ROSSI RULES

Alex Rossi

Pole Sitter Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda put on a clinic today for the NTT IndyCar Series at Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach by winning by the largest margin (20.2359 seconds) since 1995 when Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Pruett by 20.3. Rossi led 80 of the 85 laps, only relinquishing the lead during pit stop rotations. This is Rossi’s second straight LB victory, and makes him the first back-to-back victor since Sebastien Bourdais won three in a row 2005-2007. Four of Rossi’s six IndyCar victories have come from the pole position. For Andretti Autosport, it was win number 63. Rossi dedicated the victory to his late grandfather, Donald Russell, who died Saturday.

Rossi’s victory makes him the fourth different winner in as many races, and all four have been from different teams.

Rossi’s words “As I said yesterday, winning the pole is huge come Sunday because it allows you to hopefully be in front leaving turn one and really just control the race from there. You can run your own strategy, your own pace, really dictate what the rest of the field does.

“We were able to do that. Obviously can’t do it without a fantastic crew, car, no mistakes, great strategy all day from Rob. Yeah, it’s awesome to be able to really I think kickstart our year. We’ve had good pace, but just haven’t the results. This is what we’ve been looking for.

“I love today. I definitely won’t get used to it, though. It’s certainly not something that is going to happen week in, week out.”

Michael Andretti

Michael Andretti

Team Owner, Michael Andretti explained the difference in winning as a driver (his first and last victories were at Long Beach) and as an owner: “They’re different. I think when you win as an owner, it’s like a real shared win. You’re just happy not really just for yourself but everybody in the team. Yeah, whereas as a driver, it more feels like a self-accomplishment.

“It is different. They’re both great in a different way.”

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden

Joseph Newgarden//No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet was runner-up and maintains his points lead. Rossi moved up to second place in the standings. Newgarden said “We’ve had certainly a lot of good fortune this year compared to last year. We haven’t had any yellows go away from us. Today was really a nice race, really well-executed by the boys. They did a good job. We’ll take a P2. Alex was too quick. Him and Andretti did a great job. Congrats to them for the win.”

Taking the Checkered Flag third through fifth were Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, and Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda. However, the last lap maneuvering of Rahal on Dixon went under Stewards Review, who determined it was blocking and reversed the official finishing position – putting Dixon on the podium and putting him third in the standings.

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon

Dixon said “”It was unfortunate with the Graham Rahal incident. I think he overshot Turn 8 and then quickly tried to turn in reaction, and you know the rule is you can’t come back to defend if somebody’s already there, and that’s what happened. I was on (overtake) and hit his rear tire and had to lift off. I lost my momentum and that also turns the overtake off, as well. It was just one of those things. Had he not reacted there we would have (passed him) anyway. But it’s racing, hard racing.

Yeah, you’re not meant to react. That’s exactly what he did. It forced me not to hit him, I had to brake, get off the throttle. I think when you’re having to avoid somebody, when they’ve done a reaction.

“I think had he not defended or reacted the way he had done, we would have got the pass easily done. I think it is what it is. We’re going to be okay with it. They’re not going to be happy with it. That’s the way it is. I think Graham has definitely been racing on the edge. Definitely at Barber, some pretty risky kind of situations, too.

“It is what it is. We’ll just have to move on. Good friends with Graham. There’s no hard feelings there. But you still have to give everybody some space.”

Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal

Rahal’s take on the matter: “It’s not that tough (of a pill) to swallow; we were going to lose the spot anyway. My front (tires) were absolutely gone. Those were used reds (Firestone alternate tires). We should have gone to new blacks (Firestone primary tires) there at the end. My tires were absolutely shot. I had no braking grip whatsoever, but I moved right as quick as I could out of the corner and then I gave him a lane. By the rules you’re allowed to make your move, which I did on the exit of the corner. That was it. We’re just going to have to discuss it (with the officials). Look, I’m not like upset about it. We had a good day. Our car wasn’t great today, but it was decent and the TOTAL Oil team pushed hard. That’s all we can say. Did I block? Yes, I blocked; you’re allowed to block in this series. You’re allowed to make a move, (and) I made a move. That’s allowed, I mean that’s allowed. I didn’t go back to the left; there’s a lane to the left. He had overtake (remaining), I didn’t. If he wanted to go (there) he could go. But, I don’t know, we’ll discuss it with the officials.” (About how he would feel if he was in Scott Dixon’s position): “You would try the exact same, there’s no doubt. I think I played the rules as I see them fit. Did I block? Yeah, I take full (credit). Yeah, I blocked, but you’re allowed to in this series, and if they don’t want blocks, they should say you can’t make a move at all and just change the rule. The problem is, we see such large discrepancies in what is a block (and) what is not a block. It’s fine; we just need to go further and understand (the rule) a little better. At the end of the day, P4. Do we deserve P3? Probably, but you know what, it was a good day and good points for us. We haven’t had a lot of luck this season, so I’ll just take it as it is and move on.”

RHR turned the fastest race lap of 1:08.0153/104.165 mph on Lap 27.

The top Rookie was Felix Rosenqvist/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in tenth place.

Jim Michaelian

Jim Michaelian

Jim Michaelian, President of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, released attendance figures stating 187,000 for this year, up one percent from last year’s figures of 185,300. This coincided with estimates from various drivers that there was a good crowd. Newgarden told Rossi on the podium that “We must have been good. They haven’t left.”

