POWER TO THE POLE … AGAIN

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Will Power. Photo by 

Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet earned his third IndyCar Grand Prix pole position Friday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with a lap of 1:09.8182/125.761 mph. The two previous times Power went on to win the race – in 2015 and last year. This is his 51st Verizon P1 pole position, breaking the tie he had with teammate Helio Castroneves/No.3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet for third place in all-time poles. It’s only 16 to go to catch all-tie leader Mario Andretti at 67 poles. AJ Foyt has 53. Today marked the 258th pole position for Team Penske.

Power said he did have to dig deep on the last lap. “That was everything I had. We made a downforce adjustment after the first round when we saw how fast the other guys were, and kind of got close to them. Then, on used tires the car was really good. I’m stoked, really stoked.Good stuff.” Power only ran two laps in the Fast Six session – one on each set of tires. “That was the plan. I felt like that would give me the best chance because I think if you went two laps on one set, you’d probably lose out on the second lap, but yeah, the tire hung on really well. It felt as good as a new.”

During the Firestone Fast Six Qualifying Session, Power led at first, before Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Team SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda pipped him. Then just as quickly, Rookie Robert Wickens/No.6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda took over the lead. Power grabbed it back at the end as the clocked ticked off.

Wickens and Bourdais finished second and third, respectively, with Wickens as the top Rookie. Fourth through sixth were James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda, Rookie Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing/Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, and Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

The entire field of 24 cars was covered by 0.9212 seconds.The fastest car went 125.761 mph, while the slowest one was 124.123 mph. That’s only a difference of 1.638 mph. Pretty competitive bunch! Power said “I’m not surprised at all. You look at the competition, the guys that are up here, it’s totally expected. Young guys are coming in, rookies are really fast, and obviously guys that have been around a long time and won championships. I mean, it’s just the tightest field there’s ever been in IndyCar, and the level of the teams is the best it’s ever been, so it’s no surprise the way it is right now.”

Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

For the first time in three years, Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda failed to advance out of the first qualifying round. He will start 18th. “The PNC Bank car actually wasn’t too bad earlier this morning in cooler conditions. We took a pretty hefty swing at it for qualifying, but the car didn’t feel like it had speed – it was just sort of on top of the track. That condition got worse as it got hotter and hotter, unfortunately. We’ll get back to a setup we know and then try and take it from there. Today, it just seemed like the heat made everything worse for us.”

IndyCar GP Fast Six

In the Fast Six conference, it was difficult getting them to take themselves seriously – at least the five veterans-which included Wickens in this instance as he’s been around racetracks and for awhile. Rookie King was more serious, while the others were about as jolly as anyone has seen all of them together in a long time.(Except when someone tried to photograph them laughing.)

Sebastien Bourdais

Bourdais said he was “I had a really good run and was P1 for a portion. That was about as good of a lap as I was going to get. … It was a good run and just made a small mistake in the last run. The car was okay but just kind of average, and then we put the Firestone red tires on, and it definitely came to life. The car was perfect to begin with. I made a mistake in Q2; and in Q3 I made a little mistake. We’re a very limited-resource team, so good results means a lot. Hats off to the team, they did a great job. I’m looking forward to a trouble-free race.”

Robert Wickens/ Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Robert Wickens/ Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Wickens, explaining how he and teammate Hinchcliffe get anything done when they joke around so much: “We normally get kicked out of the engineering office. Yeah, I think that they’re calling us the productivity sponge, kind of what’s going on when we joined the room. But I think there’s times to joke around and there’s times to work. I mean, we’re both professionals, even though we clown around a lot. We do okay. We get it done. It takes longer, but we get it done.” He added, “Great job by the SPM guys – we got both cars in the Firestone Fast Six. I’m a bit gutted with P2… We’re obviously in the front row, but when you lead the whole qualifying, you want to finish like that. It was close. I ended up losing a few hundredths (of a second) in the end, but I can see why – it wasn’t the tidiest lap. You have to do the perfect job to get the pole here, but I’m happy to be back in the Fast Six.”

King has made the Fast Six twice in his first four races, but was’t surprised. “I wouldn’t say I’ve surprised myself. I’m more just focusing on doing my own job and doing it at my own speed, and it’s proven to work. It’s not so much that I’m constantly looking at the timing and scoring and seeing where I am, I’m just getting on with it, and where I end up is where I end up.” He waited until (almost) the last minute to go out. “I was quite confident.”

James Hinchfliffe.Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

James Hinchfliffe. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Hinchcliffe defended his agricultural maneuvers in the first session, saying “That was the plan. We were just practicing for if you get spun out in the race. I was just spinning out a lot to make sure my style was working.” But seriously folks … “It was a bad day to have a bad day with the compressed schedule, and we had a really bad Practice 2. We had some braking problems… we couldn’t develop the car at all. Luckily, we have a solid teammate in Robbie (Wickens), and he was quick in that second session. We were really able to lean on him and it shows.”

Joseph Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Joseph Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Newgarden said ” I think the big thing was getting in the Fast Six for us. Unfortunately that was kind of my goal. We’d been in the top 10, just kind of hovering in it. We haven’t been super strong this weekend, been kind of tentative throughout. So he put in a good lap, so congrats to him. That was a good lap he did at the end. I think we would have been okay.We ran out the one lap, had a huge lockup in Turn 1 with the rear, and then just didn’t really get to finish it. Not ultimately where we would have landed, but I think we were in that third or fourth range, so happy to be in the Fast Six.”

Sunday’s 85-lap race will be telecast live on ABC at 3:30pm ET/12;30pm PT.

