Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, it’s mild and sunny, with hazy blue skies and a moderate breeze. The Verizon IndyCar drivers got to sleep in a bit as they’re not on track until 11:30am for their half-hour warm-up. Other activities were ongoing as the weekend wound up its four-day schedule. There were five two-seater IndyCars giving VIP rides with drivers Mario Andretti, Gabby Chaves, Davey Hamilton, Arie Luyendyk Jr, and Zach Veach. The morning race schedule included Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS races, as well as another Pirelli Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge race. It was fascinating to watch the transition between the various series, which are paddocked in various reaches of the elevated road course, including the World Challenge cars which are parked outside Turn Seven. So all three ‘lanes’ on the front stretch are a maze of activity with the various cars going in different directions simultaneously. They snake up one lane, down another, and around the course up to Turn Seven, or into the pit lane and paddock behind the IndyCars.
IndyCar Pre-Race Ceremonies began at 2:20pm local time, and the Green Flag set for the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma IndyCar race at 3:30pm. It will air live on NBCSN. By 6pm there will be a race winner and 2017 Champion – one or two different drivers. The excitement mounts.
For the race, nine drivers including the top three drivers, will start on Black Primary Tires. The other 13 will start on the softer red Alternative tires. Of the four Penske drivers, three will start on Primary, with only Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Chevrolet out on Alternatives, as will the other two contenders, Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda. Let the games begin!
Saturday morning the IndyCar drivers got up early and sat in the chilly morning air to sign autographs for a huge, orderly crowd of fans.
Ever wondered what it takes to be an IndyCar Starter? I asked Paul Blevin of Riverside just that. He was asked 18 years ago by the then-current starter to come on board as an assistant, and that it would take some travel. Blevin came from flagging off road and Mickey Thompson events. He found open wheel and road racing was a bit more complicated. With larger fields and all those pits stops, blue flagging is more complex. Experience over the years has helped. And now there is technology to assist. In the Starter Stand, Blevin has a computer and monitor which keeps him apprised of the running order. There is also a screen resembling the video game, Centipede. It has a track outline showing the position of each race car – diamond icon for the leader, circles for the field, and a yellow box for those a lap down.
The job has grown over the years and just this year the crew has added its third Starter – Brad Hackaday. He joins Tom Hansen who’s been a starter for more than five years.
Among the duties on their job description now comes working with the IndyCar Timing & Scoring crew, helping with setup and breakdown. There are eight TV monitors to run just for Race Control, and “miles and miles of cable.”
At an IndyCar weekend, Blevin will be on the stand for the IndyCar race and any other race under the IndyCar umbrella. This includes the three official series in the Mazda Road to Indy: Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda; Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires; and Indy Lights. There also could be the occasional Mazda MX-5 Cup Series, part of the Mazda Road to the 24 Series.
This weekend Blevin is working with Hackaday and local starter, Marcia Ulise.
Honda’s Art St. Cyr met with the media and discussed the 2017 season. Honda had seven wins this season and all of its five teams won a race, including the Indianapolis 500 with Takuma Sato from Andretti Autosport. Last year AA won with Rookie driver Alexander Rossi. St. Cyr said he was pleased that Honda had its team line-up for 2018 set, although not all the individual drivers. The teams are (again) Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. And St. Cyr wouldn’t be drawn into any speculation on the musical seats. “Driver lineup might be a little bit different, but having those teams set right now gives us a chance to really put our plan in place early on to make sure that the offseason testing will go well, especially with this new universal aero kit, make sure that the information that we can provide for the teams gives them a good foundation for them to launch off next year. Hopefully next year will be even more successful.”
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors All-Star and points guard for the last two recent NBA Championships, is the Grand Marshal for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. He got a two-seater ride in an IndyCar with Mario Andretti, and was awed by the experience, saying he was impressed by how the drivers put it on the line every time they get in the car.
The IndyCar Series Manufacturer Championship was determined before this weekend’s events, and the huge trophy was presented by Jay Fry, IndyCar President of Copetition and Operations to Chevrolet’s Jim Campbell, Vice-President of Performance Vehicle an Motorsports and Mark Kent, Director of Motorsports Competition.
Also present were the three Chevrolet team owners whose drivers earned the championship: Ed Carpenter, AJ Foyt and Roger Penske. Points were earned by drivers and teams based on finishes on the first four engines they ran. This put a premium on reliability and performance. Going into the weekend, Chevrolet had nine wins and ten poles this season. It became 11 poles by Saturday afternoon. Currently there are eight Chevrolet drivers, approximately 40 percent of the field. Campbell hinted there could be more drivers next season, but refused to be drawn into any further elaboration.