As IndyCar races go, this one was relatively bland – the description applied by Dixon. The only dramas came at the start and finish. An accident at the start brought out the first and only caution. It involved Marcus Ericsson/No.7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Jack Harvey/No.60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Meyer Shank Racing with Arrow SPM Honda, and Spencer Pigot/No.21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. It was an apparent rear-ender accordion at the back of the pack. Ericsson was assessed a drive-thru penalty for avoidable contact. All three cars were able to eventually continue, with Harvey pitting for body parts replacements and adjustments. Pigot finished eighteenth with 84 laps, Ericsson finished twentieth, two laps down, and Harvey in 22nd, three laps down.

On the white flag lap, Dixon was racing Rahal, and it was a matter of opinion, depending on whom was asked, whether it was defensive driving, blocking or just racing. The Stewards reviewed the situation and determined it was blocking by Rahal on Dixon, and he had to yield his third place finish.

Close to the halfway mark, Dixon was chasing Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske, and Power had to choose between risking a wall hit or driving down the Turn One runoff, and he chose the latter. He executed a graceful, wide F1 U-Turn and continued on course, falling behind. Power never quite recovered, finishing seventh. Dixon said it had been “a pretty good race with Will.”

Another mistake was made by Rookie Santino Ferrucci, who was running ninth when he hit the wall after exiting from the pits with full tanks. The car bottomed and he ended up in the the same Turn One Runoff area. After the AMR Safety team restarted him, Ferrucci continued on course, two laps down. He finished 21st.

Eleven drivers finished on the lead lap. James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda gained the most race positions, gridding fifteenth and finishing ninth. He is now seventh in the standings.

The only DNF was Rookie Colton Herta/No.88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda, after he got caught out in some of built-up rubber left by the Formula Drift cars and hit the wall with his right front. He limped to the pits and retired after the team wasn’t able to repair the car in time to return to racing. He said “I’m super bummed for everyone on the No.88 King Taco team and everyone who came out to show support and cheer me on. I’m really appreciative because I had a lot of family, friends and fans here with it being a hometown crowd. Everyone was awesome. We can take positives from here because we were so damn fast all weekend and I was really happy with the car. The guys did an incredible job, everyone has done so well working together. We’ll move forward. We have some testing planned later this week and we have the Month of May coming up, which will be awesome.”

There is an IndyCar test on 24 April at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Then begins the Merry Month of May.

OFFICIAL RESULTS

1. (1) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running

2. (4) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running

3. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running

4. (6) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running

5. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running

6. (5) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running

7. (3) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running

8. (8) Takuma Sato, Honda, 85, Running

9. (15) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running

10. (12) Felix Rosenqvist, Honda, 85, Running

11. (14) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running

12. (9) Patricio O’Ward, Chevrolet, 84, Running

13. (11) Marco Andretti, Honda, 84, Running

14. (16) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 84, Running

15. (20) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 84, Running

16. (17) Ed Jones, Chevrolet, 84, Running

17. (22) Zach Veach, Honda, 84, Running

18. (23) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 84, Running

19. (21) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 83, Running

20. (19) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 83, Running

21. (13) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 83, Running

22. (18) Jack Harvey, Honda, 82, Running

23. (10) Colton Herta, Honda, 50, Contact

ROOKIES RULE!

Colton Herta's No.88 Honda

NTT IndyCar Series Rookie Colton Herta/No.88 Hardy Steinbrenner Racing Honda was fastest in the morning warmup at the 45th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, with a lap of 1:07.1053/105.577 mph. The idea isn’t to be fastest so much as it is to scuff tires, practice pit stops, and check everything. Second through fifth were Marco Andretti/No.98 U.S.Concrete/Curb Andretti Herta with Marco & Curb Agajanian Honda; Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda; Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda; and Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. The top Chevrolet was Spencer Pigot/No.21 Ed Carpenter Racing in tenth position. All 23 drivers were on course for the half-hour session.

Patricio O'Ward

Patricio O’Ward

Back in the paddock after the session Rookie Patricio O’Ward/No.31 Carlin Racing Chevrolet was swarmed by Mexican race fans greeting their countryman. He was very pleasantly surprised by the surrounding adulation and enthusiasm.

While the drivers await the green flag for the session, they suit up, converse with their crew, and sit in their cars. they have drink bottles, fans, and data acquisition in the cockpit area, along with their multi-tasking steering wheel. In each pit there is a SCCA Volunteer fireman at the ready.

Patricio O'Ward's No.31 cockpit

SCCA Fireman in pits, at the ready

Tony Kanaan's No.14 cockpit

Six crew members are allowed over the wall and must wear helmets. The fueler is required to have a full-face helmet with visor which is pulled down for fueling. The others wear a different style helmet, sometimes called dual sport or dirt helmet, and sometimes worn with goggles.

Dirt helmet

Over the wall crew
Dirt helmet with goggles

The teams have a pit stop trainer, who works with them back at the shop and at the races. The pit stop crews have to be fit and agile, as they sometimes throw themselves over the wall, toss tires and hoses, dance around each other and step lively.

Over the wall crew

The tire designations have been declared for the race start and it’s about half/half between Alternate/Reds and Primary/Blacks. Five of the Firestone Fast Six will be going out on the Reds. Only Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet will opt to start on Blacks.

