FANS IN THE STANDS

J Fanstand

It’s bright and sunny at Sonoma Raceway Sunday for the one and done Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup Race. The breeze tempered the heat which is forecast to reach low eighties. The sold-out crowd of fans are out and about, and the Cardboard Cutouts are already enjoying their 15 minutes of fame in the main Grandstands H, I & J overlooking the pits. Do you recognize anyone?

NASCAR Tech Station

NASCAR Tech Station

NASCAR Tech Station

The crews for the 37 Cup cars are busy putting their respective car through their pace. There are four NASCAR tech stations the cars must visit.Then they line up in Pit Lane. For the sharp-eyed who noticed that the Cup war wagons were on site Saturday morning along the Pit Lane fence, while the Cup haulers didn’t start their slow, graceful conga line into the Cup garage area at 7pm Saturday night – there is an answer. A firm called Champion hauls and installs these items as well as garage setups from race to race independent of the team haulers. After each race they collect the equipment and transports to next event.

Kyle Larson Chevrolet

Kyle Larson Chevrolet

Kyle Larson will start on pole today in No.5 Hendrick Chevrolet, with Chase Elliot next to him on the front row in No.9 NAPA Chevrolet. Cup points leader, Denny Hamlin will start fourth in the FedEx Toyota, next to William Byron in No.24 Axalta Chevrolet. There are 17 Chevrolets, 15 Fords and five Toyotas. All will start the race.

Sunday’s race will be 90 lap/226.8 miles. The three stages will be 20 / 40 / 90, with a Competition Caution on Lap 10. The estimated time of the race is 2.42.09, and the race will be broadcast on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Pit Road speed is 40 mph and Caution Car speed is 45 mph. Let’s hope they don’t have to be admonished abut overdriving the yellow flags as was the cast with F1 this morning in Baku.

Ken Esman Tour Guide

Ken Esman Tour Guide

In the Historic Trans-Am race, it was the usual- lots of fast loud ground-pounding cars chasing each other, bobbing and weaving, passing and repassing. The two leading cars , Jim Hague in No.16 1970 yellow Mustang driven originally by Peter Greg, and Ken Epsman in his red/white/blue 1972 Javelin originally raced by Roy Woods. They swapped the lead nearly every lap. Epsman said later he hoped NASCAR was watching. AT the photo finish, no one knew who won. The Series doesn’t use transponders, didn’t know where was the timing light, and frankly didn’t care as they were just having fun. Afterwards Epsman was giving fans photo ops inside the yellow Mustang. The series is fan-friendly. Their next stop are the two vintage Reunion races in Monterey in August and then on to Road America.

H Fanstand

Kyle Shanahan

Kyle Shanahan

Kyle Shanahan, Head Coach for the San Francisco 49’ers, is the Grand Marshal this weekend. He met with media and said he’s been practicing “those four words.” He’s a bit nervous, as he doesn’t feel he has a good speaking voice. He’s used to talking and giving commands behind a clipboard on the field. He joked that no one could live up to Kevin James. Shanahan was really stoked to see all the NASCAR fans, as he’s “tired of cardboard cutouts.”

Another guest celebrity Sunday was Guy Fieri, renown Chef. He’s driving the Pace Car. He had a claque of foodies following him around.

Guy Fieri

Guy Fieri

Sonoma Raceway announced today that it’s 30-year partnership with Save Mart will have another multi-year extension. The 2022 schedule has yet to be released, but track officials expect their date to be early to mid June, as usual. Executive Vice President and General Manager, Jill Gregory, said she expects next year’s race will be fully back to normal with capacity crowds. She said this NASCAR race is the last race under the current enforceable protocols. After this, there will be new rules.

I Fanstand

SMOKING HOT RACING

Briscoe Pre Race

Briscoe

It was smoking hot Saturday at Sonoma Raceway for the General Tire 200 ARCA Menards Series West Race. That refers to the grass fire started by Tony Toste when he pulled off on fire in Turn One on Lap 35. It refers to the hot, fast and furious race pace of the various packs of cars all vying for position. And it refers to the smoking burnouts performed by race winner Chase Briscoe, first parked at the Pit Wall on the front straight and then the smoking doughnuts performed on the Turn 11 infield. He led all 51 laps of the 50-lap race.

Chase Briscoe was the only Cup driver to enter Saturday’s ARCA race and was the leading driver for all but about two minutes of the Saturday ARCA track time. The only lap he didn’t lead in his No.14 Huffy-Parker Boats Ford was the last one in qualifying when he was pipped by Jake Drew in No.9 Sunrise Ford-Lucas Oil Ford for the pole position. Briscoe started the race third behind Todd Souza in No.13 Central Coast Cabinets Ford.

