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.
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.
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.
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.