Race Tires

Matt Brabham won the Stadium SUPER Trucks Saturday race, after gridding second. He and pole sitter Sheldon Creed swapped the lead several times. Brabham was racing No.83 and Creed was in No.2. Brabham is the 2018 SST Champion, and he says racing in this series pays the bills. This is is third year in the series and “it gives me a living and pays quite well.” He races in a variety of others series, and this weekend he’s also competing in the Pirelli GT America Series as well as driving one of the IndyCar two-seaters. He says driving in a variety of series makes you a better driver, so he keeps busy Driver Coaching, as well as driving in IMSA. He learns something different in each series. Brabham’s goal is still to get back into Indycar. He’s had some meetings this week.

Matt Brabham

Matt Brabham

ROSSI ROCKETS … and OTHER RESULTS

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Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda has the pole for Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix at Long Beach with a 1:06.4811/106.569 mph, a flyer lap he’d started when the Checkered Flag flew. Rossi is last year’s winner, from the pole. This is Rossi’s fifth career pole, and three of those five poles ended up with a victory. This was the fortieth IndyCar pole for Andretti Autosport. Rossi said “This pole was exponentially harder to win than last year’s … so this one was more special.”

Rossi nosed by Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda who was looking to be on pole. While the top four of the Firestone Fast Six ran in the 1:06’s, the 2017 record of 106.2254/106.980 mph set by Helio Castroneves still holds.

The top six qualifiers are: Rossi; Dixon; the three Team Penske Chevrolets of Will Power/No.12 Verizon, Josef Newgarden/No.2 Hitachi, and Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology; and Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. So it’s three Hondas and three Chevrolets on top. They all went out on the Red/Optional Firestone tires. Rossi ran two sets of reds in the Firestone Fast Six.

Alexander Rossi

Scott Dixon

Will Power

Josef Newgarden

Simon Pagenaud

Graham Rahal

In the Fast Six Presser, the drivers were all in such good moods and joking among themselves that it was questioned. Such camaraderie is not prevalent in other top tier series. They all seemed surprised by the question. “Of course we’re happy. We made the Firestone Fast Six.” It’s become a trite, but true, opinion that the IndyCar Series is such a competitive series with so many top drivers, that with such tight racing, any number of drivers could win – unlike F1 for example. So when drivers make the Fast Six, they are happy.

The fastest Rookie was Patricio O’Ward/No.31 Carlin Racing Chevrolet, in ninth position. He made it to Segment Two, where he was in early on and then was bumped.

There were two Red Flags in qualifying, both for drivers hitting a wall. The first one was for Tony Kanaan/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, in the first Segment, in Turn 6, and the second was Rookie Felix Rosenqvist/No.10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in the second Segment. Each lost their two fastest laps as penalty. Both drivers admitted it was their fault, apologized, and are working to make up for it in tomorrow’s race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda was one of those who missed out of making the cut at the very last. ‘It was a bummer – definitely scratching our heads over that one.”

Felix Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa

Felix Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa

Felipe Albuquerque/No.5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac won the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach race Saturday afternoon. His co-driver is Joao Barbosa. They ran the 73-lap race. The duo won last year’s race at Long Beach, and this is their first victory since that.

Dane Cameron & Juan Pablo Montoya

Dane Cameron & Juan Pablo Montoya

Second and third in class were the two Acura Team Penske Acuras, with pole sitters Ricky Taylor/No.7 and co-driver Helio Castroneves as runners-up, and Dane Cameron/No.6 and co-driver Juan Pablo Montoya coming in third.. There were eleven DP1 cars, and six finished on the lead laps. Nine of the 11 finished, with two out early on due to accidents. No one was hurt.

Winning the GTLM class was Earl Bamber/No.912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR with co-driver Laurens Vanthoor. Second and third were Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R teammates Jan Magnussen/No.3 with co-driver Antonio Garcia and No.4. Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin. There were eight cars, with the three podium cars finishing on the lead lap, one lap down from the overall winners. One GTLM car retired on the last GTLM lap due to an accident on the white flag lap. Dirk Mueller/No.66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT was hit by a Corvette and hit the wall. Mueller’s co-driver was Sebastien Bourdais, loaned from the IndyCar Series to fill in for ailing Joey Hand.

Earl Bamber & Laurens Vanthoor

Earl Bamber & Laurens Vanthoor

In the Pirelli GT America Series, Spencer Pumpelly/No.66 TRG Porsche 718 Cayman CS MR has the pole position with a lap of 1:25.916/132.75 kph. Second and third were Team Panoz Avezzano GT4 drivers Ian James/No.50 and Matt Keegan. All drivers are from North America – 19 American men and one Canadian female. Several of the drivers are also running in the Historic IMSA GTO Race.

Matt Keegan, Spencer Pumpelly & Ian James

L-R: Matt Keegan, Spencer Pumpelly & Ian James

FASTER YET

Alexander Rossi

The lap times fell fast Saturday morning for the third NTT IndyCar Series practice session at the 45th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. It was already 65 degrees F at 9am and all 23 drivers went faster in this 45-minute session than they had in the previous two. All but two drivers got down to the 1:07’s, compared to four on Friday afternoon. The qualifying track record of 1:06.2254 was set by Helio Castroneves in April 2017. Friday afternoon at Long Beach Castroneves, now racing an Acura for Team Penske in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, broke the IMSA DP1 track record and is on pole for Saturday afternoon sprint race.