Garage Sign

Photo by Nico Matamoros

OFFICIAL INDYCAR GP QUALIFYING RESULTS

1. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 1:09.8182 (125.761 mph)
2. (6) Robert Wickens, Honda, 1:09.9052 (125.604)
3. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 1:09.9449 (125.533)
4. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 1:10.0858 (125.281)
5. (20) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 1:10.1326 (125.197)
6. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:10.7276 (124.144)
7. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 1:10.0382 (125.366)
8. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 1:10.1062 (125.244)
9. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 1:10.1601 (125.148)
10. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 1:10.1847 (125.104)
11. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1:10.1979 (125.081)
12. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 1:10.3592 (124.794)
13. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 1:10.0985 (125.258)
14. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, 1:10.1044 (125.247)
15. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, 1:10.2859 (124.924)
16. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 1:10.2113 (125.057)
17. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:10.3605 (124.792)
18. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:10.3221 (124.860)
19. (19) Zachary Claman De Melo, Honda, 1:10.5064 (124.533)
20. (26) Zach Veach, Honda, 1:10.3371 (124.833)
21. (4) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 1:10.6425 (124.293)
22. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 1:10.5066 (124.533)
23. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 1:10.7784 (124.055)
24. (32) Kyle Kaiser, Chevrolet, 1:10.7394 (124.123)

WILL-INGLY

Will Power. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Will Power. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet continued his powerful performance in the second Verizon IndyCar Series practice session Friday noon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His time of 1:09.8759/125.657 mph was faster than his morning time. All but four of the 24 VICS drivers were faster in the midday session.

Robert Wickens. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Robert Wickens. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Rookie Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing/Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet was second, making him top Rookie again. Third through fifth were Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda, Rookie Robert Wickens/No.6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, and Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

The 45-minute session on the 14-turn road course was quite lively, with at least ten lead changes. It was all Green Flag racing with no drama. Among those who topped the charts were Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Alexander Rossi, and Wickens. Several leaders led more than once. Power led four times, and Rossi led twice, as did Wickens.

Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 Honda

Zachary Clamon De Melo No.19 Honda

Ed Jones/No.20 Honda

LEFT TO RIGHT: Ryan Hunter Reay/No.28 Honda, Zachary Claman De Melo/No.19 Honda, and Ed Jones/No.10 Honda. Photos by Nico Matamoros.

Turning the most laps in the second session was again Ed Jones/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing with 21 laps, which was also the number run by reigning champion, Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. The fewest laps were turned by Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo/No.19 PaySafe Dale Coyne Racing Honda with ten laps. Overall, Jones has the most laps at 42, with De Melo the fewest at 26.

More sponsorship announcements were made.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced an expansion of its current sponsorship with United Rentals and the team program – Turns For Troops. In the past United Rentals – the official equipment rental supplier to the Verizon IndyCar Series – donated $50 for each lap completed by RLL driver, Graham Rahal/No.15 Honda. The donations went to SoldierStrong, an organization utilizing advanced technologies for helping the rehabilitation of wounded veterans. For the month of May United Rentals will be the primary sponsor for Rahal’s racecar. And in May, the donations will
include Rahal’s teammate, Takuma Sato in both May races, and Oriol Servia in the Indy 500.

RLL Group Photo

LEFT TO RIGHT: Mike Lanigan, RLL owner; Stephanie Turzanski, SoldierStrong executive director; Chris Hummel, chief marketing officer, United Rentals; Graham Rahal, driver; David Letterman, owner; and Bobby Rahal, owner.

IndyCar announced it’s very first official charity partnership – with SeriousFun Children’s Networks, which started out as The Hole In The Wall Gang camp network founded by the late Paul Newman. It has now expanded worldwide to include 30 camps. The partnership is all about raising awareness about the camps and raising funding to continue its good works. Included in raising awareness will be PSA’s which are already running at the Speedway: texting KIDS to 900900. Josef Newgarden is an ambassador to SeriousFun Children’s Network and hosted some children at the Long Beach IndyCar Race. Graham Rahal grew up knowing Paul Newman and raced for his IndyCar team.

SeriousFun Children's Networks group

LEFT TO RIGHT: Josef Newgarden, ambassador; Clea Newman, ambassador; Graham Rahal, driver; Blake Maher, CEO SeriousFun Children’s Network; and CJ O’Donnell, chief marketing officer for IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Adam Carolla has ten of Paul Newman’s race cars, including his 1987 SCCA C Production Datsun, which he loaned to the Network to display at the Speedway. Clea Newman said she rode in the car on one of her Dad’s victory laps, but she’s never raced as her mother would never let her.

PLN 1987 SCCA CP Datsun

WILLFUL POWER

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet grabbed the top spot from Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda at the last minute of the first open practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix. Power’s time was 1.10.0866/125.279 mph, ahead of Rossi’s 1:10.1198/125.220 mph. Rossi led twice.

Third fastest was Rookie Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing/Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. King also had led during the session, being the top rookie during the session.

Alexander Rossi

Jordan King

Sebastien Bourdais

LEFT TO RIGHT: Alexander Rossi/No.27 Honda, Jordan King/No.20 Chevrolet; and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Honda. Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

Fourth fastest was Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Team SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda, who was the last driver to take to the 2.439-mile course. Fifth overall was last year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

Takuma Sato

castroneves5760

The other driver to lead the pack during the 45-minute session was Helio Castroneves/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Rossi led twice during the session.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Takuma Sato/No.30 Honda; and Helio Castroneves/No.3 Chevrolet. Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

The weather was hazy sunshine, 70 degrees F with a 10 mph breeze. There were no interruptions or cautions in the session, with just a couple of drivers testing the track limits. No harm. No foul.

Conor Daly will be racing in the Indianapolis 500 this year, driving No.17 Honda with Dale Coyne Racing in partnership with Thomas Burns. Friday he also announced another racing opportunity – his debut in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Road America. He will be teammates with Ryan Reed and Ty Majeski in Roush Fenway Racing Lilly Diabetes Ford Mustangs. Both Reed and Daly have Type 1 Diabetes and have learned to manage their disease and race. Majeski’s grandfather has Type 2 diabetes. Conor will be the first and only person with type 1 diabetes to race in both NASCAR and IndyCar in the same year.

IndyCar with Conor Daly & Ryan Reed

Ryan Reed and Conor Daly

Xfinity No.6 Ford

In the small but very competitive field of Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, the battle was down to the wire for pole position. It went back and forth between Colton Herta/No.98 Andretti Steinbrenner Racing and Rookie Pato O’Ward. In the end, O’Ward prevailed for the Friday afternoon race with a lap of 1:15.4255. The qualifying track record of 1:14.6743/117.583 mph was set in 2016 by Ed Jones. There are seven drivers this weekend.

Rookie Oliver Askew/No.3 Cape Motorsports has the pole for the Pro Mazda Series presented by Cooper Tires. His lap was 1:20.1683. The existing qualifying track record off 1:22.8800/105.41 mph was set in 2016 by Pato O’Ward. There are 14 drivers.

