SIMON’S SWEET SONOMA

Simon kissing trophy

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Pole sitter and points leader Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet won the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway, and the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Drivers’ Championship. He made it look so easy, leading the most laps except when recycling through pit stops. This was the fifth win this year for the amiable Frenchman, and the first victory with the HP sponsor. He had seven Push To Pass opportunities left…and ran out of fuel in Turn Seven on his victory lap, giving the Holmatro Safety Crew first crack at congratulations.

Pagenaud Leaping

Pagenaud drinking

Team Penske group

Victory Circle photos by Pablo Matamoros.

Sunday’s victory racked up a lot of stats – Pagenaud’s ninth overall win, the 187th victory for Team Penske; and Pagenaud’s championship was the 14th for Team Penske, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Pagenaud led a series high 406 laps this season, and led laps in 12 of the 16 races, the most of any IndyCar driver this year. With that stat for the Sonoma race, he picked up another Bonus point, giving him 659 total.

Graham Rahal & Steve Page

Graham Rahal & Steve Page. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

An energized Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’ Shake Honda finished second, 3.2523 seconds behind. He finished fifth in the standings, with 484 points

JPM & Steve Page

Juan Pablo Montoya & Steve Page. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Pagenaud’s teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was third – in what might be his last race with Penske. Montoya is one of the players in a game of dominoes among the IndyCar teams. JPM finished eighth in the standings with 433 points.

Fourth was Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Honda, passing Rossi at the last minute. It was a nice finish for his continuing sponsor, although he said he wasn’t on the podium so it could have been better. RHR finished twelfth in the standings with 428 points.

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Fifth was Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, who was the top finishing Rookie and came into the race leading the Rookie standings, giving him the 2016 Rookie Championship. He was fourth until the very last when he ran out of fuel. He finished eleventh overall in the standings with 430 points. Rossi skillfully deflected any post-race bating by Robin Miller about being on Roger Penske’s radar for next season.

Simon and Roger

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Team owner, Roger Penske said “I can’t tell you how good our team is. We focused and had the luxury of having the race in hand and didn’t have to fight for it.”

Pagenaud said when he knew the championship was his to lose, he “Unleashed The Beast.” He also admitted ten laps from the end he got a hunger attack.

Chevrolet Mfr Spokesmen

Michael Stouffer, Chevrolet Marketing Manager; Mark Kent, Chevrolet Director of Racing; and Paul Ray, President Ilmor Engineering

Chevrolet won the Manufacturer’s Championship, with 14 victories in 16 races, with 1814 points. This is its fifth straight Championship since rejoining the IndyCar Series. Honda had 1710 points. Mark Kent, Chevrolet Director of Racing said “It’s been a great season, a very good year of competition for Chevrolet. We’re very proud of the opportunity to compete in this great series.” Paul Ray, CEO of Ilmor Engineering said “Whilst the rules don’t allow us to change a huge amount, it doesn’t mean to say that you can’t keep tweaking on the bits we can change. We’ll be testing engines on track as soon as we’re allowed to in January with the new specifications. All we can hope for is more of the same for next year.” Michael Stouffer, Chevrolet Marketing Manager said “It’s been a big year for Chevrolet marketing. All of our platforms have been pretty successful. It opens up all motorsport platforms, a lot of different tracks, a lot of different partnerships we can have. We plan to continue with those. We’re actually going through our activation plans right now, what 2017 will look like.”

Sixth was Josef Newgarden/No.21 Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet, from is tenth grid position. He’s considered the lead domino in the game of musical seats in the IndyCar paddock.

Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet finished seventh but did take third in the Championship, behind Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. This made it 1-2-3 for Team Penske. Castroneves said “Congratulations to Simon and an honor to be working with him. It was a dream team this year.”

Eighth through tenth were Marco Andretti/No27 Snapple Honda, Charlie Kimball/No83 Tresiba Chevrolet, and Sebastien Bourdais/No.11 Team Hydroxycut-KVSH Racing.

Power Parade

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Title contender Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was running second for the first third of the race before experiencing heartbreaking disappointment. Power lost …. power. He couldn’t get out of first gear and then the car was in anti-stall mode and he limped to a stop on the fastest part of the race track in Turn Ten, causing the only caution of the race. He finished twentieth, eight laps down but held onto second place in the standings, followed by Castroneves.

Power said “It was obviously disappointing to have the gear box problem. It still was a strong season. I won a 500-mile race, not the right one, but one. I won on all kinds of tracks, and on two tracks where I’ve never won before. So it was a good year, and it was a 1-2-3 finish for the team. And I got another second (place in championship.) To win ten races and eleven poles as a team, out of 16, it’s great position to be in as a driver. So blessed to have ended up with Chevy. They do everything the right way.”

Grandstands

Parachute Jumper

First Race Lap

Pre Race and First Lap Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

The first half of the race wasn’t exactly the most exciting IndyCar race this season. Not much on-track passing. It was more like a Penske Parade with the Captain’s drivers running at least 1-2-3. There were five lead changes in the race among three drivers, due to pit stops: Pagenaud led three times or 76 laps; Castroneves twice for seven laps; and Rahal once for two laps. There were no penalties, speeding tickets or Steward’s Actions, although early on there was one review of a first lap incident in Turn Seven involving Mikhail Aleshin/No.7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Honda and Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chevrolet. The drivers had a meeting of sorts, but both recovered and continued. Aleshin finished eleventh, where he started; and Kanaan finished thirteenth, where he started.

Almost simultaneously with Power’s problem, Rookie Spencer Pigot/No.20 Samsung/Fuzzy Vodka/ECR Chevrolet pulled off mechanical at Pit Exit uphill into Turn One; and Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda retired in the pits with overheating issues.

There was further drama on Lap 40 when Dixon pitted with loss of communication problem. He pitted while the team changed electronics in his helmet. Dixon finished seventeenth, after running strong.

The temperature was 96 degrees F for the start of the race and 119 degrees F on the race track. As the race progressed, the temperature dropped incrementally, and was down to 90F for Victory Circle and dropping.

Borg Warner Trophy

Local driver, Rossi from nearby Nevada City, won the Indianapolis 500 as a Rookie. He didn’t get to keep the famed Borg Warner Trophy, but did get a Baby Borg with his sterling silver likeness just like on the big trophy. The Trophy resides in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with occasional forays to special places of interest. A winner can request a visit, and Rossi asked that the trophy join him for his hometown Constitution Day Parade a week ago, where he was the Grand Marshal. The logistics are mind boggling. Briefly, the trophy is dismantled into its three pieces, carefully boxed and driven by two drivers non-stop to its destination. The trophy is 5’4 3/4″ tall with the base – the same height as IndyCar driver, Kanaan, and it weighs 110 pounds – less than TK. The 81-year old trophy is now worth $3.5 million.