With only seconds to go, Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda laid down the fastest lap of 1:07.0588. He pipped Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Laningan Racing Honda who had just hit the top of the charts with two minutes remaining. The top Rookie was Colton Herta/No.88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda, in seventh position.

The top ten were Rossi, Rahal, Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Simon Pagenaud/DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, Joseph Newgarden/No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, Herta, Rookie Felix Rosenqvist/No.10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Rookie Patricio O’Ward/No.31 GESS Carlin Chevrolet, and Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

The session was caution-free with no drama. Next up for IndyCar will be afternoon qualifying for Sunday’s 85-lap race.

Jon Ikeda, Acura Brand Manager, met with the media. It’s only been 65 days from the time Acura was announced as the title sponsor for the 45th running of the street race. Ikeda worked in Honda R&D for 26 years before moving into Sales. With Acura being the performance division of Honda, it wanted to refocus on the performance aspect of the brand. Honda started with the NSX car, and then moved into IMSA with Team Penske’s DPi program. Now Acura is the title sponsor for the Long Beach race. Ikeda lauded Toyota’s curating the race over the years; and praised the city of Long Beach and promoters of the race and their working with Acura to make the title sponsorship happen. He said it is a great foundation to build on, and Acura feels it can add new things and dimensions to what the race has been about. One way Acura is putting its imprint on the race is changing the Toyota red and white color scheme to blue. And over time, Acura would like to do some new and different things, amplify and innovate, bringing in whatever is new and enhance the whole experience.

For Acura, Long Beach is its home race, with its offices nearby in Torrance. Acura knew Toyota was leaving and Acura had a lot of discussions internally on how it wanted to approach it. And Acura felt Jim Michaelian and the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach went through its own list. “We came full circle. We just said ‘This is the right thing. We would like to work with you.’ Ikeda said “It was a match made in heaven. You could see how the teams at Acura and the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach were working together to make this come together so quickly. It’s been a fantastic decision and choice for us.”

IMG_3075

Helio Castroneves/No.7 Acura Team Penske Acura has the DPI pole for Saturday’s BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach. He had a record-breaking time of 1:11.332. He broke the record set last year by his Penske teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya. “Records are hard work and meant to be broken.” He was super pumped about the significance of his pole. “The Acura. What a great combination to be in an Acura at the Acura Grand Prix. There are a lot of people to be here.” Castroneves’ co-driver is Ricky Taylor. When asked about his former fellow IndyCar driver, Sebastien Bourdais, doing double duty this weekend, Castroneves said it was more natural for Sebastien to be jumping from one car to another as he drove sports cars on a more regular basis. However, Castroneves did admit to carrying a separate helmet and suit with him to double series weekends.

Nick Tandy

Nick Tandy/No.911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR has the GTLM pole position with a lap of 1:16.377. He spoke about the track surface. He said “The IMSA drivers are usually the street sweepers on Friday being the first series on track on the first day. I found that the promoters had had the track swept quite clean the night before its first session (which was 7:40 am.) It was a pleasant surprise compared to previous years. The Drifters rubber isn’t that compatible for the IMSA drivers.”

There are nineteen IMSA cars, and 11 have in-car cameras. The race is Saturday at 2pm.

Nick Rossi's No.27 Honda

LIFE’S A BEACH!

Wyland Mural on Convention Center

The weather was a warming 63 degrees with bright sunshine and blue skies for the first NTT IndyCar Series practice on the streets of Long Beach, in the shadows of the massive Wyland dophin & whale mural on the side of the Long Beach Convention Center. This is the 45th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach. The schedule calls for IndyCars, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Pirelli GT4 America Series, Historic IMSA GTO, SPEED Energy Stadium Super Trucks, and Super Drift Challenge. A full plate.

Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 Honda

The morning 45-minute IndyCar practice session started four minutes late due to track cleanup from the previous BUBBA burger 90-minute session, and IndyCars ran green – IMSA had several session stoppages to retrieve cars. All 23 IndyCars were on track, and Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda the fastest, at 1:07.9335/104.290 mph – which he turned on his last lap. He was the only driver to get down to a 1:07. He said “It’s a good place for us to start. It will continue to change.”

Several drivers took their turn at the top including Rookie Felix Rosenqvist/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, and Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. The top seven cars were Honda. The top Chevrolet was Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske, and the top ten was rounded out by his two teammates, Joseph Newgarden/No.2 Hitachi Team Penske and Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske.

This weekend there are five Rookies, with Rosenqvist the fastest, in seventh position. The others are former F1 driver, Marcus Ericsson/No.7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; Santino Ferrucci/No.19 David Yurman Dale Coyne Racing Honda; Patricio O’Ward/No.31 GESS Carlin Chevrolet; and St. Pete winner Colton Herta/No.88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda.

Alexander RossiAlexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda had a short day, with five laps before he pitted with a cutting tire problem. Rather than risk any more tires, he parked after five laps, while running third. He said later that they worked with Firestone Tires, and the issue is now resolved.

Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda is having a busy weekend. Thursday he and Will Power were inducted into the Long Beach Walk of Fame on Pine Avenue, and he started out at 7:40 am Friday practicing in No. for the 90-minute practice session. He is filling in for an ailing Joey Hand.

