out of here with a big enough points lead that I can give my ulcer a break here and not have to worry about it between now and next weekend.”

SHAKY SUNDAY

IndyCar Paddock

Well, the good news that Sonoma Raceway in Northern California’s Wine Country survived the early morning 6.0/6.1 magnitude earthquake centered a few miles away. The track has surveyed the facilities and it’s all systems go, as planned.

Some spectators may have a bit of a detour getting to the track as some roads are closed, such as parts of #37 and #121, both major arteries to the track.

Nearby Napa, Vallejo and American Canyon suffered physical damage including broken water and gas mains resulting in fires and no way to put them out, lots of things falling and breaking, and a few injuries in facilities.

Many of the teams and drivers and other race participants were staying on the Vallejo/Napa side of the track and felt the quake much more. Team Penske gathered in its parking lot after everything including a well-stocked bar off-loaded to the ground. For some of the non-locals, this was their first earthquake, and quite unsettling to say the least.

The United States Geological Survey said this earthquake is first big one in the Bay Area since the really big 6.9 Loma Prieto Earthquake in Oakland in 1989. That explains why this is the first earthquake I’ve felt since that fateful day.

Sunday’s Sonoma Raceway’s schedule calls for Warm-Ups for Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires and Verizon IndyCar Series, followed by the second Indy Lights Grand Prix of Sonoma Race, the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma IndyCar Race, and the second SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge Race.

Saturday saw the season’s finale for two of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series – Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda and Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires. Both series had exciting races to the finish for the championship.

RC Enerson leading Florian Latorre. Photo by Jeff Burghardt

RC Enerson leading Florian Latorre. Photo by Jeff Burghardt

RC Enerson No.7 Team E Racing won the USF2000 Race #1, while title contender Florian Latorre No.10 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing had contact while the two were dicing. Enerson continued and Latorre retired.

Latorre had a comback in Race #2 by winning, ahead of Enerson, and collected the title championship as well. The races were much more exciting than I have time to elaborate.

Jack Harvey of England won the Indy Lights race, his third in four races. He races for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and is now second by 12 points behind Championship leader, Gabby Chaves, who finished second in that race.

Spencer Pigot

Spencer Pigot

The most exciting series to follow was the Pro Mazda Series, which had two contenders going for the brass ring and that goes with including incentives to facilitate graduation to the Indy Lights Series, the next step of the Mazda Road to Indy. Spencer Pigot No.7 Juncos Racing was leading the points ahead of Rookie Scott Hargrove No.3 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.

In Mazda Race #1 Pigot and Hargrove were racing/dicing, with Hargrove leading and Pigot second, until they had body contact. Hargrove continued, Pigot, who led a lap, did not and retired.

Spencer Pigot's No.7

Spencer Pigot’s No.7

Pigot made an amazing comeback in Race #2. He started second, had yet another contact on the first lap, involving five other cars, leading him stranded. He got restarted at the back and charged his way to fifth place. Meanwhile Leader Hargrove had mechanical problems starting on Lap 15, and he fell back and retired. Pigot’s Juncos Racing teammate, Jose Gutierrez won the race, and Pigot won the championship.

The fog mostly lifted by the time the first race cars, Indy Lights, and the clouds parted to make room for the welcome sun.

It’s going to be another great day.

IndyCar Paddock

INDYCAR QUALIFYING BACKSTORY

Verizon P1 Award

Leading up to the final Fast Six qualifying run for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Sonoma Raceway’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, there was drama in the first three runs.

In the first of the two Qualifying Groups for Round One, Josef Newgarden No.67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing prevailed with a lap of 1:17.7653. The top three drivers made the 1:17′s – Ryan Briscoe No.8 UFD, and Helio Castroneves No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Fourth through sixth were Scott Dixon No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Rookies Carlos Munoz No.34 Cinsay AndrettiTV.com HVM Andretti Autosport Honda and Mikhail Aleshin No.7 SMP Racing Honda.

