42 AND COUNTING

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Jim Michaelian

It’s April 15th and while many Yankees are slaving away on their income tax forms due Monday, the North American racing world is converging on sunny Southern California for its annual rite of spring – the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. This year the granddaddy of all American street races turns 42; and it still has the same sponsor – the longest corporate sponsorship in motorsports history, we’re told. And the good news from Jim Michaelian, grand poobah of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, the contract, currently through 2017, has been resigned in a multi-year deal. His words: “It will be around for a long time to come.”

This year the schedule calls for the Verizon IndyCar Series-the headliner race, WeatherTech IMSA Series Bubba Burger Sportscar Grand Prix of Long Beach, Pirelli World Challenge, Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race, SPEED Energy Stadium Trucks Presented by Traxxas, and the Motegi Racing Super Drifting Challenge. This year there is no IndyLights race – it was too expensive for them. The schedule starts each morning on or before 8am and goes into the evening with the Drifting. Sunday Stadium Trucks end the show after the IndyCar race.

Max Papis's car

This is the 40th and last year for the Pro/Celebrity race-the longest running corporate-sponsored charity race. Toyota is moving its headquarters from nearby Torrance CA to Plano TX. So the finale will be a blowout – bringing back many former drivers including Al Unser Jr, Jimmy Vasser, Adam Carolla, Eddie Lawson, Max Papis, Mike Skinner, Rod Millen, and MS Dara Torres who won the Celebrity races in 2002.

Celebs Parked on Street

Thursday afternoon all the drivers took to the track for a Walk-Around, which also included various forms of two and four wheel vehicles.

CORE Racing Team

Wayne Taylor Racing Cart

Will Fitchner

The paddock was busy Thursday getting set up, with cars going through Tech, getting tires, fueling the cars, various systems checks, circuit inspections being completed, and people getting back into the swing of things.

Will Power 's car in Tech

Radios

James Hinchcliffe's car being fueled

Friday calls for practice for all groups and qualifying for Pro/Celebs, IMSA and Drift. The day started at 7:40am with IMSA practice and will end with Drifting, finishing at 9pm. How would you like to be a corner worker with that schedule? Let’s hear it for those hardy volunteers in White!

The weather forecast is for warm and sunny, increasingly so each day, with ocean breezes. History says it’s never rained on race day.

SONOMA SUNDAY

The weather is Picture Perfect for the final day of the GoPro Sonoma Grand Prix weekend at Sonoma Raceway. The feature race will be the Verizon IndyCar Series at 1pm PT, telecast live on NBC Sports Network. The ambient temperature was 72 degrees with track temperatures in the low nineties F. Wind was 7 mph and humidity 46 percent. The skies are hazy blue.

There are six IndyCar drivers still mathematically able to win the 2015 IndyCar Driver’s Championship. There is a plethora of various scenarios so it should be an exciting race, as has been the tradition of the last few IndyCar season finale races.

Six IndyCar Championship Contenders

Six IndyCar Championship Contenders. Left to Right: Will Power, Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, and Juan Pablo Montoya. Photo by Mike Burghardt

The IndyCar Manufacturer’s Championship has already been decided, with Chevrolet winning, followed by Honda. That final count won’t be until after Sunday’s race.

IndyCar holds a half-hour warm-up session. It’s not to see who’s fastest, but get the car race worthy, practice pit stops, change and scuff tires. All but five of the 25 drivers will start the race on the Alternate-Red Firestone tires. Those five drivers – One Chevrolet and four Hondas – are starting on the Primary-black tires: Marco Andretti/No.27 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda, Sebastian Saavedra/No.8 AFS Ganassi Racing Chevrolet; Mikhail Aleshin/No.77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; Oriol Servia/No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda; and James Jakes/No.41 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

Wil Power Pit Stop 1

Will Power Pit Stop 2

Will Power Pit Stop 3

Pole Sitter, current IndyCar Champion and 2014 Sonoma race winner, Will Power/No.1 Team Penske Chevrolet was fastest in the warm-up, turning his fastest time on Lap 17 of the 18 he ran. Second through fifth were: Takuma Sato/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Honda; Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Aveya Team Penske Chevrolet; Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’ Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda; and Sebastien Bourdais/No.11 Team Hydroxycut-KVSH Racing Chevrolet.