Sebastien Bourdais & Will Power

Bourdais and Power were on hand for the Walk Of Fame Ceremonies in bright sunshine. It’s not often that current drivers are honored by the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. According to GPALB President, Jim Michaelian, he promises that when – years away down the road – these drivers retire, he will dig up the bronze medallions and update them.

Sebastien Bourdais Medallion

Jim Michaelian

Will Power Medallion

The schedule continues with all groups having another session – IndyCars will have a second practice early afternoon and the IMSA series having a late afternoon qualifying session for Saturday afternoon’s sprint race.

Wyland Mural

HOW DRY I AM

Scott Dixon, 2018 IndyCar Champion

Scott Dixon, 2018 IndyCar Champion

The NTT IndyCar Series had a full half day of dry but cold testing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Friday – not the full day they planned. Rain after the lunch break took care of that. It was 46-49 F degrees, with little wind. Twenty-one of the 23 drivers went on course. Only the two-car team of AJ Foyt Enterprises opted out of running. It had flown out the entire crew and drivers, and unpacked and setup. Then, team principal, Larry Foyt, decided it wasn’t worth using one of its precious test days for perhaps a half day of testing when they had a full-day test program planned. So they packed back up and left, for COTA and next weeks full-fledged Spring Training in Texas.

The afternoon session never happened, as the rain, which held off until lunch, couldn’t hold back and let loose. The poor corner workers waited it out for 90 minutes and then were to pack up and come in. But they didn’t. Half hour later, word came that Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Sealmaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda was going out. But, after taking a truck ride around the course, minds were changed, and everyone packed up.

Max Chilton

Max Chilton

Although this was a test session with no formal timing provided, the track reported that the fastest time was turned by Max Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet at 1:11.2868. Second fastest was Swedish Rookie, Felix Rosenqvist/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda at 1:11.3289, who made good use of the morning, turning about 50 laps or so. Third was Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda at 1:11.3490 and Jack Harvey/No.60 AutoNation Meyer Shank Racing with Arrow SPM Honda at 1:11.3680, who is expanding his races from Indy 500 only to five races this season, maybe more.

Felix Rosenqvist

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Jack Harvey

Left to Right: Felix Rosenqvist; Ryan Hunter-Reay; and Jack Harvey.

Will Power

Will Power

Will Power/No.12 Team Verizon Penske Racing Chevrolet didn’t have as much time as he wanted, due to an engine failure after just a few laps. He spent the morning watching as his crew beavered away. He didn’t get any real time in the car until after 11am, and lunch was at 12:30pm. Power said his last track time at Laguna was in 2007 with Champ Car, and said it’s a fun track.

For awhile the morning weather required sun glasses. There were a lot of fans who paid $20 to come watch, and watch they did. Many hiked up to the Corkscrew area, while others mingled in the paddock, or hung out in the grandstands.

Tim McGrane, with Danny Sullivan

Tim McGrane, with Danny Sullivan

In order to run the IndyCar Series, the race track had to do certain upgrades. Tim McGrane, track CEO, said catch fencing has been upgraded in several locations, and tire walls have been beefed up from two to four or six rows deep in some runoff areas. The IndyCars are the fastest race cars running on the 2.238-mile elevated road course this season. With the wide variety of motorsports disciplines running events at Laguna Seca, different levels of dissuaders are needed. Modern technology affords the ability to interchange different kerbs, depending on the series.There will be new kerbing for IndyCars, sometimes known as ‘sleeping policemen.’ Contrary to some reports, the track will not be resurfaced this year. It is one of several future projects, with no definitive time frame.

Zach Veach

Zach Veach

The four plus hours were well-used by the teams, and the only down time was for retrieving a spun car. Several drivers tested their limits, including Zach Veach/No.26 Gainbridge Andretti Autosport Honda, for which he was Twitter-teased.

IndyCar paddock

RHR & DIXON WIN!

RHR Champagne shower/Nico

Confetti:Cup:Champion/Pablo

Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda won the race, and Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing won the Championship. It was 18th career win for RHR. It was the fifth career Championship for Dixon. It was the 14th and last Verizon IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

Scott Dixon & Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Scott Dixon & Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Neither driver was seriously challenged for his particular victory, and both only lost their particular positions when cycling through pit stops. Pole sitter Hunter-Reay never ran lower than third overall. Dixon ran comfortably in second for most of the race, save for a brief spell early on when he ran fourth, and for several laps when he ran ninth after a pit stop 25 laps from the end.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay

RHR led three times for 80 of the 85 lap race. He said “To end this way is unreal. I dedicate this win to Robby Wickens. We’re all with him. We wish he were here today. He would have made my race harder for sure. Today was great. I felt like the race just didn’t want to end. I guess that’s what happens when you spend the whole day out front. Any time I needed the pace to put it down, we leaped out to a lead. I was able to maintain that. Hats off to this team.”

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon

Dixon has won all five championships for Chip Ganassi Racing and with Mike Hull as his strategist. He said “It’s all about the people. I’m just the lucky one who got to carry the car across the line today. I can’t believe that it’s actually happened. I can’t thank everybody enough for this, it’s so cool! This doesn’t come without a lot of hard work. We had a lot of grit. We had a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong today.”