OFFICIAL GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA RACE RESULTS
1. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
2. (5) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
3. (3) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (6) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
5. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
6. (10) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
7. (2) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
8. (14) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
9. (12) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 85, Running
10. (9) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 85, Running
11. (11) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 85, Running
12. (20) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
13. (13) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 85, Running
14. (15) Takuma Sato, Honda, 85, Running
15. (16) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 85, Running
16. (18) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 85, Running
17. (7) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 85, Running
18. (17) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 84, Running
19. (22) RC Enerson, Honda, 84, Running
20. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 77, Running
21. (21) Conor Daly, Honda, 36, Mechanical
22. (19) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 35, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 101.181 mph
Time of Race: 2:00:12.9424
Margin of victory: 3.2523 seconds
Cautions: 1 for 3 laps
Lead changes: 5 among 3 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Pagenaud 1-15
Castroneves 16
Pagenaud 17-60
Rahal 61-62
Castroneves 63-68
Pagenaud 69-85

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Pagenaud 659, Power 532, Castroneves 504, Newgarden 502, Rahal 484, Dixon 477, Kanaan 461, Montoya 433, Kimball 433, Munoz 432.

Podium finishers

Podium finishers. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

SONOMA SCENE

Sunday Paddock

What a difference a day makes. Sunday dawned warmed and sunny at Sonoma Raceway. By the time the Verizon IndyCar drivers took to the track at 11:30am, it was already mid eighties, with no breeze. The IndyCar paddock was full of fans, checking out the cars, hanging around outside the Drivers’ Meeting hoping for a sight or autograph, taking in all the displays, going on guided tours, listening to live music, riding the Ferris Wheel, eating and quaffing all the local cuisine and enjoying local adult beverages. And that’s not counting the racing. Besides IndyCars, there are races for the Formula Car Challenge Series and two races for Pirelli World Challenge – GT’s and GTS. Talk about sensory overload.

The half-hour Sunday IndyCar practice was a shake-down, warm up exercise. The title contenders took it easy, and no one was going for speeds – nearly two seconds or more slower than qualifying. All 22 cars were on track, and the number of laps per driver were double digit, ranging from 14-20. The session was all green, with no dramas.

Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing was on top for much of the firs half of the session, but in the end the lead changed several times, with Josef Newgarden/No.21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet was on top at 1:17.6431. Second through fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Takuma Sato/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda; Charlie Kimball/No.83 Treslba Chevrolet; and the top rookie, Alexander Rossi/No.93 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda.

Championship contenders Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet and Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske each ran 18 laps, with Pagenaud in eighteenth and Power in twenty-first position.As said by their teammate, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske, “Practice doesn’t pay money.”

Overall for the three practice sessions, Marco Andretti/No.27 Snapple remains the fastest driver, and all but Castroneves kept their third Practice time as their fastest.

After he got out of the car, Power said he thinks the Black tires will be the favored tires in the race.

Conor Daly

IndyCar released the Tire Designation List for the race, and all but one driver will start the race on the Red/Alternate tire. The lone driver starting on the Black/Primary tire is Rookie Conor Daly/No.19 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda

With Sonoma being the last race of the 2016 IndyCar season, Silly Season is in full swing. Lots of rumors of who is going where. The smart money is on waiting until after Sunday to start serious speculating as most players are unavailable or genuinely not making the decision until after the season. There is, however, one rumor that has gained a lot of momentum – Chip Ganassi Racing moving to the Honda camp next season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Michaels Andretti & Parra

One player is now out of the equation. Michael Andretti of Andretti Autosport and his long-time driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay confirmed Sunday that RHR, DHL and Andretti Autosport will be partners through the 2020 season. Hunter-Reay has been driving with DHL as his sponsor since 2010, and it’s been a primary sponsor since 2011 and will continue as such. RHR will be driver and brand ambassador. Andretti and DHL Express Americas CEO, Michael Parra, signed the contracts Sunday in the press conference.

The Sunday schedule started with IndyCar two-seater rides in the several special cars, with drivers Mario Andretti, Davey Hamilton, Indy Car/Indy Lights drivers Zack Veach and Gabby Chaves as pilots with the lucky guests. Some media got rides Friday afternoon in those cars.

Zack Veach & GabyChaves

Zack Veach & GabyChaves

A special IndyCar two-seater driver/ride was with IndyCar driver, James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, driving a tricked-out two seater looking like his race car, gave a ride to Sharma Burgess, his dancing partner on Dancing With The Stars. The video is on YouTube. She loved it.

Hinch has been busy between doing the IndyCar test last week and this week’s season’s finale race, and working on his dance moves. The first round of the dancing was last Monday and the Team Stop And Go (Hinch/Burgess) tied for first place, doing the Fox Trot. The IndyCar community has been very supportive in helping Hinch launch a mock campaign “given the time of the year” with the goal of getting out the fan vote which is part of winning proccess. Round Two of DWST is this Monday and Tuesday on ABC TV at 8pm PT/ET. Check out Hinchtown.com and abc.com for details on how to vote after each show. #VoteHinch. It was the most popular hashtag of the first show.

James Hinchcliffe

Hinchcliffe met with the media Saturday morning, and while racing was part of the conference, much was devoted to his dancing life.

Regarding his 2016 racing season, he said “Coming into here, we don’t have championship goals that we may have been considering two weeks ago. It’s an all-or-nothing weekend for us. Sure, double points are nice, but we want to get that win on the board. We were so close at Texas obviously. Weren’t able to pull that one off. We’re kind of flat out going for the win here at Sonoma.

“We take a lot of positives from this season. I’m still rankling from the penalties (at Texas and Watkins Glen most recently.) Not the championship weekend goals we had two weeks ago after the penalties, so just going flat out for the win. Qualifying is a lottery. The track here is so difficult. The grip is so low. The tires last exactly one lap, maybe even less than a full lap, to be fair. So you’re going to see a very interesting grid.
You literally get one shot. It’s almost like playing roulette. You’re going to go out there, do one lap, and see where it lands on. That’s a huge ask for the drivers certainly.”

This season has been full of changes and challenges for the affable Canadian. Hinchcliffe riffed.

Among the changes this season: “On TV a lot more. On various TV shows, such as Celebrity Family Feud with Team IndyCar Drivers, which they won against the Victoria Secrets Angels. Then the invite to Dancing With the Starts. “DWST snowballed after the Steve Harvey show. It’s a very different kind of nerves for DWST. I’ve been racing 20 years. I have a fair amount of experience. I’ve been through pretty much everything that could happen on a racetrack at one point or another.

“I hadn’t been through anything on a dance floor, good, bad or indifferent. There were a lot of unknowns for certain. Doing it not only in front of a live studio audience, but a live television audience, something I’ve been doing for two weeks versus something I’ve been doing for two decades.

“It was very nerve wracking. But I have an incredible partner in Sharna Burgess. She kept me calm. We were joking literally right up until the count came down. We almost missed the start of the song because we were cracking jokes on the dance floor. I didn’t see the video package leading into it. I don’t remember what we were joking about. We were joking about something.

“I honestly don’t remember much of the dance at all. I just remember ending and thinking, ‘That actually went pretty well.’ I was floored by the scores and the judges’ comments. Couldn’t have gone any better.