JPM shortcut the track and lost his fastest lap, so he missed the cut in Group One. He didn’t feel he actually did a shortcut – going over the line exiting, so Montoya rode posthaste on his scooter to Race Control. “It was very IndyCar-like. I’m not over the line, they say I’m over. There was no advantage, and they don’t always see it.” IndyCar made no adjustment in any of the qualifying times.

Simon Pagenaud No.77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda had brake problems in Group One which kept him from the pole many favored him to win.

In Group Two of Round One, the times were faster. Power led twice, in two runs, turning a 1:17.2393, and broke his (2012) existing track record of 1:17.2709. All six drivers ran in the 17′s, and the top four were faster than Newgarden’s top time in Group One.

Round Two of IndyCar qualifying saw Newgarden fastest, with a time of 1:17.2851, not as fast as Power’s qualifying record. Also making the cut were Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Castroneves, Power, and Briscoe.

Most drivers ran one hot lap, pitted and swapped for option red tires.

Castroneves drove wide and off-course on his first out lap, which negated that lap and the next one, as penalty.

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Jeff Burghart

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Jeff Burghart

The third run, Group Three for the top six from each of the first two groups saw Newgarden, Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Castroneves, Power and Briscoe advance to the final showdown – the Firestone Fast Six.

Power gambled and won by turning his pole-sitting lap on his first run. This was his fourth Verizon P1 Award this season, and back to back from last week’s pole on the Milwaukee oval. This makes 36 career poles, making him sixth on the all-time pole award list.

Second was Newgarden – matching his best-ever qualifying runs at Texas and Mid-Ohio. Dixon was third, his fifth top-five this season. Fourth through sixth were Hinchcliffe, Briscoe and Castroneves.

This weekend IndyCar TV broadcaster Jon Beekhuis will be in Race Control as a Race Steward. This is part of IndyCar’s new 2014 program to include a Race Steward as part of the ‘independent steward’ triumvirate comprised of IndyCar Race Director, Beaux Barfield, and IndyCar Vice President of Competition, Brian Barnhart. When warranted, these three adjudicate competitor on-track sporting infractions.

Aleshin and Marco Andretti No.27 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda had an incident in Group One, which went to Steward’s Review. The young Russian had led briefly during the session, but ended up sixth, while Andretti missed the cut in P7. Upon review, the Stewards took no action.

Beekhuis will also be in Race Control for the MAVTV 500 season’s finale at Auto Club Speedway next weekend.

Derrick Walker

Derrick Walker

Derrick Walker, IndyCar Director of Competition, said the program will be expanded next season, with IndyCar Series competitors able to nominate drivers and independent stewards. They will be ‘drilled on sporting rules and regulations, and have no affiliation with any of the competitors.’

The NBCSN TV broadcasters this weekend are Brian Till as host, with Paul Tracy and Sam Hornish Jr also in the booth. Pit Reporters are Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Kelli Stavast and Robin Miller.

Before qualifying, Will Power was asked what was it about the track that made him so good at Sonoma. He said “We’ll see after qualifying how good I am/how good the track is for me.

“It’s a very technical track, very difficult to drive. I’ve definitely had good runs here for sure in the race, for whatever reason. Sometimes I’m on pace, and last year I had good restarts.

Power starts on the pole for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, aired live on NBCSN at 1 pm PDT/4 pm EDT.

POWER TO THE POLE

Will Power and Pole  Award.  Photo by Pablo Matamoras

Will Power and Pole Award. Photo by Pablo Matamoras

Will Power is on pole for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma Verizon IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway, despite losing his fastest lap for going off course. His qualifying lap of 1:17.4126/110.912 mph wasn’t as fast as his earlier lap, nor even his qualifying record set in 2012.

On the front row with Power is Josef Newgarden in No.67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda.