The Green Flag was delayed three laps for the Sonoma Stripe – a huge swath of oil laid down by Zane Smith’s MadoroM Wine-Best Western Sonoma Chevrolet from Turn Five all the way to Turn Seven. A wide ribbon of grease sweep aka oil dry covered the oil on the track. And then Souza was given a black flag penalty for jumping the start and had to pit. No sooner than the Green Flag was given, then the first of several cautions came out for Rod Kneeland’s Chevrolet which had to be towed after it parked unsafely with mechanical problems.

The field would bunch up for the restart, and Briscoe would take off once given the Go flag.This scenario was repeated and replayed six more time in the 50-lap race. It wasn’t a record for the Series. There was the scheduled half-time pit stop for the field. The drivers were frisky and tested their limits, against the track and with each other. Several had varying degrees of contact. There was some good close and tight racing, especially up in front.

Dylan Lupton in McAnally Toyota finished second, followed by Paul Pedroncelli Jr in his Chevrolet. Fourth was the top Rookie, Cole Moore in another McAnally Toyota, followed by Souza, who overcame his penalty push to the back.

Pole sitter Drew, one of nine Rookies, finished seventh, behind Rookie Dean Thompson’s Huddleston Ford.

Burgess Pit Stop

Burgess Chevrolet

Bridget Burgess overcame several setbacks to finish eighth, after starting ninth. She ran as high as fifth before being hit by Jesse Love’s McAnally Toyota and falling to 14th. She worked back through several restarts and got back up to tenth and then eighth. She spun out by herself, fell back and caught up. During the halftime stop, after her crew serviced her car, it went over to help out Bobby Hillis,Jr. who basically had little or no crew. After another caution she pitted while the parents checked front tires and under the hood before sending her back out. Burgess caught up again.

Ninth and tenth were Rookie Ryan Philpot’s Chevrolet and Bobby Hillis Jr’s Chevrolet.

Thirteen of the 22 drivers finished the race and all were on the lead lap. The other nine DNF. The top Rookie was Cole Moore in a McAnally Toyota.

Under NASCAR’s Covid protocols, drivers can’t interact with the media, so everything is done remotely. This means a short televised Victory ‘ceremony’ with the traditional Sonoma Wine Goblet and a brief Zoom post-race interview for the winner. Briscoe said a road course is more challenging. He definitely had more fun than he thought he would, and is looking forward to tomorrow (NASCAR Cup race.) He said Sonoma was a technical track, and he wished he could have had more practice.

In the Historic Trans-Am race with 22 starters, Jim Hague was on pole with his golden yellow 1970 Mustang. And it seems that nearly every time the field came by Start-Finish a different driver was ahead. Taking turns leading were Ken Epsman/No.2 red/white/blue 1972 Javelin; Bill Ockerland in No.6 blue 1969 Camaro, and Richard Goldsmith in No.77 green (slime) 1970 Dodge Challenger.

Richard Goldsmith #77

Jim Hague #16

Jeffrey O'Neill #15

Goldsmith squeaked by to finish first, followed by Hague, Jefrey O’Neill in No.15 red 1969 Mustang, Patrick Byrne in No.15 white 1967 Mustang, and Ockerlund. Mike Joy finished 18th in No.89 black 1966 Mustang.

Mike Joy #89

Sunday’s schedule calls for Trans-Am warmup, then half-hour race. The Pre Race Ceremonies start at noon, with Cup Driver Introductions at 1pm, followed by the three-stage race. The stages are 20/40/90 laps, for 226.8 miles.

The NASCAR garage is fairly quiet now, as the ARCA haulers move out. The NASCAR contingent comes in at 7:30pm local time.

ARCA pits

ON THE ROAD AGAIN ….

Welcome Race Fans

After 714 days, NASCAR has returned to the wine country road course known as Sonoma Raceway.It’s being called the biggest sporting event in the Bay Area, and the largest outdoor event in California since the pandemic started. Jill Gregory, the new Executive Vice President and General Manager of the track has been working with all the appropriate California and Sonoma County bureaucracies to meet the California Covid protocols.

Jill Gregory

Jill Gregory

For Sonoma Raceway, which has a 47,000 capacity, it means a 33% capacity this weekend to meet social distancing requirements. This translates to about 15-16,000 fans. Tickets sold out quickly for the one-day Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup Race on Sunday. Tickets were still available for Saturday’s General Tire 200 ARCA Menards Series West race and Historic TransAm race. Gregory said the electronic/digital aspect made ticketing easier to manage with longer deadlines. Part of the Raceway’s protocols call for touch-less and digital processes. All ticketing, electronic waivers and signatures are digital to one’s phone. All tickets are reserved, with no General Admission. There will be a new clear bag policy for items being brought into the track, and no golf carts allowed this weekend.