“Problem is we set the bar high and people will expect good dances. Not sure we can repeat that.

“I have never danced in any appropriate way before. Other ways but not pretty. It wasn’t even on my radar. I’ve learned its fascinating. Did get tips from Helio, more about process rather than actual dancing.”

Comparing racing to dancing: “What certainly helps, the concentration is a huge thing. In football, plays last about 10 seconds. That’s kind of what those athletes are really trained to be focused on. It’s hyper, super intensive for that short burst of time.

“When you’re getting into dances that are one, one and a half, two minutes long, that’s longer than they’re used to having to concentrate. We do this for three hours. So the concentration side of it is not very difficult for us.

“Running around a dance room, yes, it gets the cardio going. Again, some of these athletes are good over short sprints, but if you do it longer, that’s not what their body is trained for. We do this for three hours. That’s not an issue for us.

“One of the most fascinating things that Sharna talked about is how receptive I am to small inputs. When you’re driving a racecar, the racecar is talking to you. Every part of your body is getting some sort of input from the racecar. Everything that’s touching the car, your back, your bum, your head, your legs, your hands, everything is getting some sort of input. We are making instantaneous, very minute adjustments based on what the car is doing.

“Dance, you can do the same thing. Obviously, I’m leading as the male or whatever. But let’s be real, she’s driving this car. She said that when she does something to try and adjust me or taps me on my elbow or shoulder, she said not only do it recognize it and feel it, I adjust instantly. She said the only other partner she’s ever had that could do that was her partner last year Nyle who was deaf. He was just so much more in tune with his other senses he could make these instant adjustments.

“I explained that’s what you do in a racecar. When you go through a corner, you don’t just go through, turn and come out. When you turn, you’re making miniature adjustments that the human eye can’t see, but we know we’re making. We’re taking every sense we have in our body and adjusting accordingly. That has been a huge asset on the dance floor.

“Focus and travel goes with my lifestyle, so I was prepared. Scheduling and logistics a bit hectic. It will be easier after this weekend. Physical and concentration aspects. Concentration is huge. Ball has very short attention span focus. We do this for three hours on a track. I’m receptive to small going said Sharma. Instantaneous adjustments. But be real – she’s driving this car. We taking all our sensory input and adjusting accordingly Monday we’re doing a Latin dance. Paso Doble.

Why he’s doing this, in his new role showing two faces of IndyCar

“For me, in a lot of ways, doing Dancing with the Stars was to help spread the IndyCar message. That was honestly one of my reasons, bigger reasons, for doing it. I’m such a fan of this sport. I have been since I was a kid. I’m now in a super fortunate position to be involved in it and essentially in a sense be a spokesperson for it. I want to tell the story. I want to show people how cool this sport really is. Any opportunity I get to do that, I’m all in.

I mean, yes, it does end up benefitting me. The better the series does, as a person involved in the series, the better I could potentially do.

Really for me it’s about spreading the message. This is my family. This is my sport. The more that people learn about what we’re doing here, the more people are going to enjoy it because I don’t know anyone that comes that doesn’t enjoy their time here. That just benefits everyone here and everyone that I love and I work with.”

Vote 4 Hinch!

SONOMA SHOWDOWN

Simon Pagenaud

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Verizon IndyCar driver, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet, led the formidable Team Penske to a 1-2-3-4 sweep of the Firestone Fast Six qualifying session Saturday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway. His lap of 1:16.2565/112.594 mph was a new track record, and his second of the afternoon. Pagenaud went even faster in Round One – 1:16.2530, and that is the lap which will hold up as the new official qualifying track record. The pole gives him a bonus point, stretching his gap to 44 points ahead of title contender and teammate, Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

Second through sixth were Helio Castroneves/No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power, Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’Shake Honda, and Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Honda.

The top Rookie was Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, who qualified eighth behind Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Chevrolet.

For the second time this year, Team Penske again qualified 1-2-3-4, putting bookends on the season: they also did so at the season’s opener race at St. Petersburg.

Saturday’s pole position was the ninth overall in Pagenaud’s IndyCar career, and seventh this season, the most of any IndyCar driver in one season since 2011 when it was his teammate, Power, had eight pole positions. Pagenaud’s front row seat marked the 245th pole for Team Penske.

Simon Pagenaud

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Afterwards, Pagenaud couldn’t stop smiling. Gone was the serious look. “It’s awesome. I’m so proud of the HP Chevrolet team. What a dream season, seven poles, I mean it’s unbelievable.” He said he didn’t think about the bonus point during qualifying. “No, that is the most enjoyable day. Especially when you do one lap qualifying because the tires here they get so beat up by the track. The tires are awesome, but it’s just there is so much power in the cars and the hairpins and you just murder the rear. So you only have one real lap to do it, so you’ve got to put it all together in that one lap. That is what I call the animal instincts and you don’t think you just go. This is the best moment when you can drive this way.”

Castroneves was reservedly bubbly in the post conference. “Man, that was so close! The Hitachi Chevy has been fast all weekend and we showed it again today in qualifying. We felt good with our approach and the car was really consistent. I made just a little mistake and that probably cost us in the end because Simon was so fast, especially on red tires. Congratulations to Simon – that is good for him in the championship – and what a great job by Team Penske to qualify 1-2-3-4. It just shows how well we are working together.”

Power was a bit bemused in the post conference. “We were just not quite on the pace every round, basically. Just didn’t quite have it. Can’t really put my finger on why, will have to look at the data, but just, yeah, it wasn’t right on it. Kind of been the story all weekend; we’ve kind of been there, but not right there.

“That’s all I could do in qualifying, that was everything I had and the car had. It’s a long race. I think it’s going to be a race of degradation. It’s going to be really interesting the way the tires go.

“Last thing we need now is a straightforward race because Simon will be tough to beat if that’s the case. Honestly, I need to win the race to win the championship, and he has to have a bad day.”

Usually the Fast Six drivers come to a joint conference, but with having two title contenders, the practice was altered to avoid overwhelming the drivers and media. Rahal said on TV “I don’t think any session was smooth for us so far, but to come out of qualifying the top Honda is something that makes us very proud; particularly since the Andretti team has been so strong here this weekend. It was nice to beat them out there. We’re fifth and have four Penskes ahead of us. My guys have worked very hard; we’re the little team that can. Obviously we’ve got championship contenders in front of us, we’ve got to be smart about what we’re doing tomorrow but we’re here to win. I’m not going to sit around and wait for someone else to do it. We’ll push as hard as we can and hopefully we can get Honda, PennGrade, United Rentals and the rest of our sponsors in Victory Lane.”

RHR, also interviewed on TV, was not as pleased as he wanted. “We made the (Firestone) Fast Six, but we’re pretty disappointed with the result. We just missed a little bit with strategy and timing of our runs, and had some issues during the run that kept us from achieving the time that we had hoped to get for the DHL team. I don’t think we showed our full potential, but sixth is good starting spot. I just think we could have been quite a bit better.”

Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

One driver not heard from – publicly – was Montoya. He has been mostly unavailable all weekend. His later quote was “We had a really good day today and we knew we had a shot at it. I could just put the gas down in a couple of corners because the car had a little oversteer, especially in (Turn 7). But overall I am happy with it. It’s nice to see Penske sweep the front two rows. I know we did it in St. Pete, but didn’t start that way after Will couldn’t race. It’s neat to be a part of.”

James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was understandably disappointed that he didn’t make it past the first round. He thought his repaired car was fine following his crew’s thrashing after Hinch’s accident during morning practice. Hinch said it confirmed what he said in his morning press conference about there only being one lap, or less, to get a good time on a set of tires. The Canadian driver said he thought he was fine coming out of the Carousel, but had an unexplained bobble or misstep in Turn Seven. He will start twentieth.

Scott DixonScott Dixon

Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Dixon, the 2015 IndyCar Champion, has won twice at Sonoma. His crew had only ten minutes to beaver away between Qualifying Rounds One and two to tighten up a brake rotor. He missed out on making the Top Six by the narrowest of margins – .0032 seconds, in seventh position, behind Hunter-Reay. “We had some major vibrations on the qualifying run with the black tires, and then when we switched to the red tires it got even worse. I was actually surprised we were able to get through to (Segment 2). Overall we’ve been struggling with overall grip. The times are just so close. The Verizon IndyCar Series is just so close and cut throat these days. You can miss by just a little and be on the outside looking in.”

It’s not just the on-track performance which makes difference in knock-out qualifying, it’s about strategy also. When do you pit for a new set of tires in the Second Round, how long do you wait before going out so you can have clean air to run, and really crucial – what tires do you run in each session.

With only six minutes for the last round – the Firestone Fast Six, tire strategy is critical. Castroneves ran his first lap as timed – on Sticker Alternate/Red/Soft tires, and it was the fastest overall – at that point. The other five drivers, including Pagenaud, went out on scuffed Reds for the last run – saving Sticker Blacks for the race, and his last lap was the flyer, on a second set of Scuffed Reds. Those five drivers all set their best lap on their last lap, on a second set of tires. Three ran Scuffed Reds, while Power used Sticker Blacks.

Discussing tire strategy post-qualifying, Pagenaud said Qualifying was about preparing the car for the red Firestone tires, which we know I’m always more comfortable on those tires so I can always extract a little bit more from myself. It’s very gratifying (to beat teammate Castroneves, who was on sticker Reds), but the biggest thing is how good the car has been through the whole qualifying session. We talked about it this morning in practice and we have been working on making the car as good as it could before the Reds. It was always about guessing, we don’t get to test the red Firestone tires. Every time we put them on it’s a dream.”

Team Penske Anniversary Logo

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

OFFICIAL QUALIFYING RESULTS
1. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:16.2565 (112.594)
2. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:16.4134 (112.362)
3. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 01:16.5400 (112.177)
4. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:16.6659 (111.992)
5. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:16.7149 (111.921)
6. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:16.9132 (111.632)
7. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 01:16.5700 (112.133)
8. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:16.5840 (112.112)
9. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:16.6115 (112.072)
10. (21) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:16.8142 (111.776)
11. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 01:16.8909 (111.665)
12. (83) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 01:16.9627 (111.561)
13. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 01:16.9481 (111.582)
14. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:16.9288 (111.610)
15. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:16.9661 (111.556)
16. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 01:17.0314 (111.461)
17. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 01:17.0823 (111.387)
18. (8) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:17.1310 (111.317)
19. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:17.3052 (111.066)
20. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:17.1926 (111.228)
21. (18) Conor Daly, Honda, 01:17.6771 (110.535)
22. (19) RC Enerson, Honda, 01:17.3264 (111.036)

SONOMA SNAPPLE

Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The fog soon lifted Saturday morning at Sonoma Raceway for Day Two of the Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma weekend, featuring Verizon IndyCar Series, Pirelli World Challenge Series and the Formula Car Challenge presented by Goodyear Series. While the two support race groups had cooler grayer conditions, the sun was out for the late morning 45-minute practice for IndyCars.

Marco Andretti/No.27 Snapple Honda was the top IndyCar driver in Practice Three at 1:16.3052/112.522 mph. It was on his fifth of nine laps that he turned his fastest time. It was warm and sunny, blue, mostly cloudless skies, with the ambient temperature at 73 degrees F with almost no breeze.

Second was Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, who only ran eight laps. Ryan Hunter-Ready/No.28 DHL Honda was third, with 12 laps.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Carlos Munoz

Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Chevrolet; Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 Honda; and Carlos Munoz/No.26 hhgregg Honda. Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

Fourth through sixth were Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske; Carlos Munoz/No.26 hhgregg Honda; and Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet. Top Rookie, Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, finished seventh overall.

Ten cars went faster Saturday morning than the fastest time set Saturday afternoon by Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. While nearly all drivers turned double digit laps, but none more than 19. Except for Castroneves, all drivers were faster Saturday than Friday.

The IndyCar session was interrupted by a seven plus minute Red Flag when Josef Newgarden/No.21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet nose his car into the uphill 2, and then again for James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports two minutes from the end of the finish. The teams were given one more lap after the session went green. Both drivers are unhurt.

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Newgarden was scrubbing off speed when he hit left front into the tires, so the damage didn’t appear to be as serious as it could have been. But there is only a three hour break before qualifying, so his team will have to hustle. Newgarden drew Group One for Qualifying, eighth car of eleven.

Hinch Crash

Hinch crash closeup

Hinch running

Hinchliffe’s accident photos by Pablo Matamoros.

With Hinchcliffe’s accident, the damage appeared to be more serious, as he hit the concrete wall hard exiting the apex of Turn Eleven. The car just seemed to snap, so it’s not known what happened there. The damage was to the left front wing. Suspension damage or injury to the left rear has yet to be assessed, so his crew will also be beavering away during lunch. At least the Mayor of Hinchtown drew Group Two for Qualifying, eighth of eleven cars. That should buy his crew a bit more time.

Penske Menard Pagenaud Interview

Roger Penske, John Menard & Simon Pagenaud

Team Penske announced that Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet will be sponsored by Menards for ten races next season, including the 101th running of the Indianapolis 500. This is an expansion of the 2016 sponsorship which originally was to be for three races including the two May Indianapolis races, once of which Pagenaud won (again) – the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the road course. That evolved to five races for 2016. Roger Penske said “The 2017 partnership is for ten races as Team Penske has other commitments with Hewlett Packard and PPG, but other sponsors will be associates, so we try to tie it together as one unit.”

Penske noted that the (bright yellow) Menards color scheme “certainly will help the other drivers know where Simon is.”

John Menard, who has sponsored many drivers American and foreign, said “This has been a fairy-tale year. It’s more pleasurable and enjoyable to be part of Roger’s team rather than trying to beat him. Winning my first race with Penske and Pagenaud at Indy certainly was great. You can’t make this up. Simon is a legend in his own time.”