Third through sixth were Scott Dixon No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, James Hinchcliffe No.25 UFD Andretti Autosport Honda, Ryan Briscoe No.8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Helio Castroneves No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Jeff Burghart

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Jeff Burghart

The top Rookie was Carlos Munoz No.34 Cinsay AndrettiTV.com/HVM Andretti Autosport Honda, who qualified ninth.

Power said There definitely is less pressure starting up front. It’s the best possible position to win the race. You think about what you can control and just go about the race.”

Newgarden, definitely starting better than his two previous runs at Sonoma, said “This is my worst track, up to now. It’s very difficult to understand this track. The feedback to the engineer is so critical here, and I’m getting better at it. It’s so cool to see the progress.”

Dixon prefers the three-day IndyCar format for Sonoma. “No time for lunch and a nap” with this weekend’s schedule. Dixon has been in the Fast Six 49 times, and is the only driver to have completed every single race lap at Sonoma Raceway.

Hinch, in his eighth Fast Six run this season, said his qualifying run was “a record-setting improvement from my practice session. I spun twice on the same lap, five times in practice, and I’ve been backwards in Turn Seven three times. We’ve got a great team. My thanks to the Andretti teammates for their help. We just put our heads down and didn’t let it get to us. A clear lap is always good, but if you run into one of five guys in a six-car session, then something’s wrong. The wind caught me out a different way than Helio.”

Briscoe said “Power feels like this track owes him (after his huge crash). He’s had an amazing partnership with his race engineer, Dave Faustino. You know coming here he’s the one to go after. This race is kinda like maintenance, and Fontana is the championship.”.

Castroneves said “I want to try and make Roger (Penske, team owner) happy. Our team is having a good day. Unfortunately the (significant) wind shift caused me to have an off last lap. I pushed a little bit harder to pull off a miracle. We know what we need to do for tomorrow.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who qualified tenth in No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda was disappointed that the big gamble they made on setups didn’t work, but feel they can make it up Sunday.

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoras

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoras

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoras

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoras

Power won last year’s Sonoma IndyCar race. Sunday IndyCars half-hour Warm-Up is set for 10 am PDT, with the 85-lap race set to start at 1:40 pm PDT. The live NBCSN broadcast begins at 1 pm PDT/4 pm EDT.

DANCING WITH HELIO

Helio Castroneves. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Helio Castroneves. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Helio Castroneves was fastest driver for the second Verizon IndyCar Series practice Saturday afternoon in his No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet with a time of 1:18.6582. That time would have placed him eleventh in the morning session.

Ryan Briscoe in No.8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was second. He said “The car was running well, and we have a lot of Japanese fans here this weekend. It’s going to be down to one good lap on the tires for qualifying

Ryan Briscoe. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ryan Briscoe. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Third in practice two, and overall for the day so far, was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was fastest in the morning session in No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda. His speed in the morning session was 110.381 mph. Fourth and fifth in P2 were Scott Dixon’s No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, and Sonoma qualifying track record holder, Will Power in No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

The fastest Rookie was Carlos Munoz in No.34 Cinsay AndrettiTV.com HVM Andretti Autosport Honda, in eleventh place.

James Hinchcliff. Photo by Jeff Burghart

James Hinchcliff. Photo by Jeff Burghart

James Hinchcliffe had a moment, but he continued on after his spin.

Only Rookie Carlos Huertas was faster in the afternoon session, in No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Often times drivers in a variety of series find Sonoma Raceway getting slower as the day progresses. As with the morning session, the same drivers drove the fewest/most laps. Generally speaking, those drivers highest in the standings went out the latest and ran the fewest laps, which just so happened to put them up top.

Rookie Mikhail Aleshin

Rookie Mikhail Aleshin

Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato

In-between the two IndyCar practice sessions, all the drivers sat at tables in the IndyCar Fan Village, for the long queues of fans getting up close and personal with their faves.

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IndyCar Driver Autograph Session

Qualifying for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma is 4:35 pm PDT.