Five hundred fans will be campers, who have to park in a designated area – the 50 Acre Campground. They will all face forward in the same direction rather than in circular compounds. Campers are limited to their own pod or family bubble, and the showers aren’t open. In the grandstands there will be Socially distanced seating, designated by tickets. Interspersed will be 200 Cardboard Cutouts that folks were invited to purchase for placement. Afterwards, they can be picked up and it’s estimated by Cheri Plattner, Community Events Manager, that 90% of them will be picked up and the rest responsibly recycled. The effort raised $50,000 for Speedway Children’s Charities. Friday, a non-track day, Sonoma Raceway hosted Laps for Charity which raised even more money for the Speedway Charities.

The ARCA cars arrived Friday night and are using the Cup garages and pit lane. Once their event is over Saturday afternoon, they will pack up and depart, allowing for the entrance of the Cup haulers and circus. The Historic Trans Am are paddocked behind the main grandstand, near the vendor area.

Sonoma is the third road course race on the Cup schedule this year, but is the only road course with a Cup history. Daytona and COTA were first-time events.

The ARCA field has 22 drivers, including Cup regular, Chase Briscoe. This is the ARCA Menards West Series, not to be confused with the ARCA Menards Series racing as we speak at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. That race just finished, with Ty Gibbs as the winner.

Todd Souza

Chase Briscoe

Left to right: Jake Drew; Todd Souza; and Chase Briscoe.

All 22 of the ARCA drivers participated in the hour-long practice/qualifying session. For 58+ minutes of the session, the fastest car was Stewart-Haas driver, Chase Briscoe driving No.14 Huffy Boats Ford. He was going 88.688 mph for a 1.42.191 lap around the 12-turn, 2.52-mile road course, which includes the Carousel this year. But it’s never over until the Checkered Flag flies. Jake Drew from Fullerton CA, driving No.9 Sunrise Ford-Lucas Oil Ford for Bob Bruncati pulled out a 89.073 mph lap on the last go-around, taking 1:41.848 to complete the lap. And Todd Souza from Aromas CA pulled in second, driving No.13 Central Coast Cabinets Ford for Kelly Souza. Briscoe, who hails from Mitchel IN, ended up third.

Bridget Burgess

Bridget Burgess

The majority of the ARCA West drivers are from California, with one each from Arizona, Indiana, Japan, and Utah via Australia. The lone female driver, Bridget Burgess comes from Brisbane, Australia, and now lives in Utah, where she once dreamed of competing as a speed skater in the Olympics. Her mother Sarah and father are her crew. The two of them work on the race car, as does Bridget.

Twenty-three Trans Am drivers are entered, with many regulars in this popular series which has a whole tour this season. Included in the Sonoma field are Fox TV motorsports broadcaster Mike Joy in No.89 1966 Mustang; John Hildebrand driving the No.49 Gray Ghost 1964 Pontiac Tempest; and Ken Epsman in No.2 1972 Javelin. The Trans Am cars had a half hour practice and a half hour qualifying session in preparation for the Saturday afternoon race. Pole sitter for the half-hour race is Jim Hague in No.16 yellow 1970 Mustang

John Hildebrand

Left to right: Jim Hague’s No.16 Mustang; Mike Joy; and John Hildebrand and Gray Ghost.

The ARCA and Trans-Am races are Saturday afternoon. Trans-Am also has a second race Sunday morning before the Cup Pre Race ceremonies. This year most of the showy acts will go on, such as Parade Laps, Parachute drop and Patriots Jet Air Show. What will not happen is the Driver’s Meeting and Driver Introductions across the stage in front of the cheering fans. There will be Intros, but on camera for the big screen. The drivers are more regulated and somewhat isolated this year. They arrive at the track Sunday morning, stay within their own pods until the call to the cars. Their Video Meeting will be recorded and shared by NASCAR.

The weather was sunny and breezy all day with wisps of cloud streaks. It did not feel as warm as the low eighties showed on the thermometer. Tomorrow’s forecast is for more of the same, with fewer clouds.

SONOMA SUNDAY SCENE SEEN

Sonoma Thank You Sign

It’s another beautiful day for the IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma, the season finale for the Verizon IndyCar Series. It’s a nostalgic day as it’s the last race of the 2018 season, the last race for Verizon as series title sponsor, and the last of 14 IndyCar races at Sonoma Raceway. Next season IndyCar moves south in Northern California to Monterey and WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca for the season finale.