Rookie Kyle Kirkwood/No.8 Cape Motorsports is on pole for the Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda race, with a lap of 1:25.0252. The existing track record of 1:24.6831/103.685 mph was set last year by Oliver Askew. There are 26 drivers.

Between their first and second practice sessions, the VICS drivers spent an hour signing autographs in The Fan Village. The place was packed.

IndyCar Autograph Session

THIS IS INDY! THIS IS MAY!

This is May!

This is May! The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is ensuring that folks for miles around are aware that the Brickyard is the Racing Capital of the World. Signage is everywhere, in town and at the track. The month officially opened Thursday at the track with all the Mazda Road To Indy support series practicing, while the Verizon IndyCar series was in setup mode.

Jordan King Garage Sign

Danica Patrick Garage Sig

Spencer Pigot Garage Sign

The garage signage wasn’t all up, but it was a work-in-progress. The Ed Carpenter three-car team had three-dimensional signs.

Pietro Fittipaldi Grandstand Sign

Zachary Claman De Melo car name

Over in the Dale Coyne Racing garages the signage was not up yet, but the name of the replacement driver for No.19 PaySafe Honda was already on the car. Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo was tapped Wednesday to drive for the injured Pietro Fittipaldi, who suffered severe fractures after a crash during WEC qualifying at Spa last weekend. De Melo has already run three races with DCR, and Fittipaldo ran the Phoenix race.

SPM garage

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is again decking their halls with garage art. They have large photo-quality art murals plastered over every available wall space in their garages. The theme this year is honoring garage mechanics, and it is a fortunate coincidence that a new sponsor was just signed – Gear Wrench – to provide tools for the team. The opportune timing allowed the sponsor to be incorporated into the wall art. It took about two weeks to completely install the decals, and a time-lapse video showing the installation will be released this weekend. This is the third year for the art, and the third year for the teams displaying their cars horizontally in the garages – the only team to do so. So when onlookers are viewing from outside the garage in Gasoline Alley, they see the side view of the race car, not the rear end as with the other teams. The SPM mechanics tell me they easily got used to working in the new configuration and it’s no more difficult than the previous position. The SPM cars are noticeable for their colorful and shiny chrome-like decal livery which glistens in sunlight.

Robert Wickens & James Hinchcliffe

v=Will Power & Derrick Walker

Simon Pagenaud & Will Power

Thursday was a casual day for most of the VICS drivers, with some at the track for media appearances and/or just hanging out with friends.

Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Team SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda was asked if it was difficult to concentrate on the IndyCar Grand Prix when he knows he’s got the big race coming up in a couple of weeks. “Yes and no. I mean, at the end of the day, we don’t need 10 days to concentrate for the 500. You know, the Grand Prix is a two-day event Friday and Saturday. It’s just hard for the teams more than for us really, just turning the equipment around. Obviously the car configuration is very different. For the smaller guys, it’s always a big challenge to get a 500 car set aside, especially this year with the new kit and all the parts that you have to get. It’s been a bit of a challenge. But for sure it’s much harder for the teams than for us, I think.”

The VICS teams were prepping their cars and getting them through Scrutineering.

Graham Rahal/No.15 Honda

Takuma Sato No.30 Honda

Zach Veach/No.26 Honda

Out in Pit Lane, all the VICS teams had set up their Pit Lane equipment, and the MRTI series were utilizing the area without encroaching.

Friday the 24 IndyCar drivers practice and qualify for Saturday’s road course race, while the MRTI series qualify and race.

Pit Lane

ROSSI WINS LONG BEACH

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Verizon IndyCar Series driver/Pole Sitter Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda won the 44th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. His Margin of Victory was 1.2413 seconds ahead of Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Finishing third was Ed Jones/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. It was in front of what appeared to be a massive crowd, perhaps exceeding last year’s crowd of 183,000. GPALB President Jim Michealian had predicted on Thursday that the event was on target for exceeding last year’s numbers. And the crowd was so big even the drivers were commenting on the turnout.

Will Power, Alexander Rossi & Ed Jones in Victory Circle

Will Power, Alexander Rossi & Ed Jones in Victory Circle. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Alexander Rossi celebrating in Victory Circle

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi in Victory Circle

Photos by Nico and Pablo Matamoros.

Zach Veach

Zach Veach

Zach Veach/No.26 Honda

Josef Newgarden/No.1 Chevrolet. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Fourth was Top Rookie Zach Veach/No.26 Group One Thousand One Andretti Autosport Honda – who started sixteenth. He said “(Fourth) feels like a win, to be honest. The crew was pushing me pretty hard at the end to try to get on the podium but… after St. Pete, after Phoenix, we’ve just been chipping away on it and we took a big swing at it today.”

Finishing fifth was Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

Josef Newgarden/No.1 Chevrolet

Josef Newgarden/No.1 Chevrolet. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Reigning IndyCar Champion, Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet finished seventh overall, and set a new race lap record of 104.881 mph/1:07.5511 on Lap 30 of the 85-lap race.

The weather became cloudy an hour before the start. It was 70 F with 8 mph breeze.

Rossi was the third different winner in three races, and it is his third victory. This win makes 58 indycar wins for Andretti Autosport. He is the first pole winner since 2007, and the fifth pole winner in the Long Beach history. Rossi continues to lead the standings with 126 points. Second is reigning series champion, Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet with 104 points. He finished seventh.

Alexander Ross. Photo by Nico Matamorosi

Alexander Ross. Photo by Nico Matamorosi

Rossi said “It’s Hard to put into words what the victory means. Such a welcoming, special race. Turn Eleven is the most important corner in the track, so we put emphasis on that. I was happy with the gap (between himself and Power,) but I had enough PTP if needed. Having friends and family here doesn’t change my way of driving, but it’s nice. It doesn’t cross my mind when I’m in the race car. The new aero kit car you can really play with the limits on it. It’s a lotta fun. From a physicality level, it’s down, but you’re holding your breath a lot. We all had a smile on our face at Phoenix. Indycar came as close to perfection as they could with this car. I certainly hope I haven’t peaked too early. I hit a lot on the wish list with WGI, Indy and LB for victories. Global CEO was on the podium with Rossi. It was fantastic for all of us. For sure the competition level is high, the most competitive championship in which I’ve competed. And these Rookies are making an impression.