Two-seater IndyCarsLeading up to the race are two Pirelli World Challenge Races for the various GT classes, and the IndyCar Experience – VIP rides in the IndyCar two-seater cars. The drivers this weekend for those cars are: Mario Andretti, Sarah Fisher, Martin Plowman, and Zach Veach.

There are a variety of tributes to the late IndyCar driver, Justin Wilson, who died after a tragic accident a week at during the Pocono IndyCar race. Among those fans can expect are: a video tribute on the big screens; special signage with information on the Trust Fund set up for the Wilson family (www.WilsonChildrensFund.com) and the Wilson tribute logo which includes Wilson’s helmet and the popular hashtag #BADASSWILSON; sky writing pilots drawing #25 in the sky above the track; the playing of the British national anthem – God Save The Queen; a moment of silence; and the LED car positioning lights displaying 25 during the pace laps.

#BADASS Justin Wilson T Shirt

Aaron Justus Justin Wilson T Shirt

Justin Wilson T Shirt

More Wilson T shirts arrived and were quickly purchased and seen around the track.

The IndyCar class photo was taken Sunday morning, and it included Stefan Wilson, younger brother of Justin Wilson. They all posed with their helmets, which the drivers are all donating to the Wilson Children’s Fund.

James Hinchcliffe

IndyCar driver, James Hinchcliffe is on scene, and now sporting his usual nicely-cut goatee. He had been looking like one of the Smith Brothers on the cough drop package. He’d vowed not to cut it until he drove a race car. Thursday he drove the IndyCar two-seater across the Golden Gate Bridge, carrying the Astor Cup in the passenger seat. This was part of a celebratory caravan of several IndyCars – Marco Andretti in No.25 Honda originally slated for Justin Wilson, with also Will Power and Graham Rahal in their cars driving in formation. They were followed by the two Holmatro Safety Trucks who responded to Wilson’s Pocono accident.

IndyCar Sunday Paddock

HONORS AND WINNERS

Roger Penske and Steve Page

Roger Penske and Steve Page. Photo by Mike Burghardt

Long-time IndyCar team owner, Roger Penske, was inducted Saturday into the Sonoma Raceway Wall of Fame, for his lifelong contributions to motorsports in many ways. Steve Page, President of Sonoma Raceway, said “I can’t think of anybody more deserving, either for their record here at Sonoma, or for the body of work that you look at in the motor racing industry. From someone who competed and raced her – and Roger reminded me he won the Trans Am Championship here in 1969 – who built cars, who built engines, who built racetracks. Who has brought corporate America to a sport that is very dependent on sponsorship, and has really elevated this industry in ways that I don’t think any other individual can lay claim to.”

Penske asked that Justin Wilson’s name be inscribed on the plaque too, before the plaque was posted with the others. “I wouldn’t let this day go by without having his name on the plaque with me, because he’s one of the great guys. We lost a great friend and a competitor, and we need to honor him also.”

Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, the Pirelli World Challenge Series had two races, and the NASA Formula Car Challenge Series held its second race. All of the races were exciting.

Kevin Estre

Robert Thorne

Sloan Urry

Left to Right: Kevin Estre, Robert Thorne and Sloan Urry.

The Pirelli World Challenge GTS Race #1 was won by Polesitter, Andy Lee/No.1 BestlT Racing Chevrolet Camaro and he turned the fastest race lap of 1:42.398/83.849 mph. His Margin of Victory was 0.968 seconds ahead of Michael Cooper/No.10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Z28, Jack Baldwin/No.73 GT Sport Racing Porsche Cayman S was third. The best battle was between several cars behind them: with Kris Wilson/07 Royal Purple/Orion/LaSalle/Pass Time USA TRG-AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4, Nathan Stacey/No.14 Rehagen Racing Ford Mustang Boss 302, Dean Martin/No.50 Picture Cars East Ford Mustang Boss and Ben Clucas/No.36 DonorsChoose.Org Kia Optima finally finishing in that order after their slicing and dicing – sixth through ninth.

