What a difference a day makes. Sunday dawned warmed and sunny at Sonoma Raceway. By the time the Verizon IndyCar drivers took to the track at 11:30am, it was already mid eighties, with no breeze. The IndyCar paddock was full of fans, checking out the cars, hanging around outside the Drivers’ Meeting hoping for a sight or autograph, taking in all the displays, going on guided tours, listening to live music, riding the Ferris Wheel, eating and quaffing all the local cuisine and enjoying local adult beverages. And that’s not counting the racing. Besides IndyCars, there are races for the Formula Car Challenge Series and two races for Pirelli World Challenge – GT’s and GTS. Talk about sensory overload.
The half-hour Sunday IndyCar practice was a shake-down, warm up exercise. The title contenders took it easy, and no one was going for speeds – nearly two seconds or more slower than qualifying. All 22 cars were on track, and the number of laps per driver were double digit, ranging from 14-20. The session was all green, with no dramas.
Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing was on top for much of the firs half of the session, but in the end the lead changed several times, with Josef Newgarden/No.21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet was on top at 1:17.6431. Second through fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Takuma Sato/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda; Charlie Kimball/No.83 Treslba Chevrolet; and the top rookie, Alexander Rossi/No.93 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda.
Championship contenders Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet and Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske each ran 18 laps, with Pagenaud in eighteenth and Power in twenty-first position.As said by their teammate, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske, “Practice doesn’t pay money.”
Overall for the three practice sessions, Marco Andretti/No.27 Snapple remains the fastest driver, and all but Castroneves kept their third Practice time as their fastest.
After he got out of the car, Power said he thinks the Black tires will be the favored tires in the race.
IndyCar released the Tire Designation List for the race, and all but one driver will start the race on the Red/Alternate tire. The lone driver starting on the Black/Primary tire is Rookie Conor Daly/No.19 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda
With Sonoma being the last race of the 2016 IndyCar season, Silly Season is in full swing. Lots of rumors of who is going where. The smart money is on waiting until after Sunday to start serious speculating as most players are unavailable or genuinely not making the decision until after the season. There is, however, one rumor that has gained a lot of momentum – Chip Ganassi Racing moving to the Honda camp next season.
One player is now out of the equation. Michael Andretti of Andretti Autosport and his long-time driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay confirmed Sunday that RHR, DHL and Andretti Autosport will be partners through the 2020 season. Hunter-Reay has been driving with DHL as his sponsor since 2010, and it’s been a primary sponsor since 2011 and will continue as such. RHR will be driver and brand ambassador. Andretti and DHL Express Americas CEO, Michael Parra, signed the contracts Sunday in the press conference.
The Sunday schedule started with IndyCar two-seater rides in the several special cars, with drivers Mario Andretti, Davey Hamilton, Indy Car/Indy Lights drivers Zack Veach and Gabby Chaves as pilots with the lucky guests. Some media got rides Friday afternoon in those cars.
Zack Veach & GabyChaves
A special IndyCar two-seater driver/ride was with IndyCar driver, James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, driving a tricked-out two seater looking like his race car, gave a ride to Sharma Burgess, his dancing partner on Dancing With The Stars. The video is on YouTube. She loved it.
Hinch has been busy between doing the IndyCar test last week and this week’s season’s finale race, and working on his dance moves. The first round of the dancing was last Monday and the Team Stop And Go (Hinch/Burgess) tied for first place, doing the Fox Trot. The IndyCar community has been very supportive in helping Hinch launch a mock campaign “given the time of the year” with the goal of getting out the fan vote which is part of winning proccess. Round Two of DWST is this Monday and Tuesday on ABC TV at 8pm PT/ET. Check out Hinchtown.com and abc.com for details on how to vote after each show. #VoteHinch. It was the most popular hashtag of the first show.
Hinchcliffe met with the media Saturday morning, and while racing was part of the conference, much was devoted to his dancing life.
Regarding his 2016 racing season, he said “Coming into here, we don’t have championship goals that we may have been considering two weeks ago. It’s an all-or-nothing weekend for us. Sure, double points are nice, but we want to get that win on the board. We were so close at Texas obviously. Weren’t able to pull that one off. We’re kind of flat out going for the win here at Sonoma.
“We take a lot of positives from this season. I’m still rankling from the penalties (at Texas and Watkins Glen most recently.) Not the championship weekend goals we had two weeks ago after the penalties, so just going flat out for the win. Qualifying is a lottery. The track here is so difficult. The grip is so low. The tires last exactly one lap, maybe even less than a full lap, to be fair. So you’re going to see a very interesting grid.