There were six lead changes among five race leaders. Rossi led three times for 71 laps in the 85-lap race, the most he’s ever led in a race. Other leaders were: Power-six laps; Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda-one lap; Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Sealmaster Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan-four laps; and Newgarden-three laps.

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Power said “it’s like qualifying every lap for both of us there at the end. Rossi was just too fast all day. The cloud cover helped track temperature go down, so that certainly helped. There wasn’t that much tire degradation. Looking at the crowd today was pretty impressive. Good momentum going into Indy. It’s a cool, historic race, and you would say it’s second to Indianapolis as far as wanting to win. If you look at the series and everything as a whole, it’s at a great level as far as teams and drivers go, and it’s on the upward slope. Yes, I would say right now is the most competitive, talented group of drivers that the series has seen. When you look at how Rossi has come on and the rookies that are here this year, guys like Wickens and so on, it just gets harder. It gets harder and harder, and the common body kit I think was a really, really good idea. Yeah, great, great, honestly. To win and be on pole these days, you’ve just got to get it so right. The new car definitely needs more driver input. It’s not so physically hard, but there’s a lot more sliding. I’m just enjoying the car. Reminds me of Champ Car. Alex had a perfect weekend. I had one going for a Barber weekend last year. It’s pretty great when you can dominate the weekend. He’s going to be tough to beat in the championship. He’s definitely a road course standout, and you saw him at Phoenix oval as well.”

Ed Jones. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ed Jones. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Jones said it was good today after the disappointment of Phoenix. Jones agreed with Power on tire wear.Degradation wasn’t really much of a factor for us. I think getting up to speed was a bit more difficult because of the cooler conditions, and for us anyway, the balance usually when it was hotter was quite different to the cooler conditions, and I think that helped us in our position quite a bit. The yellow at the beginning of the race helped. After that it was reasonable easy the way the yellows fell. The style of driving now in the new car is more like Lights. I think now the jump won’t be as difficult a transition. Being loose is the only way to be quick, similar to the Lights car.”

Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet and Graham Rahal/No.15 Honda

Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet

Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet

Photo Sequence by Pablo Matamoros

The race got off to a rocky start with a Full Course Caution on the first lap for a car in the wall in Turn One. Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda hit Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet. The incident went under Steward’s Review, with the outcome being Rahal was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” As Pagenaud’s car wasn’t towed from the corner, he was unable to make repairs. Pagenaud was not a happy camper. He said he felt like Rahal “never broke. It’s a real shame and the shame is that the car is totally repairable. We just need to change the front wing and some suspension parts and we can go back out.” Rahal said “I’m sorry about what happened to Simon (Pagenaud). That’s not how I like to do things. It’s just like St. Pete, the rears (tires) locked up and I barely made the corner.

Cars pitted during the caution, including Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, who was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for “Improper Exit.”

Gaby Chaves/No.98 Chevrolet & Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 Honda

Jack Harvey/No.60 Honda, Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 Honda, Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Cevrolet & Charlie Kimball/No.23 Chevrolet

Gaby Chaces/No.98 Chevrolet, Spencer Pigot/No.21 Chevrolet, Charlie Kimball/No.23 Chevrolet & Josef Newgarden/No.1 Chevrolet

Photos by Pablo Matamoros

Early on, the speeds kept increasing. Rossi set a couple of fast laps, followed by Rahal and Newgarden. Other fast laps were set by Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Rossi again, and Newgarden then set a new race record.

There were four Full Course Cautions. The first involved Pageaud being retrieved from Turn One. The second was for Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing, who was rear-ended and drove into the Turn One runoff. The third was for Zachary Claman De Melo/No.19 The Paysafe Car Dale Coyne Racing Honda who hit the wall. The fourth caution was for fourth was for a pile-up in Turn Eleven, with Rookie Robert Wickens/No.6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, Bourdais, Hunter-Reay, and Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. the Steward’s reviewed and assessed King a Drive’Thru Penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” That capped off the day for Wickens, who had gearbox trouble early on, sticking him in fifth gear.

Bourdais had an up and down day. Early in the race, he made a couple of smooth but gutsy passes, weaving in and out of a tight pack. It moved him into P2. However, the Stewards ruled that he must give back his position to Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, as Bourdais had used the exit of Pit Lane to make that pass. Once he relinquished his position to Dixon, he didn’t waste time in taking it back. Later he was involved with Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, for which King was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” Up to that point, King had been the highest running Rookie, but he faded after that. Later, Bourdais had a run-in with Rookie Matheus Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Bourdais and Leist finished P14 and P13, but the Stewards reversed that order after the race, ruling that Leist blocked Bourdais.

More Steward’s actions: Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet and RHR had contact. No action taken. Dixon was assessed a Drive-Thru Penalty for taking a service in a Closed Pit. He was running second at the time. Sato had too many crew over the wall, which will be dealt with after the race. Max Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet had to restart at the back of the next restart for fueling in closed pit; and he he also had an improper restart position which he had to give back. Hunter-Reay received a 15-second hold for an entering the pits by back door.

There are now thirty-five confirmed entries for the 2018 entries in the Indianapolis 500. Of those, 19 are Honda, and they are solid. Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development, said Saturday that they have been approached to take on other groups, other teams. “Honda is already over it’s max capacity of 18 and one reason we can do it is because they’re all affiliated with our existing teams, so it helps us from an overall support standpoint.” Honda won’t be adding any new teams to its roster for the race.

Matthew Brabham

Cole Potts

Gavin Harlien

Left to Right: Matthew Brabham, Cole Potts and Gavin Harlien.

Matthew Brabham/No.83 put on a show on the way to taking the Checkered Flag for his win in Sunday’s Stadium Truck Series win. He came around much of the course on the two right wheels. Second was Cole Potts/No.60 and Gavin Harlien/No.55 was third. Fourth and fifth were Robby Gordon/No.7 and Paul Morris/1. It was an exciting race with lots of action, some wall-bashing and ending with stunt driving. Brabham said he’s been practicing and taking tips from Gordon on how to do it. Going into the Sunday race Brabham and Gordon were tied for the lead with 29 points, and Harlien a close second with 28.

Aerialist landing

Airplane

Pace Lap Flag

Max Chilton's Shoe

Scott Dixon/No.9 Honda

Shoreline Drive

Gallery Photos by Pablo Mataoros

THE CAPTAIN WINS!

