The season finale race for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Sonoma Raceway is also the last IndyCar race, at least for now, for the wine country race track. Next year the season finale race will be held at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and Sonoma will not be on the schedule. This ends a run of 14 years for the 2.385-mile IndyCar-configured elevated road course. The first race in 2005 was won by Tony Kanaan. This weekend Kanaan, who admits to being nearly 44 years old, is Kanaan’s 300th consecutive indycar race. He said he’s growing a beard this weekend, to show people that “so people can see that I’ve got some gray on my 300th start.” Two current IndyCar drivers in that inaugural 2005 IndyCar race were Scott Dixon and Ed Carpenter. That race also included Bryan Herta, whose son Colton Herta is racing here this weekend as a Rookie for Harding Group Racing in No.88 Honda. Kanaan used to be racing teammates with Bryan Herta and Kanaan was Colton first sponsor when he started go-kart racing.
Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.DHL Andretti Autosport Honda was the fastest Verizon IndyCar Series driver Friday morning at Sonoma Raceway. His lap was 1:17.5742. Second through fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet; and Marco Andretti/No.98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Andretti Autosport Chevrolet.
Zach Veach/No.26 1001 Group Andretti Autosport Honda was the top Rookie, in ninth place, with a time of 1:18.3541. He set that time in the morning ‘Rookie’ practice, ahead of six others in that session.
The Rookie drivers who were ‘auditioning’ acquitted themselves nicely, staying out of trouble. The two Dale Coyne Honda drivers – Pietro Fittipaldi/No.19 and Santino Ferrucci/No.39 – were 11th and 12th, respectively. The two Harding Group Honda drivers – Colton Herta/No.88 and Patricio O’Ward/No.8 – were 16th and 24th, respectively.
Carlos Munoz is driving the No.6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, filling in for the recovering Robert Wickens. The Canadian driver was injured in a horrific accident during the Pocono weekend, suffering massive injuries, and is currently rehabbing in Indianapolis. We all wish him a speedy recovery. Wickens was declared the Sunoco Rookie of the Year after the last (Portland) race despite competing in only 14 of 16 races to that point. He amassed so many points, there was no way the other two full-time Rookies – Veach and Matheus Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet – could catch him.
One driver didn’t go out, but not for lack of trying. Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was in Pit Lane, but the car wouldn’t start … fuel pickup problem. The team said it was “a minor non-engine mechanical issue.” It took longer to remedy than that, but all’s well…with the car. Not with Newgarden. He has food poisoning and is not feeling well at all.
Newgarden is one of four drivers mathematically able to win the 2018 Championship this weekend, a double points race – he and Penske teammate, Will Power/No.12 have to basically win their race from the pole, lead the most laps, and for the two top contenders to have a bad weekend. Newgarden concedes this will be a difficult scenario.
Dixon is the current leader in the Driver Standings, 29 points ahead of Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda. They are basically the contenders for this year’s championship. Rossi spun out over the rumble strips in Turn 10, saved it and pitted. Rossi was eighth in the session.
Kanaan did a couple of short cuts across dirt, sort of agricultural racing. He was nineteenth for the session.
Hinchcliffe went off in Turn Two, into the tire wall right side. It wasn’t a hard hit and once pulled out and the tires cleaned off car checked by AMR IndyCar crew, he drove it in, scrubbing the tires at first and then stepping quite quickly to the pits. The accident was similar to an earlier Formula Car incident by Bill Weaver/No.67. Both drivers were alright and suffered only minimal body damage; but both incidents caused a session-stoppage. In Hinchcliffe’s situation, it was a Red Flag for 4:13 minutes.
Other leaders in the session included Graham Rahal/No.15 TOTAL Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.
IndyCar has a second practice session Friday afternoon.
Also on the weekend schedule are the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Series, Formula Car Challenge Series, and Historic Trans-Am Series.