Sunday started out warmer than the previous two days, with temps in the mid to high 70’s degrees F, with but a gentle breeze. The day’s activities are ceremonial, warming and racing-related. The Historic Trans-Am Series had a fifteen-minute warmup, and the three support series all had their second/final races of the weekend – Historic Trans-Am, IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama, and Formula Car Challenge. Something for everyone.

Top Three Sunday Trans Am winners

No.49 Gray Ghose 1964 Pontiac Tempest

JR & John Hildebrand

Left to Right: Sunday Trans Am winners, Ken Epsman, Brian Ferrin and John Hildebrand; The Gray Ghost; and Father and son, JR Hildebrand an John Hildebrand.

Noted motorsports broadcaster, Mike Joy, was slated to drive the No.89 1966 Ford Mustang, but was instead back home trying to save his house from Hurricane Florence. Car owner Ken Epsman took his place for the warm-up. However, come race time, Kenny pulled one of his usual car swaps, and raced his No.2 1972 American Motors Javelin, and Richard Goldsmith drove the 1970 slime green 1970 Dodge Challenger that Epsman just sold him. John Hildebrand, father of race car driver, JR Hildebrand, drove his own No.49 1964 Pontiac Tempest (Gray Ghost) to victory, after swapping the lead with several other drivers, so typical of this lively, frisky group.

Second and third in the race were Brian Ferrin/No.45 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302, and Ken Epsman/No.2 1972 American Motors Javelin.

One sponsorship not going away is ABC Supply, for AJ Foyt Racing. It is 14-years strong, the longest running team sponsor in Indycar. This weekend there will be 600 guests watching its driver, Tony Kanaan/No.14 Chevrolet start his 300th consecutive indycar race. He’s actually run 360 such races. He won the first IndyCar race at Sonoma in 2005.

Champagne & Cider Ceremony

Within the Formula Car Challenge 28-car field, there are four separate classes: F4, FM, FS, and PFM (Pro FM), all competing for their own separate championships. On the podium, there were distinct age groups, with the PFM group having the most veteran racers, F4 which is a FIA class and the none of the drivers are old enough to drink champagne, FM and FS – other classes with mostly teenagers.

FCC Winner, Patrick O'Neill

Saturday FS Winner, Courtney Crone

Sunday FS Winner, Rayce Dykstra

Left to Right: PFM and Overall Winner Saturday and Sunday, Patrick O’Neill; Saturday FS Winner, Courtney Crone; Sunday FS Winner, Rayce Dykstra.

Local driver, Patrick O’Neill/No.64 PFM again won overall and PFM, as he did yesterday. Quite handily yesterday, closer today. He turned the fastest race lap both days. Seventeen-year old Scott Huffaker/No.09 F4 won the F4 Class both days, and sprayed Cider. Bryce Cornet/No.1 FM won his class both days. Fifteen-year old Rayce Dykstra won the FS Class Sunday, and seventeen-year old Courtney Crone won it Saturday.

James Hinchcliffe

Graham Rahal

Simon Pagenaud

Takuma Sato

Scott Dixon

Alexander Rossi

Left to Right: James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, and Alexander Rossi. Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

In the paddock, knowing fans congregated outside the IndyCar Drivers’ Meeting, seeking autographs or a chat. The drivers were most obliging. It was nice to see so many young fans seeking and being granted their requests.

Juan Piedrahita's IndyCar Honda

Kyle Kaiser's IndyCar Honda

Davey Hamilton's  IndyCar Honda

Left to Right: Juan Piedrahita’s Honda; Kyle Kaiser’s Honda; and Davey Hamilton’s Honda.

The IndyCar Experience two-seater cars this weekend had five drivers. Mario Andretti, Davey Hamilton, Juan Piedrahita, Kyle Kaiser, and Matt Brabham. The first three handled the duties for VIP rides on Thursday and Friday. Saturday Kaiser joined them, and Sunday there were five cars with Brabham.

MC Hammer

MC Hammer

MC Hammer is the Grand Marshal for Sunday’s IndyCar race. As such, he will give the “Drivers Start Your Engine” Command. He will also ride with Mario Andretti in the IndyCar two-seater and lead the field to the Green Flag. Hammer met with the media and regaled them with humorous anecdotes and opinions on a variety of subjects. He’s a local lad, growing up in Oakland, and loves motorsports and local sports.

