Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet recovered enough from his food poisoning and missing the entire first session to top the charts Friday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway in the hour-long practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The 2017 IndyCar champion was able to bounce back from his illness and fuel management problem in the morning to quick-step around the course at 1:17.8156 – not quite as fast as the morning time set by Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, but fast enough.
Newgarden said “I think we were okay. We tested here last week, so we were pretty ready to go. It was difficult this afternoon to be honest. When I first went out I wasn’t very happy the first run, and then we made really good progress the second run, and seemed pretty decent compared to last week. We were happy with our cars when we tested here last Thursday, so we felt optimistic coming into the weekend, and now we’re just trying to go through the motions and make the right steps all the way up through the end of Sunday. That’s kind of what you do on a race weekend. You try and make the right decisions every day.”
Second through fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing; Rookie Patricio O’Ward/No.8 Harding Group Honda; Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; and James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda.
Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda had a brief moment of testing track limits, as did Ed Jones/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in Turn 7. His off caused a Red Flag of 2.14 minutes. Rossi ended up sixth, and Jones was seventh for the session.
Tires seemed to be on the minds of drivers interviewed Friday. Rossi said the low downforce definitely played into tire degradation. “Very bad. Terrible for tire wear. Yeah, it’s something that we’re all thinking about, we’re all concerned about. Fortunately it’s the same for everyone, right? So it’s just about kind of finding a way to hopefully make the tires last. It’s difficult without a warmup for sure so you’re kind of going through practice sessions trying to do both things, work on the qualifying car and the race car at the same time. But no, it’s definitely going to be a challenge on Sunday for sure.”
Among other leaders during the session were Rookie Santino Ferrucci/No.39 Cly-Del Dale Coyne Racing Honda; Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda; and O’Ward.
O’Ward was the top Rookie of the session, and also top Rookie for the day. He is the current Indy Lights Champion, winning that title after his ninth series victory in Portland, from the pole. As Champion he will receive $1 million towards an IndyCar ride, including the Indianapolis 500. This weekend he and his Lights teammate, Colton Herta, are racing Chevrolets with Harding Group Racing. Herta was Lights runner-up in a tightly-contested season.
The hour-long practice session was followed by a 15-minute Pit Stop practice session. The drivers would do slow laps around the course and come in for the practice pit stops. This is not to be confused with the Pit Stop Challenge competition held prior to the Indianapolis 500 race.
Left to Right: James Hinchcliffe/No.5 SPM Honda; Graham Rahal/No.15 RHL Honda; and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Photos by Nico Matamoros.
Art St. Cyr, President of Honda Performance Development, met with the media and showed off the 2018 Manufacturer’s Championship Trophy that Honda won this year. Overall, the moderator said it was a pretty successful season. St. Cyr said “I can’t say it’s ultimately successful because we did not win the Indy 500 this year. Winning 10 of the first 16 races has been really good. It was nice to have clinched the manufacturer’s championship at Gateway, so it’s allowed us to really focus on the driver championship, which for yet another year is coming down to the last race here in Sonoma. It should be pretty exciting.
“We have two horses in the race, right, with Scott and Alexander fighting against Will and Josef. I definitely like our position better than their position for this one. You definitely want to be in front coming into the last race. Still have to execute.
“This is a difficult, difficult track. From what I hear, especially with the lower downforce this year, the tires are wearing off, if possible, even quicker than they have in the past. It’s going to be a very interesting run on Sunday.”