Kevin Estre/No.9 K_PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 started second and won the Pirelli World Challenge Race #1 for GT/GTA/GT Cup. His Margin of Victory was 02.740 seconds ahead of Pole sitter Renger van_der_Zande/No.31 EFFORT Racing/World PMO Porsche 911 GT3R, who finished second. Third through fifth were Mike Skeen/No.2 DeVilbiss/Hawk Performance Audi R8 LMS Ultra, Olivier Beretta/No.61 Ferrari Ontario/Toronto/Alberta Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia, and Johnny O’Connell/No.3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-VR GT3. The fastest GT race lap was set by the winner’s teammate, Robert Thorne/No.6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 659S GT3, at 01.34.554/90.805 mph. He finished twenty-fourth, one lap down.

In the GTC category, Alex Udell/No.17 Amsource Capital Panther Pipeline Porsche 911 GT3 Cup won, finishing twenty-seventh overall in a field of 33 cars. His Margin of Victory was 04.350 seconds. Finishing second was Sloan Urry/No.02 Security National Engle & Volkers Porsche 911 GT3 Cup. Colin Thompson No.11 Porsche Bucks County Penn Valley Porsche 911 GT3 Cup finished third, and turned the fastest race lap of 01.38,744/86.952 mph.

Formula Car Podium Winners

Formula Car Podium Winners. Photo by Mike Burghardt

In the Formula Car race, it again was Cabot Bigham/No.2 Pro Formula Mazda who won from his second starting position, while pole sitter Hunter Pickett/No.6 Pickett Racing Pro Formula Mazda finished second. Third on Saturday was Jaden Conwright/No.40 VMB Driver Development LLC Pro Formula Mazda.

Formula Car Pace Lap

Formula Car Pace Lap. Photo by Mike Burghardt

Pickett had the pole for both races this weekend, and finished second to Bigham each day. Bigham started second in both races.

Cabot Bigham No.2 and  Hunter Pickett No.6

Cabot Bigham No.2 and Hunter Pickett No.6. Photo by Mike Burghardt

Michael Avansino/No.24 VMB Driver Development won the FS2.0 class, in eighth place, and Bill Weaver/No.67 James G Parker Insurance Association won the FM class, twelfth overall.

It was a mob scene Saturday noon for the IndyCar Fan Village Autograph Session. The area was packed for the hour-long fan-friendly feature.

IndyCar Autograph Session

SHADY SATURDAY

IndyCar Paddock Queue

What a difference a day makes. Saturday’s weather at Sonoma Raceway is much cooler than was Friday’s scorcher – a cloudy 64F degrees with 96 percent humidity but no chance of rain. The breeze is gentle. These new conditions will prove interesting for the mid-morning IndyCar practice. Saturday afternoon is scheduled to be quite hot for IndyCar qualifying for Sunday’s GoPro Sonoma GP.

Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal No.15 Honda

Courtney Force

Graham Rahal was the first driver in the long paddock queue waiting to go on track for practice, in his No.15 Steak ‘N Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda. His fiancee, NHRA Funny Car driver, Courtney Force, was on hand to cheer on Rahal, who is going for the 2015 IndyCar Championship. He currently is 34 points behind Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet

The support groups took to the track early morning for their respective qualifying sessions.

In the NASA Formula Car Challenge Race #2 Qualifying, Hunter Picket took the pole position at 1:33.922. Fridays Race #1 winner, Cabot Bigham will start second in Race #2 scheduled after IndyCar practice.

A field of 25 cars in the Pirelli World Challenge GTS category qualified Saturday morning for their Saturday afternoon races. Andy Lee/No.20 BestlT Racing Chevrolet Camaro. His top lap was 1:40.961/85.042 mph. This is a new track record for this class.

There are Justin Wilson tribute and inspirational articles seen/sold throughout the paddock. The IndyCar Merchandise Tent has been doing a brisk business with the Justin Wilson T Shirts and decals. The 3,000 shirts sold out, as did all the decals – all within a couple of hours. Those articles are available online, with all proceeds going to the Wilson Children’s Fund.