It’s been ten years since Menards was in IndyCar, and he’s glad to be back. “I think IndyCar is on an upward trend now, for sure. I think that they are to be commended, the people that are running it right now, because I think they’re doing a great job.”

Menard is owner of 300 Menards home improvement stores in 14 Midwestern states. Menard said “We’re going to try to make a store connection. I don’t know if he’s going to go for the bobblehead idea very much, but we’re working on it. Some pretty fertile brains working on some fun promotions.” Maybe Menards will start carrying kitchen equipment so Pagenaud can do in-store cooking demonstrations.

Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud

Pagenaud said “The Menards livery is special, has been around for many years, and worn by many famous drivers. That car was always fast I’m honored to be the driver, and getting our first win was important. We hit it off right away – dream relationship.”

When questioned about his choice of a foreign driver rather than an American, Menard said “We sponsored Tony Stewart – he’s almost too American. He’s triple. Gone through a couple, okay? We’ve had other American drivers. Certainly Gary Bettenhausen comes to mind as being on par with Tony. Robby Gordon. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of very talented people in Europe, as there is in Brazil, as there is in America. I think it’s great that the Indy Racing League has a variety of drivers. I think it makes it a much more interesting sport because they do.”

Regarding what number Pagenaud would run, should he win the championship, Menard said “Picking the number one would be great, but seeing it in victory circle is great.”

Penske certainly is pleased with the 2016 racing season in general, celebrating his fiftieth year in racing. In IndyCars he has drivers going for the Championship, and two of his four drivers will finish 1-2, with a third poised to finish third in the standings. Over in NASCAR, he has two cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship – Joey Logano/No.22 Ford and Brad Keselowski/No.2 Ford.

“This is a special year, no question about it. It’s hard to think that we’re sitting here with the championship really with Team Penske. We’re trying to determine is it Simon or Will. I never realized we’d get in that position. It’s an amazing feat. It just shows you the strength and depth of the team. Helio has a chance to potentially finish third if he has a good run. He looked strong yesterday, at least in the practice session.

“You put these together. 50 years is a number. Last year we didn’t really think about it. All of a sudden we’ve had a lot of notoriety. We appreciate the support of the media during our 50th year.”

As for how he wants this weekend to end, Penske smiled. “Back in my mind I know what should happen with this Championship, but I’m not going to say.”

Team Penske logo

SONOMA SWIFTIES

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The pace picked up Friday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway for the second practice session of the Verizon IndyCar Series. While no one bested the existing qualifying track record of 1:16.2597/112.589 mph set last summer by contender Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Eleven of the 22 drivers went faster than the top lap set in the morning by Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Castroneves continued to dominate the session with a lap of 1:16.6678, turning ten laps compared to the four he ran in the morning. Power and points leader, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet, were second and third. Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda continued to be the top Rookie, hovering up in fourth position before finishing fifth, behind Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Honda.

Will Power

Simon Pagenaud

Alexander Rossi

Left to Right: Will Power/No.12; Simon Pagenaud/No.22; Alexander Rossi/No.98. All photos by Pablo Matamoros.

The contenders got down to business. Power admitted they hadn’t really tried that hard in the morning session. Power had predicted after Practice One that “I think this next session is going to be telling. I think everyone is going to run a lot because around the time we’re qualifying the temperatures are going to be the same and hopefully the wind is. We’ll get more of an idea then.” He said “We were trying to save some tires. It didn’t make much sense to run.”

Pagenaud agreed. “Like Will, for us, we’re just saving tires, waiting for the conditions to be more similar to what’s going to happen over the weekend. We know the temperatures are going to rise.”

Only three drivers went faster in the morning session – Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’ Shake Honda in P16; Mikhail Aleshin/No.7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Honda in P17; and Takuma Sato/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda in P19.

Practice Two was less benign. With 11 minutes to go in the 75-minute session, the Red Flag flew. Rookie Conor Daly/No.18 laid down a smoke screen guaranteed to kill mosquitoes for a square mile. He courteously pulled out of the line coming out of the Carousel going down the drag strip to Turn Seven, pulling off next to the concrete wall. Daly was able to exit safely while the Holmatro Safety Crew came to the rescue. Down time was 6.34 minutes.

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi

A second Red Flag, with two minutes to go, brought out the Checkered Flag. Rossi pulled off to the side just past the Starter Stand on the front straight. His P5 time held. Afterwards, Rossi admitted he didn’t yet know the cause. It wasn’t running out of fuel. “I’ve done that enough.”

After the session, Castroneves met the media. “for the 50th anniversary of Team Penske, having Roger get the championship, having the championship on the 50th anniversary is just a perfect situation for Roger. We’re extremely happy, especially after last year, being so close and losing on the last one. Great recovery from the team.”

When asked about his role in the race, he said “Well, the good news is the team already clinched the championship. In my role, it’s just to cheer, Yes, good job.

Castroneves

Helio Castroneves

I feel I did contribute a little bit with that. As far as who is going to win, if it’s Will or Simon, hmm, the best man wins. It’s up to them. For us it’s great because whatever happens now, we don’t need to be involved in the situation, you know, trying to help out each other. At this point it’s just between them.

Whoever be nicer to me, I might be able to help out. It’s just the way it works, you know what I mean?

As far as my position, I actually talked to my two other drivers to see if they can sort it out, whatever happens, but if it can help out so we can finish 1-2-3 in the championship. That would be a phenomenal year, even that I don’t have the chance to win the championship.”

Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud

While some have felt the two Team Penske teammates might feel awkward competing with each other, Pagenaud did not. “No, I don’t feel awkward. I want to be the one winning for sure, and Will does, too It’s great for Team Penske to win, but I do want to get this title. couldn’t be happier to be where we’re at right now. Like I said, I’m going to embrace the weekend and enjoy it.”

Pagenaud isn’t just a pretty face or a foodie cum chef. He’s also a techie, taking the time to show a veteran journalist how to work his smart phone recorder.

Firestone Tires is celebrating the 2016 Championship in a unique fashion. Philanthropy. Four charities will each receive $5K. “Championship weekend is a perfect time to reflect upon and celebrate everything that has happened over the past season. The motorsports community is one big family and it’s a privilege to be a part of it. We wanted to take the opportunity afforded by this weekend to honor those individuals who embodied the spirit of racing and their legacies that live on through all of the great work these organizations do to help others.”

Lisa Boggs, director of Bridgestone America Motorsports announced the charities are: The Wilson Children’s Fund; The Indy Family Foundation; The Dan Wheldon Foundation and Alzheimer’s Association; and The USAC Benevolent Fund in memory of Bryan Clauson,

firestone-racing-logo

SUMMERY SONOMA

IC Paddock Parade

Sonoma Raceway is having a typical North Bay Area summer, with morning overcast shifting into sunny skies. There was a gentle breeze as the Verizon IndyCar Series cars took to the elevated road course for their first practice session of the weekend, scheduled for 75 minutes. The temperature was forecast for a high of 84, but for the late morning Practice One, it was just nice and mild. Saturday and Sunday are said to be warmer each day, reaching 95 on Sunday afternoon for the race.