Chip Ganassi

Chip Ganassi

Chip Ganassi said “He’s the guy on the track, off the track. If you take a piece of stone, inject some brains into it, chisel it out, it’s Scott Dixon. He’s just the man.”

“I’m so, so lucky to have the group of people I get to work with every day, show up on the weekends, be a part of this team. I can’t tell you what the team means to me, what it means to be a part of a team.”

“When you talk about records – A.J., Mario, all these guys – obviously Scott’s name is in that group now.”

Mike Hull

Mike Hull

Mike Hull said “When you win a race, it validates who you are. When you win a championship, it defines the culture of not only the people that all of you saw today at the racetrack, both for the 9 and 10 car team, they fully support each other, but all the people in the building, then all the partners.

“That culture continues to grow. It never gets old. It just feeds on itself. As you go through time, we’ve gone through 12 of these championships now, there’s very few of us left that were here in 1996 at Laguna Seca when we won our first championship. But some of us still are. Now the millennial group that’s coming in to work for us are well-mentored. We had a few of them working for us today on the 9 car. That’s really gratifying.”

Alexander Rossi and pack. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Alexander Rossi and pack. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The start didn’t go well for Contender Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda, who had the best chance of beating Dixon for the Championship. Rossi was running behind teammate, Marco Andretti/No.93 U.S. Concrete/Curb, who appeared to brake check. Rossi rear-ended him, damaging his front wing and punctured a tire. Rossi shortcut the course at Turn 7 on his way back to the pits, where his crew changed his wing and tires. He said “I don’t know what happened on the first lap. After the mistake I made the crew worked hard to get me on my way.” He rejoined the race in last place, and worked his way back onto the lead lap. This started his slow path and then accelerated charge through the field. Rossi ran as high as fifth near the end of the race, before his worn tires slowed him. He finished seventh overall, 53 points behind Dixon for second place in the standings.

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi

Rossi said “It’s very unfortunate what happened in Turn 1 on Lap 1. It’s a situation I’m sure we’ll all replay a lot of times but, at the end of the day, it’s been a good 2018 and I am very appreciative for all the support we’ve had this year. We came pretty close and we’ll work on the things we need to be better on and come back stronger next year.”

Andretti said ” I would’ve liked it to have gone a bit better. Rossi was amazingly quick and we tried to make it easy on him out of the pits and give him a shot. It was pretty cool of them; they knew I gave them the position, and they gave it back there at the end, so we were able to come out with a top five.”

Dixon’s reaction to the the Rossi-Andretti incident – “I don’t know. With IndyCar racing, you think somebody that has a problem in the first corner, they tend to go on and win the race. (as Dixon did at the last race in Portland.) I’m like, Oh, no. I’ve been in that situation. I’m like, Please, let that not be today.”

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Contender Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet started seventh and worked his way up to first by Lap 17 when the leaders pitted. He fell back when pitting, never further than sixth, and mostly ran third-fifth overall. Power led twice, for four laps. He finished third overall. He said “”It was a really good race for the No. 12 Verizon team. We had a really, really fast car. I think if we would have started farther up front, we would have had a chance to win. It was a good year though. Roger (Penske) got his 500th win today. (Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski/No.2 Autotrader Ford won the NASCAR Cup Playoffs race in Las Vegas.) We won the Indy 500. We won the 200th INDYCAR race for Team Penske. We won the Brickyard 400. Just couldn’t get the championship here. But overall, it was a good year for Team Penske.”

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Contender/Defending Champion Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet didn’t fare as well as is fellow Contender/teammate. He started third, and led once for a lap, but mostly ran between seventh and ninth. Newgarden finished the race in eighth position. He said “”It was not a great day. It really all started with the first pit stop. We just had a mistake in trying to get out and I stalled it. It kind of ruined the whole day from that point there on. It was tough to recover after that. I think we had a lot of potential today and we could have contended for the win, but it was too hard to come back.”

Finishing fourth through sixth were Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, Andretti, and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

Patricio O'Ward

Patricio O’Ward

Patricio O'Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Patricio O’Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The top Rookie was Patricio O’Ward/No.8 Harding Group Chevrolet, in ninth place. He started fifth, but fell back early on, which he said was due to tires. “It’s just really hard when you first go on those reds, they’re so soft, you really have to know how to manage them. For the second reds that I got, I did a way better job. Like I say, it’s just things that you have to learn in the moment. I learned a lot of things today. I know a lot more than what I came into the weekend with.” The young Mexican driver slowly worked his way back to the top ten by Lap 60, where he ran for the rest of the race.

There was only one five-lap caution to retrieve a stranded Graham Rahal/No.15 TOTAL Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “The car just quite on me” he said. The battery exploded. Once towed to the pits, the team determined it was battery-related and got him back on course. He finished twenty-third, 19 laps down.

Two drivers retired with mechanical problems – Rahal’s RLL teammate, Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack Panasonic Honda – mechanical failure; and Spencer Pigot/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet with gearbox issues. Both Sato and Pigot have re-signed with their respective teams.

Four drivers were assessed penalties. Matheus Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet got a Drive Through penalty for avoidable contact with Carlos Munoz/No.6 Arrows SPM Honda in Turn 11. Rookie Zach Veach/No.26 Group 1001 Andretti Autosport Honda had to yield a position to Rookie Jordan King/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing. Two drivers will receive post race monetary fines for Pit Safety infractions – Carlin Racing teammates, Matt Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Chevrolet and Charlie Kimball/No.23 Tresiba Chevrolet. Chilton hit equipment.