Justin Wilson decal

SWELTERING SONOMA

SONOMA VICTORY CIRCLE

The weather was hot for the first day of the GoPro Sonoma Grand Prix weekend at Sonoma Raceway for the season’s finale IndyCar race. A gentle breeze didn’t do much to cut the 91 F degree temperatures. And, as often is the case, it changed direction from morning to afternoon.

The atmosphere was muted this weekend after the tragic accident of British driver, Justin Wilson, who was racing No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda last weekend at Pocono. Wilson died Monday night from injuries sustained when his helmet was hit by a flying piece of debris from the crashing car of Rookie Sage Karem/No.8 Chevrolet. Karen sustained minor injuries – sore, bruised foot.

Tributes at the track and on social media were many and varied for the gentle giant, a much-beloved member of the IndyCar community. The drivers were full of fond memories and praise for the character and talent of Wilson, who had been selected by the drivers to represent them in the Driver’s Association. They all agreed the best (and toughest) thing to do was get back into the car and race this weekend. Best medicine.

No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda

Twenty-five IndyCar drivers are entered for Sunday’s feature race, including Oriol Servia of Spain who is driving the No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda, formerly driven by Wilson. The two drivers were close friends, and Servia said “This is the most difficult quote I have ever had to make, The situation is so difficult, on so many levels for obvious reasons, that it’s hard for the words to come out the right way. I am honored and emotional with the opportunity of driving his car this weekend. I want to thank my friends at Andretti Autosport for the opportunity, and I want to express how deeply touched I am by the desire of Julia, Stefan and all the Wilson family to have me driving the No. 25.”

Oriol Servia No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda

Oriol Servia in No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Stefan Wilson, Justin’s younger brother said “As a family, we can not imagine a better person to race in Justin’s honor than Oriol. His path and Justin’s crossed in many different ways through the years.  As a competitor, and also as a person, he carries Justin’s spirit well, and we know that Justin would approve.”

A couple of other IndyCar driver changes include veteran Sebastien Saavedra who will drive the No.8 AFS Ganassi Racing Chevrolet – who has alternated this season with young Karem. Karen drove the majority of the races, with Saavedra running four, road and street courses. Both ran the Indianapolis 500. The other driver change is Rookie Roberto Gonzalez in No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. This car had been driven by a variety of drivers throughout the season, and the Dale Coyne team is the one for whom Wilson raced the past two years.

Also on the program for this three-day weekend is the Pirelli World Challenge Series, which has 64 entries in the four classes. There are 17 GT cars, 12 GTA’s, eight GT Cup cars, and 27 GTS cars. This is the penultimate round for the SCCA Pro Racing Series.

Rounding out the bill is the Formula Car Challenge Series, which is the Official Feeder Series in the Mazda Road to Indy program. Two of the successful graduates of this series are racing IndyCars this weekend. The 2014 Indy Lights Champion, Gabby Chaves, who is running for IndyCar Rookie of the Year racing No.98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda for BHA Racing; and Tristan Vautier, who is running the No.19 Dale Coyne Honda this weekend and also raced in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

The Friday schedule called for practice sessions for all series, plus qualifying and a race for the Formula Car Challenge. IndyCar’s one practice session is three and a half hours starting at 2:30pm, the last on-track group for the day.

Cabot Bigham, racing in the PRO FM class of the Formula Car Challenge Series, won the Friday race after qualifying third. He had also been the fastest in the morning practice. Finishing second in the race was pole sitter, Hunter Pickett, who also races in the PFM category. His qualifying lap was 1:33.922. PFM driver Stan Kohls finished third. Prior to the race, Pickett was leading the PFM standings. He is the grandson of veteran championship driver, Greg Pickett.

Pirelli World Challenge cars

The PWC drivers had two separate sessions for the large field. Fastest in the GTS Category in Practice One was Renger van_der_Zande/No.31 EFFORT Racing/World PMO Porsche 911 GT3R at 1:33.919/91.419 mph. His teammate, Rookie Michael Lewis/No.41 was fastest in the second practice for the group, with van_der_Zande coming in second.