Marco Andretti

Marco Andretti . Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Practice One was relatively benign, with the times not changing much. While all 22 drivers went on track, most were slow to turn more than a few laps, and by midpoint, only a handful had turned double digit laps. Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet was top all session at 1:17.3298, followed by Marco Andretti/No.27 Snapple Honda in second at 1:17.4611. Andretti hasn’t had the best of seasons, languishing seventeenth in the standings, 264 points behind Pagenaud. Castroneves sits fourth in the standings.

Third place changed after midpoint, with Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’Shake Honda in that spot at the checkered flag. He is the top Honda driver in the standings, in seventh position. Fourth and fifth were Jack Hawksworth/No.41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda and Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Honda.

The contenders took it easy, with Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet running as high as fourth before ending in tenth place. Meanwhile Will Power/No.1 Verizon Team Penske took it even easier, finishing seventeenth after running a high of ninth.

No.98 Honda

Alexander Rossi is the closest to being a ‘local’ driver, hailing from Nevada City in the Gold Country of Northern California. He was the top Rookie in No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, coming in eleventh after running a high of fifth. There are four other Rookies in the field – RC Enerson/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, Spencer Pigot/No.20 Samsung/Fuzzy Vodka/ECR Chevrolet, Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet; and Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda – who placed in that order.

Also racing this weekend are the Pirelli World Challenge GTS and GT classes, although it is not their finale event. In the first practice, Austin Cindric/No.14 K-PAX Racing McLaren was top driver in the GT class, of sixteen. His lap was 1:33.723/91.610 mph. If you didn’t know, he’s the teenage son of Tim Cindric, President of Team Penske. Second and third were Johnny O’Connell/No.3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-VR.GT3 and JD Davison in No.33 AE Replay XD Nissan GT Academy Nissan GTR GT.

Top PWC driver in GTA for Practice One was Michael Schein/No.16 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R, in P16, at 1:35.908/89.523 mph. was Second and third in GTA were Martin Fuentes/No.07 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 458 italia GT3 and Cooper MacNeil/No.79 Alex Job Racing Porsche 991 GT3 R.

In PWC GT Cup Practice One, Mike Hedlund/No.35 Flying Lizards Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 Cup was fastest at 1:39.135/86.609 mph, in P24. Second and third in this class were Alec Udell/No.17 GM Porsche 911 GT3 Cup and Sloan Urry/No.20 TruSpeed Autosport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.

For the Second Practice, fastest overall and in GT was Michael Cooper/No9.8 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3 at 1:33.216/92.109 mph. Second and third were O’Connell and Alvaro Parente/No.9 K-PAX Racing McLaren. In GTA it again was Schein at 1:35.105/90.279 mph, Fuentes and Colin Thompson/No.13 K-PAX Racing McLaren. In GT Cup, it was Tim Pappas/No.54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:37.545/88.021 mph, Udell and Brent Holden/No.14 GMG Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R.

In an interesting development, one driver went public with his withdrawal from the remainder of the PWC season, seemingly over business differences with his team. Bayshore Racing’s Frankie Montecalvo said ““I have been promised several times that we would receive a new chassis direct form AMG for the past several races.” He had been racing the same chassis since the beginning of the 2015 season, despite a big accident at this year’s Long Beach race. “After Mid-Ohio, Mercedes was not able to give me approval to continue with the chassis, so I thought it was best not to race. When I left Utah, I was told that the new chassis was shipping out the following week and that it would be ready to go for Sonoma, but unfortunately when I arrived here today, I saw the same totaled chassis, another driver entered on the car and received a lot of conflicting information from Dime Racing. It’s very unfortunate to have to end the season this way, but I think it is the best decision for me. I will now be focusing on my 2017 racing plans and hope to announce my 2017 plans within the coming weeks.”

On the PWC Entry Sheet, No.66 DIME Racing Mercedes AMG SLS GT3 has Jonathan Summerton listed as driver. In Practice One, he finished twelfth in GT class and overall. In Practice Two, he was fifteenth in the GT class, nineteenth overall.

In PWC GTS Class, Kevin Marshal/No.44 VSA Motorsports Lotus GT4 was fastest at 1:42.348/83.890 mph. Second and third were Nate Stacy/No.14 Roush Performance Road Racing Ford Boss 302 and Anthony Mantella/No.8 Mantella Autosport Inc KTM XBow GT4. in the Second Practice, it was Kyle Marcelli/No.10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro at 1:43.348/83.079 mph in first place. Second and third were Stacy and Brett Sandberg/No.13 ANSA oorsports KTM XBow GT4.

Also on the schedule is the Formula Car Challenge Series presented by Goodyear, which is an official feeder series to the Mazda Road To Indy. It is a spec series with multi-class racing – FormulaSPEED, Pro Formula Mazda, and Formula Mazda. While all three classes race together, the drivers are competing only in their respective classes for points and championships. There are 26 drivers, with 12 in Formula Mazda, nine in Pro FM, and five in FormulaSPEED. Among the competitors are Bruno Carneiro who is leading the Pro FM standings while also competing and winning races in the Chinese FIA F4 Championship; Bob Corliss, CEO of Robert Talbot clothing; Aussie Joseph Burton-Harris, 2015 SCCA Formula Mazda National Champion and finalist in last year’s Mazda Road to 24 Driver Shootout; and 14-year old Sting Ray Robb who also races in the NASCAR K&N Series and karts.

No.21 Pro FM Carneiro

No.21 Pro FM Carneiro

Joseph Burton-Harris/No.32 Build CSQ-World Speed Motorsports was fastest overall and in the Pro FM Class. Second was Carneiro in No.21 Rodizio Grill-Utah Motorsports Campus-Ian Lacy Racing, with Stan Kohls in No.8 World Speed Motorsports coming in third. All were in the Pro FM class.

The IndyCar Series has a second practice, mid-afternoon, with conditions more similar to Sunday’s race.

SONOMA STAKES

Simon Pagenaud, Astor Cup & Will Power

There’s a lot at stake this weekend at Sonoma Raceway for the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale. Two Team Penske IndyCar drivers will do battle for the 2016 IndyCar Driver’s Championship. Either way it turns out, team owner, Roger Penske will have the icing on his 50th Team Penske Racing Anniversary cake. Frenchman Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet and Aussie Will Powers/No.11 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet are 43 points apart going into this double points season finale weekend.

Pagenaud, with four victories, six pole positions, and 330 led laps, tops the standings going into the weekend, but the championship is his to lose. His best Sonoma finish is a third. There are a couple of complicated Points Possibilities Charts, guaranteed to addle one’s focus.

Power has four wins, two poles, and 139 led laps. He has won three times in seven starts at the wine country race track, and been on pole at Sonoma five times. Power holds the qualifying track record of 1:16.2597, 112.589 mph set last year in the third/last round of qualifying. Team Penske has the most IndyCar wins at Sonoma – five.

