The Penske Posse dominated yet again in the third and final practice for the Verizon Indy Car Series at Sonoma Raceway Saturday morning, with another contender – Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda splitting them up. In a run-up for qualifying for Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the 22 drivers ran 247 laps during the 45-minute session. There was almost no drama during the green-flag practice. I said almost. Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing did a gentle spin early on, but no harm, no foul, and he continued to finish fifteenth for the session. James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda had a couple of spins – first in Turn 2 from which he recovered; and later, a spin in Turn 7 about two laps from the end of the practice with a mega tire burnout, and stall. Traffic got around. He was able to run eleven laps before his misstep. He finished seventeenth.
This time the Penske lads mixed up the order, with 2016 IndyCar Champion, Simon Pagenaud/No.1 DXC Technology Chevrolet leading the pack at 112.925 mph/1:16.0329. He was fastest on his third of his eight laps. Dixon pushed his nose into second place, 0.1125 seconds behind.
Third through fifth were Will Power/No.11 Verizon, Josef Newgarden/No.2 hum by Verizon, and Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi.
Sixth was Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport, followed by Sato’s 2018 teammate, Graham Rahal/No.15 United Rentals/Soldiers Strong Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber & Data Andretti Autosport Honda, and Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, in his last race with Ganassi.
Of the top eleven, only Newgarden and Rahal drove ten or more laps. All the rest turned single digit laps. JR Hildebrand/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet ran the most laps – 20.
Jones has captured the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, the second Rookie for team owner, Dale Coyne. The previous driver was Alex Lloyd in 2010. Jones was the 2016 Indy Lights Champion which earned him three starts in the IndyCar Series. He has run the whole season with DCR and is hopes of continuing on next season. When pressed, Coyne was coy about how close was his brokering his 2018 driver lineup with Jones, but said “Just about. We’re very, very close. I would love to have Ed back next year, so..”
Coyne said “When you take a rookie to his first test, you usually know right away what you’re going to get. That’s been pretty straightforward everywhere we go. Ed was that way. The biggest surprise with Ed was his race craft. When we got to the tracks, he’s never crashed this year, he’s had a couple little spins but never crashed. So that’s very welcomed on our team because we crashed plenty with the other car.”
Jones said it was difficult to pinpoint one specific thing Coyne told him in terms of best advice. “It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of advice that Dale’s given me. But, you know, he’s always been very supportive of learning everything step by step, learning from Seb (teammate, Sebastien Bourdais.) Every time I get to every weekend, even every session, I remember early on it was try to learn as much as you can, take it step by step, there’s no need to overdo it early on.”
Other IndyCar Rookies of the Year currently racing include Alexander Rossi/2016, Carlos Munoz/2014, Simon Pagenaud/2012, James Hinchcliffe/2011, Ryan Hunter-Reay/2007, Marco Andretti/2006 & Will Power/2006, Sebastien Bourdais/2003, and Scott Dixon/2001.