Roger Penske and the No.2 Newgarden Team

Roger Penske and the No.2 Newgarden Team, Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Verizon IndyCar Team Owner Roger Penske was a double winner Sunday at Sonoma Raceway’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, with the race winner Simon Pagenaud and 2017 Champion, Josef Newgarden. Pagenaud led the last 24 laps of the 85-lap race, with Newgarden hot on his heels. The crucial turning point of the race came on Lap 64 with the last lead change between Newgarden and Pagenaud, with the Frenchman coming out ahead. They raced hard after that stop. It was the eleventh career victory for Pagenaud, and his second straight win at Sonoma Raceway. His Margin of Victory was 1.0986 seconds. Pagenaud completed every single IndyCar race lap, the only driver to do so. He was cheered by his peers in the Sunday Drivers’ Meeting on his performance as the Defending Champion all year.

Simon Pagenaud, Race Winner

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Pagenaud had already depleted two-thirds of his Push to Pass, whereas Newgarden had only used three seconds of the allotted 150. Pagenaud kept Newgarden at bay, finishing with only 7 seconds PTP, while Newgarden never used any more. The Frenchman was on a mission from the get-go, turning the fastest time of 109.575 mph – 1:18.3576 on Lap 13. Pagenaud said “I would rather be hunted than in the hunt.”

Josef Newgarden, Champion

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Newgarden’s race strategy was called by Penske President, Tim Cindric, who kept coaching him to keep focused on the goal – the Championship. Newgarden did and finished second, to become the youngest Championship since the unified series. He and Pagenaud swapped the lead six times, each leading for 41 laps. Newgarden won by 13 points, in his 100th career start. Newgarden said “It’s too awesome.” And “It was hard not to win, but Tim kept coaching me to be smart.”

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden photos by Pablo & Nico Matamoros.

Finishing third through fifth were other contenders: Will Power/No.11 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, and Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Will Power

Power said “Obviously, you want to be the one that wins it, but it’s very tough these days, and you’ve got to have a very solid year to get it done, and when I look at this year, no one made mistakes. You see the top six there, top six or seven are the top six or seven almost every race. We had some ups and downs with the No. 12 Verizon Chevy team, but it was a good year. We won some races and some poles. We’ll give it another go next year.”

Scott Dixon fueling

Scott Dixon fueling. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Dixon said “”It just seems like the No. 3 car covered us. Every time we short-pitted they followed us and he was just a massive roadblock. Once we got into clean air, we were able to make up ground, but every time we got into traffic we got real loose. Huge credit to everyone on the NTT Data crew obviously not the way we wanted to finish. A big congrats to Penske and Josef (Newgarden) on a job well done.”

Castroneves said “I’m always going to focus on the positive thing. The (Championship) P4 is not what it represents because we were in a battle a lot more years than that. And that’s what I look at. I look because each year that’s what kept me motivated to come back and push hard, and that for me was hard. But to keep up like I’ve been doing all these years, I think it’s the hardest thing to do. But it doesn’t just happen. It comes with a great team. It comes with great dedication from your guys, great trust, and obviously, myself to keep motivated, finding ways to keep pushing and having teammates like I have today, no question, helped me to become a better driver.”

The other championship contender, Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda fell out of contention early on, after pitting with mechanical problems. The crew labored for 25 laps and got him back on track to finish in P21. “It was a pretty disappointing day, to have a mechanical issue after the first stop. I think we were in a pretty decent position to possibly get in the top five after our opening stint but it wasn’t meant to be today. A huge shout out to the NAPA Auto Parts team and the Andretti-Herta boys for the hard work back in the garage to get us back out there, we picked up another spot.”

There were only three leaders – Pagenaud, Newgarden and Conor Daly/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, who led once for three laps during leader pit stop rotations. He finished tenth. “I have to thank the boys for keeping faith in the strategy. It was a bold move to make the three-stop call.It was a good consistent race. It was tough – there were a lot of moments of flying through the air and banging wheels with people. It was wild, so I’m just happy to come back in one piece and have another consistent finish to end the year.”

The top Rookie was Israeli driver, Zachary Claman DeMelo/No.13 Paysafe Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, who finished 17th after starting 21st. “Jack Harvey and Tony Kanaan came together and they got stuck and slowed down a bit more than I anticipated. I just clipped Harvey, who was really close, and unfortunately, I broke the front wing which forced us to make an early pit stop. After that, the pace was really good. I ran with some quick guys like Will Power and Helio (Castroneves), and drove away from Helio. It was a good day. I learned a lot and want to thank Paysafe for the opportunity.”

Roger Penske, Simon Pagenaud & Tim Cindric

Roger Penske, Simon Pagenaud & Tim Cindric

All kinds of stats came with this caution-free race: Newgarden is the first American IndyCar Champion in five years, the youngest since the unified IndyCar. Newgarden finished with more Push to Pass remaining than any other driver, including those who retired. This was the fifteenth indycar Championship for Roger Penske, and his 197th indycar win. This was the first caution-free IndyCar race in Sonoma Raceway’s 14-year year history. This was the fifth Driver’s Championship for Chevrolet since joining IndyCar in 2012.

Simon Pagenaud.

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Nico Matamoros

There wasn’t much in the way of incidents – some banging and blocking, and good racing. Pagenaud was teased about his shortcuts through the turf, and he joked that he wanted to try some dirt racing. There was only one penalty – Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing got a speeding ticket. Twelve of the 19 finishers were on the lead lap. Three retirements were due to mechanical problems.

It was announced during the broadcast that Tony Kanaan is going to AJ Foyt Racing next year. Musical Chairs begins.

Hinchcliffe didn’t have the best of luck this weekend, including the race. “After a good start, we made up a couple spots and then I was trying to set up someone going through Turn 3, and I guess Spencer (Pigot) just went for a gap that was closing and hit us, spun us out and put us to the back of the field and did some damage to the car. From there on it was tough just hanging on to the No. 5 Arrow Electronics machine. Like I said, we don’t give up, and we kept digging, trying to make up whatever spots we could, but ultimately some damage was done to the electronics on the car and the gearbox electronics stopped working so I was stuck in gear. Very unfortunate, but still a lot to be proud of this season.”

Rookie of the Year, Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda retired after 69 laps with technical failures.

Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda retired on Lap 62 with mechanical problems. Early on he had a shredded right rear tire which he nursed back to the pits.

American Flag Parachute Jump

The Push to Pass stats were interesting. Newgarden only used three, while Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber &Data Andretti Autosport Honda and Pigot used up theirs. Along with Pagenaud, other drivers with only seven seconds left were Chip Ganassi Racing Honda teammates, Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher and Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba.

UNOFFICIAL GOPRO OF SONOMA RACE RESULTS

POS Car# Driver Car Laps Status

1. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
2. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
3. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
5. (4) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
7. (11) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
8. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
9. (10) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
10. (13) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 85, Running
11. (15) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 85, Running
12. (14) Max Chilton, Honda, 85, Running
13. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 84, Running
14. (20) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 84, Running
15. (22) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 84, Running
16. (12) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 84, Running
17. (21) Zachary Claman DeMelo, Honda, 84, Running
18. (19) Jack Harvey, Honda, 84, Running
19. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 69, Off Course
20. (5) Takuma Sato, Honda, 62, Off Course
21. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 60, Running
22. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 52, Electrical

Unofficial Points Standings:
Josef Newgarden 642
Simon Pagenaud 629
Scott Dixon 621
Helio Castroneves 598
Will Power 562
Graham Rahal 522
Alexander Rossi 494
Takuma Sato 441
Ryan Hunter-Reay 421
Tony Kanaan 403

First Lap

First Lap. Photo by Nico Matamoros

HERE’S TO THE KID!

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Josef Newgarden and his No.2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet team gambled on red tire choices and won, taking his first Verizon Pole Position since 2015 and broke the qualifying track record with a blistering lap of 1:15.5205. He had run his sticker reds in the first qualifying round and took the pole on red “scuffs.” This stretches his points gap to four points ahead of closest contender, Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Honda.

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Newgarden was so excited, he had to be reminded what he said when he was told he had the pole. “Are You Kidding Me?”

The pole position doesn’t change his attitude going into the race. “No, this is IndyCar racing. Anything can happen. So, we’ve checked one thing off the box this weekend. We’ve got one big one to check off tomorrow. And then, if everything goes according to plan, we’ll see where we end up at the end.”

It was a nail biter of a Firestone Fast Six, with the lead changing a couple of times between Newgarden and Castroneves. The Penske Posse prevailed for the top four: Newgarden, Will Power/No.11 Verizon, Simon Pagenaud/No.1 DXC Technology, and Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi.

Fifth and sixth were Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda, the only non-contender in the Fast Six, and Dixon.

It was the tenth pole for Team Penske this season – the only team to win any poles in 2017. Now all Penske drivers have at least one 2017 pole on their respective resumes. All in all, Roger Penske’s team has 256 indycar pole positions, more than any other team.

The post-conference was brief and full of levity. While one driver would speak, the others closely perused the T&S monitor.

Penske Posse Paying Attention

Regarding his thoughts on the Championship, Newgarden said “You always think about it. If you tell me not to think about it, I’m going to think about it. So, it’s difficult to not envision it, but I think for us, we’ve got to get through the race. We’ve got to have a good race car. Qualifying is one thing. Having speed is one thing. Winning the race is a whole other deal. So, we’re going to work hard with this Team Penske group. We’ve got four guys very capable of getting it done. For the Captain and for everyone at the factory, we want to make sure one of these Team Penske cars wins the championship. So, that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.”

Will Power

Power was asked how frustrating to be so close, three and a half hundredths off pole. “Yeah, well, I mean, you start going back through the lap in your head. I could have just hit the throttle a little earlier there, yeah. Would have helped me braking actually, push back.

Yeah, it’s tight. It’s just like that sometimes. I mean, gave it everything I got. That’s the situation.”

Simon Pagenaud

Pagenaud said “That was really close. I can’t be unhappy with the DXC Technology Chevrolet. I thought we had as good a chance as any at the pole, but Josef (Newgarden) and Will (Power) were a little bit faster. Third is not a bad starting position at all. We’ll be right there if they make a mistake and right there to apply some pressure. We’ll continue to work on the car this evening and tomorrow morning in final practice then put together our race strategy. We plan for it to be a great day for the No. 1 team, but expect it to be a great day for Team Penske.”

Helio Castroneves

Castroneves said “The talent of our group is incredible. Great job on Josef Newgarden winning the pole. Our team is really strong and we work really well together. It’s really exciting for Team Penske that we will start in the front tomorrow. I’d rather Josef get the pole and we get the victory. For us with the No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet, we wish we had a little more speed during qualifying. We have a great spot up front but wish we had a little more. It’s going to be quite a battle tomorrow with my teammates and Scott Dixon and we are ready for the challenge.”

Roger Penske

Roger Penske.Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Castroneves summed up the Penske Posse philosophy. “But in the end of the day, we still got to deliver this championship to Roger. We understand what we need to do. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.”

He elaborated. “Yeah, well, you know the top four today here is Team Penske. It made a lot of sense. We planned that at the beginning of the year. We’re surprised actually people did not decide to join Team Penske. I’m not sure how the rules were, if they’re allowed or not. But the point is, they were allowed, right? I don’t understand why.

“As mentioned, a hundred points (for winning race.) Team Penske, we’re throwing everything out there. We wanted this championship as bad as anybody. We do have a chance. We going to obviously try to execute. That’s our goal.

“So we did learn a lot, not only as qualifying but also as race pace. Certainly this place, the weather change quite a lot. So even that we came here, it was one way, but at least that day, we checked that box. We knew what to do. But it was a progress toward the entire weekend for us, to keep improving our cars. Today it showed very well in the qualifying. Now we got to continue finishing the rest of the job.”

Sato said “It was a fantastic feeling. Obviously, the fifth position isn’t pole position, but I think looking at the speed of the competitors, we achieved what we could do. I think certainly, the entire Andretti Autosport and No. 26 guys did a enormous, fantastic job so I’m really happy with them and we got it done all together.”

Scott Dixon

Dixon was philosophical after the session, in which it was down to the wire if he or Rahal would make the cut. “As a team, I think this is always one of our most difficult circuits that we come to. This morning, we made some good gains, but the conditions this afternoon, we just didn’t have the grip. It was kind of strange. The balance felt good. The car was kind of decent to drive, but just couldn’t carry the speed through the corners.