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon

Last year’s race was won by Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and with it the 2015 Championship. Dixon had gone into last year’s race weekend 47 points beyond Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. He is the only driver to win more than once at Sonoma Raceway – he also won in 2007 and 2014.

No.9 Target Chevy

No.9 Target Chevy

The Kiwi is the only IndyCar driver to have completed every lap in the eleven races at Sonoma, and one of three drivers who have raced in all 11, the other two being his Ganassi teammate, Tony Kanaan/No.10 Chevrolet and Helio Castroneves/No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Dixon has been with Ganassi Racing since 2002, and his sponsor, Target, has been with Ganassi for the past 27 years. This year will be the last for Target. Dixon is currently third in the standings, 104 points behind and mathematically out of contention for a repeat championship.

This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge Curb Honda, currently leads the Rookie standings with 370 points. The others are Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda – 295; Spencer Pigot/No.20 Samsung/Fuzzy’s Vodka/ECR Chevrolet – 149; Matt Brabham, not racing this weekend – 37; RC Enerson/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Honda – 33; and Stefan Wilson, not racing this weekend – 14.

In the other championship to be determined this weekend – for Manufacturer, Chevrolet is leading Honda 1587 to 1516.

Fernando Padilla

Fernando Padilla

Thursday the contenders put on a show for the San Francisco fans, driving their race cars down the Embarcadero to Pier 39 near Fisherman’s Wharf, in a police-led motorcade. Newly-crowned Indy Lights Champion, Ed Jones, drove the IndyCar two-seater with the Astor Challenge Cup in the passenger seat. The police Harleys couldn’t drown out the sound of the IndyCars. At Pier 39, a popular tourist attraction, the racers parked and posed, with their cars, the stunning IndyCar silver trophy, and a freshly-baked replica made minutes before by Boudin Bakery Master Baker, Fernando Padilla. While the Astor Cup dates back to 1915, Padilla brags that the Boudin Bakery starter sour dough dates back 167 years.

Twenty-two drivers are entered for Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, including four Rookies.

All the practice sessions will be live streamed, with timing & scoring, on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. TV coverage on NBCSN: Practice 3 at 5 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 17 (tape); Qualifying, 6 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 17 (live); Race, 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 18 (live). The race is starting later than usual due to NFL.

Sourdough Trophy

WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER

Indy Lights Second Start Attempt

Indy Lights Second Attempt at Start

Sunday was a very busy day, with seven back to back Mazda Road To Indy races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The day got off to a late start due to a two-hour fog delay. Lunch was abbreviated, to help make up time, but at least the SFR SCCA volunteer marshals and race officials got to come in for lunch and have a breather to sit down, after starting their day at 7am in the fog and ending at 5:40pm as the fog rolled back in.

There was a lot of driving talent to be seen, with these development/ladder series races, and somewhat sad there weren’t more fans to enjoy the racing and the racers. The paddock was wide open. They could have seen a future Indy 500 or Le Mans winner.

I spotted at least two talent scouts in the paddock, including IndyCar team owner Dale Coyne. Also on site and taking a turn at being interviewed on the PA was IndyCar driver, Max Chilton.

The Sunday afternoon Indy Lights Soul Red race got off to a rocky start and ended with what some consider a controversy. Title contender, Ed Jones of Dubai in No.11 Carlin had the pole position, and title contender, Rookie Santiago Urrutia of Uruguay in No.55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports w/Curb-Agajanian started third behind Saturday’s race winner, Kyle Kaiser in No.18 Juncos Racing. Zach Veach of OH started fourth in No.5 Belardi Auto Racing and Jones’ teammate, Felix Serralles of Puerto Rico, started fifth in No.4 Carlin. The first attempted start was ragged with the second row jumping the gun, so the starter waved them off. The 15-car field finally took the green flag on their fourth go-around, after two pace laps.

Zach Veach

Zach Veach

Jones led the first lap, but was soon overtaken by a charging Veach who seemingly came out of nowhere, moved right up the line to grab the lead on Lap Two. The dimunitive driver then continued to lead the parade for the remainder of the 38-lap race. Veach admitted afterwards that he used Jones championship against him, saying he knew Jones wouldn’t do anything to risk it (the championship), so “I made myself present and got by.” Jones and Urrutia were side by side until Urrutia got by Jones and then Kaiser, while Jones fell back to fifth, behind his teammate, Serralles. Veach said post race that he has to thank Michael Andretti, who taught him to be the fastest out of the pits. “I was pretty lucky to make that move.”

Rookie Garrett Gris of Canada in No.3 Team Pelfrey spun out on Lap Two in Turn Four, bringing out a one-lap Caution

The top five positions remained in lock-step for most of the race – Veach; Urrutia, and the two Carlin drivers, Serralles and Jones. The Carlin boys raced hard in the final laps, until the last lap. At that point the championship was on the line. Urrutia would win the championship over Ed Jones, despite their equal points because Urrutia had more 2016 wins – four, and that would be the tie-breaker.

Ed Jones No.11

Ed Jones No.11

Then on the last lap going into Turn Two, Serralles did an “After you, Alfonse” move, Jones passed and won the Championship from fourth place. Urruttia finished second, sans championship.

Veach won the race, led the most laps and turned the fastest lap of 103.749 mph/77.6563 sec on Lap 5. It was his third Indy Lights victory this season, and second in two weeks.

It was painful to watch the podium ceremonies. There were some boos, and not a lot of joy – except for race winner Veach who was all smiles. Jones won the 2016 Indy Lights Championship and with it the $1 million for a guaranteed three-races in the 2017 IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500 race.

Ed Jones

Ed Jones

Afterwards Jones was low-key in his Media Center appearance, saying he was glad to win the championship, as he has been struggling with his budget. “It was a tough weekend, and I’m disappointed not to have won more races.” He teased Veach about “his ambitious move.”

Zach Veach

Zach Veach

Veach said he’s had three years in Indy Lights and as he’s not a paying driver, and still without the necessary funding to go IndyCar racing, that’s still his goal and he’s hopeful. If he can’t race IndyCar next year, he wouldn’t mind another year in Indy Lights, and a second year with the Belardi team; as this year he was on a learning curve. Veach drove No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet at the IndyCar Sonoma Raceway Thursday, and reportedly was the fastest of the Indy Lights drivers testing that day.

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is located on Highway 68 between Del Ray Oaks, Monterey and Salinas. The nearby area is still dealing with the Soberanes Fire, with one area still under evacuation and another evac order put out Saturday night, which was expanded Sunday afternoon. The wide-spread forest fire has been going on for 52 days, with wind and heat causing flareups in the rugged, inaccessible regions.

MRLS Firefighters Thank you

FOG

Foggy Paddock

Sunday morning’s heavy dense coastal fog in Monterey delayed the start by two hours for the third and final day of the Mazda Road To Indy races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. With practiced tweaking by the mob of involved Stewards, Race Officials and Track staff, the schedule was adjusted, keeping the announced order of races for the five series. The series retained most if not all of their promised track time, with the day slated to end 55 minutes late.