You literally get one shot. It’s almost like playing roulette. You’re going to go out there, do one lap, and see where it lands on. That’s a huge ask for the drivers certainly.”
This season has been full of changes and challenges for the affable Canadian. Hinchcliffe riffed.
Among the changes this season: “On TV a lot more. On various TV shows, such as Celebrity Family Feud with Team IndyCar Drivers, which they won against the Victoria Secrets Angels. Then the invite to Dancing With the Starts. “DWST snowballed after the Steve Harvey show. It’s a very different kind of nerves for DWST. I’ve been racing 20 years. I have a fair amount of experience. I’ve been through pretty much everything that could happen on a racetrack at one point or another.
“I hadn’t been through anything on a dance floor, good, bad or indifferent. There were a lot of unknowns for certain. Doing it not only in front of a live studio audience, but a live television audience, something I’ve been doing for two weeks versus something I’ve been doing for two decades.
“It was very nerve wracking. But I have an incredible partner in Sharna Burgess. She kept me calm. We were joking literally right up until the count came down. We almost missed the start of the song because we were cracking jokes on the dance floor. I didn’t see the video package leading into it. I don’t remember what we were joking about. We were joking about something.
“I honestly don’t remember much of the dance at all. I just remember ending and thinking, ‘That actually went pretty well.’ I was floored by the scores and the judges’ comments. Couldn’t have gone any better.
“Problem is we set the bar high and people will expect good dances. Not sure we can repeat that.
“I have never danced in any appropriate way before. Other ways but not pretty. It wasn’t even on my radar. I’ve learned its fascinating. Did get tips from Helio, more about process rather than actual dancing.”
Comparing racing to dancing: “What certainly helps, the concentration is a huge thing. In football, plays last about 10 seconds. That’s kind of what those athletes are really trained to be focused on. It’s hyper, super intensive for that short burst of time.
“When you’re getting into dances that are one, one and a half, two minutes long, that’s longer than they’re used to having to concentrate. We do this for three hours. So the concentration side of it is not very difficult for us.
“Running around a dance room, yes, it gets the cardio going. Again, some of these athletes are good over short sprints, but if you do it longer, that’s not what their body is trained for. We do this for three hours. That’s not an issue for us.
“One of the most fascinating things that Sharna talked about is how receptive I am to small inputs. When you’re driving a racecar, the racecar is talking to you. Every part of your body is getting some sort of input from the racecar. Everything that’s touching the car, your back, your bum, your head, your legs, your hands, everything is getting some sort of input. We are making instantaneous, very minute adjustments based on what the car is doing.
“Dance, you can do the same thing. Obviously, I’m leading as the male or whatever. But let’s be real, she’s driving this car. She said that when she does something to try and adjust me or taps me on my elbow or shoulder, she said not only do it recognize it and feel it, I adjust instantly. She said the only other partner she’s ever had that could do that was her partner last year Nyle who was deaf. He was just so much more in tune with his other senses he could make these instant adjustments.
“I explained that’s what you do in a racecar. When you go through a corner, you don’t just go through, turn and come out. When you turn, you’re making miniature adjustments that the human eye can’t see, but we know we’re making. We’re taking every sense we have in our body and adjusting accordingly. That has been a huge asset on the dance floor.
“Focus and travel goes with my lifestyle, so I was prepared. Scheduling and logistics a bit hectic. It will be easier after this weekend. Physical and concentration aspects. Concentration is huge. Ball has very short attention span focus. We do this for three hours on a track. I’m receptive to small going said Sharma. Instantaneous adjustments. But be real – she’s driving this car. We taking all our sensory input and adjusting accordingly Monday we’re doing a Latin dance. Paso Doble.
Why he’s doing this, in his new role showing two faces of IndyCar
“For me, in a lot of ways, doing Dancing with the Stars was to help spread the IndyCar message. That was honestly one of my reasons, bigger reasons, for doing it. I’m such a fan of this sport. I have been since I was a kid. I’m now in a super fortunate position to be involved in it and essentially in a sense be a spokesperson for it. I want to tell the story. I want to show people how cool this sport really is. Any opportunity I get to do that, I’m all in.
I mean, yes, it does end up benefitting me. The better the series does, as a person involved in the series, the better I could potentially do.
Really for me it’s about spreading the message. This is my family. This is my sport. The more that people learn about what we’re doing here, the more people are going to enjoy it because I don’t know anyone that comes that doesn’t enjoy their time here. That just benefits everyone here and everyone that I love and I work with.”