In the IMSA Porsche Race, Pole sitter Zacharie Robichon/No.19 Porsche 991/2017 won overall and the GT3P class, and turned the fastest lap of 1:37.827/87.766 mph. Second and third were Trenton Estep/No.3 Porsche 991/2018 and Roman De Angelis/No.1 Porsche 991/2018. Victor Gomez/No.25 991/2016 won the GT3G class, and turn the fastest class lap of 1:40.318/85.587 mph. Second and third were Mark Kvamme/No.43 Porsche 991/2017 and Kurt Fazekas/No.52 Porsche 991/2016. There were 18 starters, and sixteen finishers, with 14 of them on the lead lap.

Sunday IndyCar Rookie of the Year, Robert Wickens tweeted from his Rehab Facility bed to wish everyone good luck and promise that he was going to rehab as fast and as hard as he could. Better! Stronger! Faster! That’s the mantra in the IndyCar paddock, and on the stickers seen everywhere and on race cars.

Get Well Wicky!

ICEMAN RULES!

Scott Dixon.Photo by  Nico Matamoros.

Scott Dixon.Photo by Nico Matamoros.

Saturday morning for the third/final practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Sonoma Raceway was sunny, bright and breezy. It was crystal-clear visibility, with nary a cloud in the sky, compared to Friday afternoon when so many whispy clouds floated and covered that it was a spectacular sunset. The ambient temperature Saturday morning was climbing towards 70 degrees.

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Nico Mataoros

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Nico Mataoros

Will Power. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Left to Right: Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, and Will Power. Photos by Nico Matamoros.

The four Contenders for the 2018 Championship are Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda; Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; and Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. In that order. And all were in the Top Five at the Checkered Flag.

Dixon was the final fastest driver at 1:17.9697/110.120 mph. Second through fifth were Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda; Rossi and Newgarden.

Overall time-wise, Dixon and Power were fastest in the first session, Newgarden in the second, and Rossi in the third.

Rossi and Dixon each topped the charts, pitted for front and rear adjustments and went out to run faster. Rossi said “The team made big steps today.” Dixon said “We’re just trying different spring settings for this afternoon (qualifying.) This is extreme competition and we all want to win. It’s not going to be easy. It will be an interesting race, strategy-wise.”

Zach Veach.  Photo by Nico Matamoros

Zach Veach. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Zach Veach/No.26 Group 1001 Andretti Autosport Honda was the fastest Rookie, in seventh position.

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Overall, for the weekend, Ryan Hunter-Reay is still the fastest at 1:17.5742/110.681 mph. The qualifying track record of 1:15.5205/113.691 mph was set last year by Newgarden.

It was almost a full Green Flag session, until a Turn 9 spin and stall brought out the Red Flag. Carlos Munoz/No.6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda was quickly retrieved, and the down time was only 1:59 minute. The session restarted, and the drivers got another lap or two.

Someone said Friday, in terms of race strategy, “Four drivers have everything to lose, and 20 drivers have nothing to lose.” Actually, it would be 21 as there are 25 drivers in the final field for 2018.

Santino Ferrucci

Santino Ferrucci. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Among those who led during the session were: Rossi, who led twice; Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet;
Rookie Santino Ferrucci/No.39 Cly-Del Dale Coyne Racing Honda; Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda; and Dixon.

Defending Series Champion, Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet had to sit out the final ten minutes of the 45-minute session, for hitting personnel during the Friday Pit Stop Practice. He will also be assessed a post-race monetary fine.

Sebastien Bourdais.Photo by Nico Mataoros

Sebastien Bourdais.Photo by Nico Mataoros

Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda had a mechanical problem and ended his session with 12 minutes remaining. He was 25th in practice.

Trans-Am Paddock

There is a lot of spectator interest in the Historic Trans-Am. Those devout IndyCar fans who went to the Long Beach race saw this group of ground-pounders, which calls itself the closest racing series in the world. The Pre-Grid Saturday morning for the practice session was lined on both sides with fans with cameras and phones taking videos and photos.

Jimmy Hague, driving the iconic red/white/blue No.2 1972 American Motors Javelin had the pole position for Saturday afternoon’s Historic Trans-Am race. His qualifying lap was 1:55.845. Twenty-one of the 23 entries qualified.

The race was exciting, with the lead changing almost lap by lap. There was an ongoing battle between Hague, John Hildebrand/No.49 1964 Pontiac Tempest, Jim Halsey/61 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302, and Ken Adams/No.45 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302. All four led at least once during the 10-lap race. In the end, it was a photo finish, with Adams taking the win, a mere 0.074 seconds ahead of Hague. Halsey was third, with Hildebrand in fourth and Drew Alcazar/No.70 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302 coming in fifth. This group will have a second race Sunday right before the IndyCar Pre-Race Ceremonies.

First thing Saturday morning the IndyCar drivers had its autograph session, and fans queued up in the chilly morning sunshine.

IndyCar Autograph Session