Again the SFR SCCA volunteer race marshals gave up their lunch hour for another, now familiar, Grab and Go drill. The sun broke the fog at 11 am, with the help of a languid breeze. The temperatures were in the low sixties.

Sunday’s schedule called for seven races, with at least one race per series; and two series have two races, morning and afternoon.

The races, in order, are: Pro Mazda Series Presented by Cooper Tires – Pro Mazda Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Allied Building Products; IMSA Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires; Global MX-5 Cup Invitational; Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda – Cooper Tires Grand Prix of Monterey Powered by Mazda; Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires – Mazda Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires; and then the second race of the day for Pro Mazda Championship and IMSA Prototype Lites. Now that’s a mouthful!

One of the amazing things about this weekend is that there is such a plethora of young talent, drivers honing their skills and doing some incredible racing. All this talent and energy, which will develop and rise to higher levels. The sad thing, to me, is that the better they get and higher up they go, the fewer the chances become of getting a good ride. All dressed up and no place to go. Forty-two of the 82 drivers (mostly young and mostly male) are Americans, and the rest hail from 22 other countries far and wide. Let’s wish them luck and opportunities.

Foggy Sunday

CAN YOU SAY MAZDA?

2016 MRLS Mazda Drivers

Mazda is busting out all over at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey CA, for the Mazda Road to Indy races, featuring five professional race series all running Mazda Engines in the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder as well as the Mazda Road to 24 level. Those series bring 82 drivers from 21 countries including the US. This unique Mazda develoopment program provides more than $2 million in racing scholarships available to the champions in several series: Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda, Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires, Mazda MX-5 Cup and Indy Lights Powered by Cooper, as well as the IMSA Mazda Prototype Lites Presented by Cooper Tires Series. This whole program spans across three sanctioning bodies – IndyCar, IMSA, and SCCA Pro Racing.

Thanks to the Mazda Road to Indy and the Mazda Road to 24, Mazda has 82 drivers from 21 countries racing this weekend at our home track of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Five series are in action with 100 percent powered by Mazda, with more than $2 million in Mazda scholarships available to series champions. For those too far away to join us in Monterey, you can watch most of the weekend’s 12 races at MazdaLive.com.

Saturday’s National Anthem was sung by Mazda MX-5 Cup driver, Aurora Straus of New York, who races No.17 for McCumbee McAleer Racing. Her car number is her age, a high school senior, who advantageously utilizes her race trips with visits to prospective colleges. This trip she visited nearby Stanford University where she wants to major in English and Mechanical Engineering.

Foggy Friday

Friday’s practice day got off to an inauspicious start – one hour and 45-minutes late due to a seasonal fog delay. Talk about Foggy Mountain Breakdown. But all’s well that ends well. The crackerjack San Francisco Region Sports Car Club of America volunteer race officials and marshals worked closely with the officials from the three series and the race track to put it to right, and with a well-orchestrated Grab and Go Lunch for the workers, all drivers got their track time and the day only ended a few minutes late.

Once the sun came out Friday and Saturday the weather was picture-perfect beautiful: sunny and warm with cloudless blue skies and gentle breezes. Saturday’s morning fog delay was only an hour, and the time was made up to with shortening the generously long lunch hour and nice breaks between sessions.

Kyle Kaiser

Kyle Kaiser

Ed Jones

Ed Jones

Kyle Kaiser of Santa Clara CA, driving No.18 Juncos Racing has the pole for the Saturday Indy Lights race, with a lap of 1:15.2733/107.034 mph. He currently is fifth in the standings with 279 points, 41 points behind Rookie Santiago Urrutia of Uruguay in No.55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian. Urrutia qualified third, behind Ed Jones of Dubai, UAE in No. 11 Carlin. Jones currently is second in the standings, with 318 points, just one behind Urrutia. All cars have a Dallara chassis with Mazda engine and run Cooper Tires.

Kaiser said “I think I have everything to lose, so I’m just going for the win today. The grip changed today, car was faster.”

Jones was fastest in the first practice and Rookie Dean Stoneman of England was fastest in No.27 Andretti Autosport in the second practice on new tires, second fastest in the first practice and fastest overall.

In the IMSA Prototype Series, Clark Toppe of TX has the pole for Race One in No.10 JDC Motorsports, with a lap of 1:24.504/95.3 mph. Second and third were his teammate Austin Versteeg of Utah in No.7 and Kyle Masson of FL in No.18 Performance Tech Motorsports. In the Masters Class, the top driver was Michael Chlumecky of Canada in No.31 Eurosport Racing. He will start sixth.
All cars have a Elan DP02 chassis with Mazda engines, on Cooper Tires.

Mark Drennan

Mark Drennan

John Dean II of FL was fastest in the second practice for the Mazda MX-5 Cup Series, in No.16 Sick Sideways Racing. Teammate Nathanial Sparks of AL got the pole position for the first race, in No.8, with a lap of 1:41.737/79.192 mph. Second and third were Robby Foley of NJ in No.63 Atlanta Motorsports Group and Rookie Mark Drennan of San Jose CA in No.50 Winding Road Racing TFB.

Rookie Aaron Telitz of WI in No.82 Team Pelfrey has the pole for Race One in the Pro Mazda Series, with a time of 1:23.2863/96.736 mph, turning his time on his last flying lap before the checkered flag in the 12-car field. Eight of the drivers are Rookies. Second and third fastest were Pato O’Ward of Monterrey Mexico in No.80 Team Pelfrey and Rookie Nicolas Dapero of Argentina in No.33 Juncos Racing. Telitz had been fastest in the second practice, while Will Owen of TX was fastest in Practice One in No.23 Juncos Racing.

Aaron Telitz No.82

Aaron Telitz No.82

Telitz is the current points leader with 345 points to O’Ward’s 331. He has six poles and five victories. O’Ward has six victories and five poles. Third in the points and the only other driver to have won races (2) and poles (2) is Rookie Nico Jamin of France in No.2 Cape Motorsports w/Wayne Taylor Racing. He will start the race from fifth position on the grid.

Victor Franzoni of Brazil was fastest in all sessions for the USF2000 Series, taking the pole with a lap of 1:26.3066/93.351 mph in No.9 ArmsUp Motorsports. Second and third were teammates Anthony Martin of Australia in No.8 and Parker Thompson of Canada in No.2. They race for Cape Motorsports w/Wayne Taylor Racing. Thompson was second in both practices followed by Martin. All cars run a Mazda engine in a Van Diemen chassis on Cooper Tires.

All the series have a race on Saturday afternoon, and another race on Sunday. Two groups – the Pro Mazda Championship Series and the IMSA Prorotype Lites have a third race Sunday afternoon. It’s a full, full weekend. And many of the races can be followed live by streaming from Mazdalive.com.

Mazda has a Zoom-Zoom radar speed trap high atop the Start-Finish Cross-Over bridge, which measures the speed of the cars on the front straight and headed up into Turn One. The top speed I’ve observed so far this weekend was an Indy Lights car at 148 mph. Zoom-Zoom!

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