There had been a “brief delay” to the IndyCar start, due to the NASCAR race in Las Vegas still running its final laps. Then, the IndyCar coverage started on CNBC while NASCAR finally finished its beleaguered playoffs race. Once NASCAR was done, IndyCar reverted back to NBCSN. Must have wreaked havoc for those recording one or both, and/or keep watch both.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

1. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running

2. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running

3. (7) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running

4. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running

5. (4) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running

6. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running

7. (6) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running

8. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running

9. (5) Patricio O’Ward, Chevrolet, 85, Running

10. (14) Ed Jones, Honda, 85, Running

11. (20) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 85, Running

12. (18) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 85, Running

13. (25) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 85, Running

14. (10) Zach Veach, Honda, 85, Running

15. (15) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running

16. (13) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 85, Running

17. (16) Jack Harvey, Honda, 85, Running

18. (22) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 85, Running

19. (23) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 85, Running

20. (19) Colton Herta, Chevrolet, 85, Running

21. (21) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 84, Running

22. (24) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 76, Running

23. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 66, Running

24. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 38, Mechanical

25. (12) Takuma Sato, Honda, 15, Mechanical

Ryan Hunter-Reay & Scott Dixon

Top photo of Ryan Hunter-Reay by Pablo Matamoros. Top photo of Scott Dixon by Nico Matamoros. Bottom photo of RHR and Dixon by Nico Matamoros.

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!

RHR SPOILER

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda played spoiler for the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship Contenders by taking the Verizon Pole Position at Sonoma Raceway Saturday afternoon. His fast lap was 1:17.6277/110.605 mph. None of the contenders gained a pole point, so all still have the same points spread going into Sunday’s race.

This was RHR’s first pole position since Long Beach in 2014, and his seventh career pole. For Andretti Autosport, it was Pole 39 in IndyCar competition, and the first pole at Sonoma Raceway since Dario Franchitti in 2007.

Hunter-Reay said “We were trying to figure out what tires to go with at the last minute. It’s nice to finally get that pole at Sonoma. I’ve been knocking on that door for a long while. I’m certainly doing my part to help (teammate) Rossi – keeping Dixon from the pole. Big focus trying to win this thing tomorrow. Finished second and third here in the past. Would love to get that big bottle of red wine. That’s the ultimate goal for us right now. We’ll be concentrating on that.”

Scott Dixon. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Scott Dixon. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Second was Contender Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He looked about to get a pole point, when he pushed his limits too far in Turn 7 and drove wide on his last lap. RHR was also on his flyer lap and took the pole on that lap which was in progress after the Checkered Flag flew. Dion said “This is a big race for us, obviously. Frustrating, thought we had the pole there. I think front row is a good start. Huge driver error there. Just needed to get through a right and left, it would have been looking pretty decent. I’m happy how we’ve been this weekend. Obviously tomorrow is what really counts. It was nice to improve our speed as a team in this scenario. Just came up short. Maybe another driver in that car would have got it on the pole.”

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Third was Contender Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. He said “Yeah, it (third) was okay. Disappointed with third. I think we had a little bit more to challenge for the pole. We just fell short. Now we have to work on our race car and try to capitalize for tomorrow.

“I was most excited for the Fast Six. I thought that would be where we would shine the most. Third is not always what you want. I mean, if you’re in the Fast Six, you hope to get the pole. I think we had some potential on it. We were on a pretty good lap. Rossi just layered Turn Nine with dust. We lost some time. I think we were tight on Hunter-Reay’s time. A low six, high five. I think Dixon was on a five at one point, too. You don’t know what it would have been. It wasn’t enough.”

Marco Andretti. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Marco Andretti. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Marco Andretti. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Marco Andretti. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Marco Andretti/No.98 US Concrete/Curb Andretti Autosport Honda was fourth, his first Fast Six, and his best qualifying position since his pole at Detroit in June – in group qualifying, not Fast Six. Andretti won the 2006 Sonoma IndyCar race. He said “”I think this U.S. Concrete team did a really good job with staying with the track. We learned a really tough lesson on (Firestone alternate red tires) yesterday; we were 16th. We were able to get within a tenth-and-a-half, but that’s not good enough. When (Scott) Dixon sent it off (during the Firestone Fast Six), I thought that was my shot at pole because he would’ve lost his laps, but that wasn’t in the cards. Luckily Ryan (Hunter-Reay) stole the point from (Dixon).”

Patricio O'Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Patricio O’Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

O’Ward was the top Rookie. This was the first run in the Fast Six for him, in his first-ever IndyCar start, and a first for his team. He was fifth fastest despite his wild ride in Turn 2. “I was just trying to find the limit of the tire, I guess. I went a little deep. I locked up I think front left. When you do that, you just overshoot a little bit.”

Otherwise, O’Ward was like a kid about making Fast Six. “It’s so cool. I honestly don’t know what to think about it . When I saw that I moved into the Fast Six, I thought Newgarden, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Rossi, such big names, you’ve been looking at them for years and years and years, since I was a kid. Scott has been racing for a long time. I think even before I started my open-wheel career, Josef was already in IndyCar. Basically everybody here was already in IndyCar.