“Kind of interesting. We almost didn’t make group one. Then just squeaked through in Q2. Good to make it through to where we did. It was definitely hard work. A big credit to the team.

“Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there. I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race. Definitely you’d want to be a little further up. But that’s the way it goes.

“We’ll make the most of the starting position and see what tomorrow brings.

“We’ll just have to see how the car is on the long run. We always know that the Penskes are going to be strong here. The other manufacturer’s aero kit is going to be strong at this track. We know the deficits that we have. But we can still as a team overcome those, whether it’s strategy or a car on the long run that’s hopefully going to be good.”

His team owner, Chip Ganassi, said he wasn’t going to beat up Dixon.

Takuma Sato

GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA QUALIFYING

POS CAR# DRIVER CAR TIME SPEED

1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:15.5205 (113.691)
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:15.5556 (113.638)
3. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:15.6356 (113.518)
4. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:15.8032 (113.267)
5. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:16.2208 (112.646)
6. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:16.3978 (112.385)
7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:16.1815 (112.705)
8. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:16.1934 (112.687)
9. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:16.1968 (112.682)
10. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:16.5811 (112.116)
11. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:16.8221 (111.765)
12. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:16.9718 (111.547)
13. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:17.1016 (111.360)
14. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:16.7581 (111.858)
15. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:17.1417 (111.302)
16. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:16.9539 (111.573)
17. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:17.2662 (111.122)
18. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:17.0231 (111.473)
19. (7) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:17.2722 (111.114)
20. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:17.1602 (111.275)
21. (13) Zachary Claman DeMelo, Honda, 01:17.2814 (111.100)
22. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:17.2507 (111.145)

PENSKE POSSE POWER PLUS DIXON

Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The Penske Posse dominated yet again in the third and final practice for the Verizon Indy Car Series at Sonoma Raceway Saturday morning, with another contender – Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda splitting them up. In a run-up for qualifying for Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the 22 drivers ran 247 laps during the 45-minute session. There was almost no drama during the green-flag practice. I said almost. Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing did a gentle spin early on, but no harm, no foul, and he continued to finish fifteenth for the session. James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda had a couple of spins – first in Turn 2 from which he recovered; and later, a spin in Turn 7 about two laps from the end of the practice with a mega tire burnout, and stall. Traffic got around. He was able to run eleven laps before his misstep. He finished seventeenth.

This time the Penske lads mixed up the order, with 2016 IndyCar Champion, Simon Pagenaud/No.1 DXC Technology Chevrolet leading the pack at 112.925 mph/1:16.0329. He was fastest on his third of his eight laps. Dixon pushed his nose into second place, 0.1125 seconds behind.

Third through fifth were Will Power/No.11 Verizon, Josef Newgarden/No.2 hum by Verizon, and Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi.

Sixth was Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport, followed by Sato’s 2018 teammate, Graham Rahal/No.15 United Rentals/Soldiers Strong Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber & Data Andretti Autosport Honda, and Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, in his last race with Ganassi.

JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Of the top eleven, only Newgarden and Rahal drove ten or more laps. All the rest turned single digit laps. JR Hildebrand/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet ran the most laps – 20.

Ed Jones

Jones has captured the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, the second Rookie for team owner, Dale Coyne. The previous driver was Alex Lloyd in 2010. Jones was the 2016 Indy Lights Champion which earned him three starts in the IndyCar Series. He has run the whole season with DCR and is hopes of continuing on next season. When pressed, Coyne was coy about how close was his brokering his 2018 driver lineup with Jones, but said “Just about. We’re very, very close. I would love to have Ed back next year, so..”

Ed Jones & Dale Coyne

Coyne said “When you take a rookie to his first test, you usually know right away what you’re going to get. That’s been pretty straightforward everywhere we go. Ed was that way. The biggest surprise with Ed was his race craft. When we got to the tracks, he’s never crashed this year, he’s had a couple little spins but never crashed. So that’s very welcomed on our team because we crashed plenty with the other car.”

Ed Jones. PM

Ed Jones. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Jones said it was difficult to pinpoint one specific thing Coyne told him in terms of best advice. “It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of advice that Dale’s given me. But, you know, he’s always been very supportive of learning everything step by step, learning from Seb (teammate, Sebastien Bourdais.) Every time I get to every weekend, even every session, I remember early on it was try to learn as much as you can, take it step by step, there’s no need to overdo it early on.”

Other IndyCar Rookies of the Year currently racing include Alexander Rossi/2016, Carlos Munoz/2014, Simon Pagenaud/2012, James Hinchcliffe/2011, Ryan Hunter-Reay/2007, Marco Andretti/2006 & Will Power/2006, Sebastien Bourdais/2003, and Scott Dixon/2001.

Jay Frye , Fred McConnell, Ed Jones and Dale Coyne

Jay Frye, IndyCar president of competition and operations; Fred McConnell, Sunoco Director of Fuels Marketing, Ed Jones, and Dale Coyne.

WINNING PRACTICE

Josef Newgarden. PM

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Friday afternoon the weather conditions were the closest they could be to replicating Saturday’s qualifying session at Sonoma Raceway for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The temperature was 79 degrees F with 12 mph breezes. The skies were blue and all 22 drivers took to the track.

Josef Newgarden/No.2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was the fastest driver, at 1:16.2485. This lap is unofficially under the official track record set by Penske teammate, Simon Pagenaud last year in the first round of Qualifying with a time of 1:16.2530. He was pushing the car to the limits and it paid off.

“You don’t get anything for winning practice, but it goes a long way to build confidence,” said Newgarden. He’s topped the first two practice sessions at Sonoma Raceway

Simon Pagenaud

Helio Castroneves

Will Power

Left to Right: Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, and Will Power. Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

Second through fourth were the other three Penske Posse drivers: Pagenaud/No.1 DXC Technology, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi, and Will Power/No.11 Verizon. Power’s overall fourth place time was set in the morning. He might have gone faster, but he had a late-session spin on his alternative tires.

Josef Newgarden carrying Will Power

Newgarden & Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Two of the four Penske drivers are fighting physical ailments. Power showed up Thursday with a sore left leg incurred body surfing in Santa Cruz when he got knocked back by a wave. He can drive OK and even left brake. He just can’t walk easily, which is why Newgarden carried him into the Thursday Media briefing. Castroneves has a bad cold for which he’s being treated, gotten when he was fleeing Hurricane Irma and was trapped in the Atlanta humid, crowded airport for hours on end waiting out rescheduled flights.