“It’s just something unique. It’s something that you have to start believing that you can be like them, that you can beat them, that you can give them a run for their money. It’s a new feeling. I really don’t know what to think about it.

“I couldn’t be more stoked for the team. I’m really happy I got to give them their first Fast Six. Harding and Team Chevy have given me an awesome opportunity so far. The focus this weekend has been obviously to do a good job. My objective was always just to be in the top 10, so it was an objective succeeded.”

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda was sixth. He was the only driver who went out on Blacks. He pitted but didn’t change tires … he stayed in the pits. “I think we made good steps forward from yesterday and this morning again to be pretty competitive this afternoon. We tried something a little different in hopes it would pay off, did the Firestone blacks for the Fast Six. But at the end of the day it clearly, as Will will attest to, is probably not the right decision.

“At this point we’re trying to hit some home runs and get it done. It wasn’t meant to be. We knew the farthest we could fall down was sixth. That’s what happened.

“Eighty-five laps tomorrow of chaos. It’s going to be fun. Hopefully we can move forward to the spot we need to.”

Track conditions were nice except for the 20 mph stiff breeze … bright and sunny, with no clouds. The temperature was 76 degrees F ambient and 104 degrees F on the track. But the wind direction changed from the morning session, not to the better. Wind and tire drop-off/degradation was an issue for everyone.

Hunter-Reay said ” It’s definitely strange that way. From a.m. to p.m., it’s two different racetracks. Especially with the wind we have now, less downforce than we had last year, you don’t know what you’re going to get lap to lap. It’s really hard to push in qualifying, especially on the first lap.

“You don’t know where to brake. Kind of a crapshoot. With tire deg it’s going to be very difficult tomorrow for anybody to make mistakes, doesn’t matter how good your car is. Haven’t looked at the wind forecast, but that’s a big one.

“It makes it very, very difficult. Should make it for an interesting race tomorrow, for that reason.”

Newgarden said ” I think we’d agree on a couple things here. Tire deg is really difficult. Wind direction is really difficult. Those are two big things.”

O’Ward said ” Tire deg is pretty big, especially on the reds. The rear tires, they go off. Not in the first five, seven laps, but afterwards it’s a pretty steep downhill. It’s a track where the degradation is known to be there. The tires just go down a little bit more.”

In the first half of Round One, most drivers of the 12 went out on Blacks- primary tires. Then several pitted and switched to Reds – optional tires. At the checkered flag at the end of the ten-minute session, all drivers were on Reds.

IndyCar issued a new points possibility chart for Sunday’s race.

INDYCAR Points Possibility Chart

In the first half of Round One, the top six were Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, Rossi, Power, Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda, Andretti, and Graham Rahal/No.15 TOTAL Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda. Most started out on Blacks – primary tires and changed to Reds – optional tires.

In the second half of Round One, most of the 13 drivers went out on Blacks. At the end, all but Jordan King/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet were on Reds. Those making the cuts were Hunter-Reay, Dixon, Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Zach Veach/No.26 Group 1001 Andretti Autosport Honda, O’Ward, and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

For Round Two, all drivers ended up on Reds, after many started on Blacks. The shock in that session was that Power didn’t make the cut. He was sixth fastest, 0.0682 seconds behind Andretti. That’s one point he won’t get – for pole position. It’s not even a small consolation that his 2017 qualifying track record of 1:15.5205/113.691 mph wasn’t broken – not even close.

Will Power

Will Power

Power said “I unfortunately should have gone another lap. It was a bad call on my part. I was pushing for one lap. Like, we just should have been thinking of getting in the Fast Six rather than the Fast Six. Now I’m thinking about tomorrow.” Regarding Setups, he said “We had a reasonable car on long runs. It will depend on how much the tires drop off.” Seventh is Power’s lowest starting position. “I have to start back there at some time. It is what it is.”

The race will be broadcast live on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. local time. It is also available on radio: XM 209 and IMS IndyCar Radio as well as online: IndyCar.com and Verizon IndyCar 15 app.

QUALIFYING RESULTS

1., (28), Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:17.6277, (110.605)

2., (9), Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:17.7599, (110.417)

3., (1), Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:17.7937, (110.369)

4., (98), Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:17.7999, (110.360)

5., (8), Patricio O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:17.9737, (110.114)

6., (27), Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:18.0019, (110.074)

7., (12), Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:17.6495 (110.574)

8., (22), Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:17.7489 (110.432)

9., (15), Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:17.9043 (110.212)

10., (26), Zach Veach, Honda, 01:17.9111 (110.203)

11., (18), Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:17.9242 (110.184)

12., (30), Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:17.9919 (110.088)

13., (19), Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 01:18.5281 (109.337)

14., (10), Ed Jones, Honda, 01:18.5088 (109.364)

15., (5), James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:18.5740 (109.273)

16., (60), Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:18.5892 (109.252)

17., (21), Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:18.6687 (109.141)

18., (14), Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 01:18.5966 (109.241)

19., (88), Colton Herta, Chevrolet, 01:18.6823 (109.122)

20., (39), Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 01:18.6172 (109.213)

21., (59), Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 01:18.7536 (109.024)

22., (6), Carlos Munoz, Honda, 01:18.7211 (109.069)

23., (4), Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 01:18.9665 (108.730)

24., (23), Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 01:18.8495 (108.891)

25., (20), Jordan King, Chevrolet, 01:19.1519 (108.475)

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