Nine of the 22 drivers were faster in the morning practice, including Power.

Ryan Hunter-Reay NM

Scott Dixon NM

Marco Andretti. PM

Alexander Rossi. NM

Takuma Sato. NM

Graham Rahal. PM

Fifth through tenth were all four of the Andretti Autosport Honda drivers, Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL, Contender Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Honda, Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber & Data, Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb, and Takuma Sato/No.26. Photos by Pablo & Nico Matamoros.

Jack Harvey. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Jack Harvey. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Top Rookie was Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda in seventeenth place. The other Rookies were Jack Harvey/No.7 AutoNation Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in a dazzling purplish vinyl wrap; and Zachary Claman DeMelo/No.13 Paysafe Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda in twenty-first and twenty-second.

After the afternoon practice, the IndyCar teams had Pit Stop Practice.

Power's Pit Stop . NM

Power's Pit Stop. NM

Castroneves Pit Stop. NM

Pit Stop Signaler. NM

All Pit Stop Photos by Nico Matamoros.

FULL FRIDAY

Friday at Sonoma Raceway the day started early with Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge and World Challenge practice. The Verizon IndyCar Series had its first official practice at 10am local time. The drivers were slow to come out. The skies were partly cloudy with a listless breeze and temps in the low sixties.

Josef Newgarden. PM

Will Power. NM

Simon Pagenaud. PM

Penske Posse: Josef Newgarden No.2-Photo by Pablo Matamoros; Will Power No.11 Photo by Nico Matamoros; Simon Pagenaud No.1 Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Josef Newgarden/No.2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was fastest, at 112.390 mph/1:16.3950. He took the lead halfway through the session and never looked back. Second and third were his Penske teammates, Will Power/No.11 Verizon and Simon Pagenaud/No.1 DXC Technology.

Fourth and fifth were Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda; and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 UNIFIN Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing teams Honda was sixth and the other contender, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet was eighth.

Conor Daly/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet and Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Hondas were first out and fastest, until the field filled. Other leaders during the 45-minute session were Rossi, Power and Newgarden.

In the second test session Thursday afternoon, Pagenaud was fastest at 112.014 mph/1:16.6511, considerably faster than the cooler morning session. All of the 22 drivers posted faster times in the afternoon. Penske teammate and Points leader, Newgarden was ninth. Championship contender Dixon was sixth. The top Rookie, of three, was Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda, in thirteenth position.

The only drama was late in the second test session. Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda went off in Turn 6. He wasn’t hurt, but the car was – substantial damage to the rear end. He ended his test and his crew went to work repairing the car. He was out Friday morning and ran 12th overall.

The day’s lone incident occurred when reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato went off course in Turn 6, sustaining significant rear-end damage to the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda that ended his day about an hour before conclusion of the session. Sato was unhurt.

There seemingly are some new TV camera angles, making for interesting viewing. NBCSN will broadcast live the second Friday IndyCar Practice at 2pm PT/5pm ET; qualifying Saturday 3:30pm PT/6:30pm ET; and the Sunday race on NBCSN and mathematical 360 in Canada at 3:30pm PT/6:30pm ET. All sessions are live-streamed on IndyCar.com.

Zachary Claman DeMello

Rookie Zachary Claman DeMelo is racing for the first time at Sonoma Raceway. He’s taken an abbreviated trip up the motorsports ladder, going from Skip Barber to Indy Lights to IndyCar. His goal this weekend is to learn and prepare himself for next year. While he wouldn’t mind running another year in the Indy Lights Series, go for the championship and the IndyCar seat prize money, his goal is IndyCar itself.

DeMelo is finding Sonoma Raceway challenging, with its high speed corners and lots of braking. The IndyCar has more downforce and softer tires. He ran primary tires in the morning practice, and is looking forward to running the alternative reds in the afternoon.

The Rookie trained a lot for this race, so he’s not sore from Thursday’s test session and its higher G forces. He’s finding confidence in running with other cars. Having an experience teammate such as Graham Rahal is very helpful, especially in debriefs. It’s good having Rahal’s feedback.

The number 13 is special to DeMelo. It’s lucky. His grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, she was liberated on the 13th, and her tatooed arm numbers added up to 13.

Zach Veach, Dan Towriss and Michael Andretti

Zach Veach, Dan Towriss and Michael Andretti

Next year Andretti Autosport can boast being the only IndyCar team which has an all-American driver lineup – four drivers.And they’re all on multi-year contracts. This is the first time team owner Michael Andretti has had all his drivers lined up and signed by the last race of the season. “It will be a good Christmas.”

Zach Veach, Dan Towriss and Michael Andretti

The newest addition, Zach Veach, came all the way up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder with Andretti Autosport, and somehow, Andretti knew that someday Veach would be back racing with his team.

Veach and Andretti have a long-term sponsorship agreement with One Thousand And One – a family of insurance companies based in Indianapolis. Dan Towriss, CEO, joined Veach and Andrtti for a media conference. Towriss said “We met Zach earlier this year and we formed a relationship and really just quickly identified in Zach a lot of shared values that are important to us, and as that relationship grew and the opportunity came to be involved with Michael and with Andretti Autosport, we just saw a match there for us that was perfect. We loved the way Zach will represent our brand, and we think, again, those shared values will be key to that.” Towriss wouldn’t go into specifics, but has several plans of how the company plans to activate the sponsorship of the insurance company, which focuses on retirement insurances, but is interested in expanding its reach. He wants to make it more intuitive and accessible. “There also will be activation on the philanthropy side which will involve Zach and what he represents: kind of being able to be involved in communities. We want to do well as a business, but we also want to make sure we’re giving back into the communities where we work and live, and Zach is going to be a big part of that.”

This finale race will award double points – 100 to the winner. Bonus points include one for pole position, one for leading at least one lap, and two points for leading the most laps. The points possibilities charts for the six mathematical contenders are mind-boggling.

A second practice session is set for Friday afternoon, in conditions most replicating qualifying and race conditions. Saturday morning IndyCar has its last practice session, with qualifying Saturday afternoon.

Points Possibility Charts