In the PWC GT/GTA/GT Cup categories, veteran champion driver, Jack Baldwin/No.73 GTS GTSport Racing Porsche Cayman S set a new track record at 1:42.264/83.959 mph. Every driver was faster than the record in the field of 34 cars. In the second practice, Mark Wilkins/No.38 GTS PutOnTheBrakes.Org KIA Optima was fastest at 1:41.874/84.280 mph. He also was fastest than the existing track record, as were all24 drivers in that session.

Pit Lane Catch Fence

One change in the track added for this race is the new Pit Lane Catch Fence along the tarmac facing the garages. It had been installed for the NASCAR race in June, but it interfered with the Timing & Scoring system and was taken down, and then reinstalled for this weekend.

American Flag at Half Mast

UNSUNG HEROES

TURN 12

There are more than 300 SCCA volunteer race marshals and officials working the 41st Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Many of them have worked many of these events dating back to the F5000 and F1 days – an annual trek. They come from SCCA Regions up and down the West Coast, from across the country, and from abroad. Such is the lure of The Beach. They all pay their own way, buy their uniforms, and work long hours in a variety of specialties. Their day starts before sunrise four days in a row, and with the late night Drifting Demonstrations, some work until 10pm. All for the love of the sport.

Thank you one and all!

Bill Galey

SCCA Marshals

SCCA Pit Lane Marshals

Fire Safety Marshal

Peter West Ambulance Marshal

Pit Lane Marshals

Cal Club Tow Truck

PENSKE POWER

Will Power

The times were faster by far in the second practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Ultimately, last year’s champion, Will Power/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, was the fastest. His time was 1:07.5485, and unofficially nearly three-tenths faster than last year’s record of 1:07.8219 set last year by Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Honda.

Second through sixth were Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet; Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet; Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet; Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske, and Josef Newgarden/No.67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet.

Graham Rahal

Will Power

Simon Pagenaud

Little bit of a pattern there. All four of the Penske drivers in the top five, and the top six cars were Chevrolets.

The top Honda, in seventh place, was Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’ Shake Honda; or, as he put it “the best of the rest.”

Among the other fastest drivers during the 45-minute session were Newgarden, Charlie Kimball/No.83 Novo Norodisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, and Dixon.

Again, Stefan Coletti/No.4 KV Racing technology Chevrolet was the top Rookie, in fifteenth place.

Seventeen of the 23 drivers were faster than the fastest lap set in the first session by Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Chevrolet – 1:08.6458; and all but one were faster then they were in the first session. Eighteenth fastest driver, Kimball, turned the exact time as did Dixon in the morning session. The Friday combined practice times were the same as the second session.

Friday, IndyCar announced some Aero Kit modifications effective this weekend: Chevrolet to add a tether to the winglets, or remove the winglets, from its front wing assembly; and Honda to implement additional reinforcements to its rear wheel guards.

IndyCar said it will continue to be proactive in its review of aero kit performance, as part of its commitment to deliver an entertaining on-track product through the season. The first step was last week with mandated structural upgrades. IndyCar will continue the process as the season progresses, and opportunities for improvements are identified.

The new IndyCar aerodynamic bodywork kits, aka Aero Kits, were a topic of discussion – serious and humorous. One definition of pundit is “a person who offers to mass media his opinion or commentary on a particular subject area” and that fitted Power and Rahal during the post-practice media conference. Their witty comments and ripostes on various subjects such as manufacturer rivalry, driving skills, and especially the aero kits amused the media. I hope someone got a good transcript.

Power said it was “no big deal not to have the rabbit ears on his Penske. Little bit more front wing, and that’s it. The aero kits give us little gains on tracks like this. It makes things a bit faster everywhere. Qualifying will be tight, on reds (Bridgestone option tires,) but it could be doable to break the track record.”

Power saw it “as a positive that IndyCar is making adjustments to the aero kits.” Rahal said “Fan and driver safety is important. We need to make it stronger so it doesn’t just fall off.” Pagenaud said “It’s important and needs to be fair to both manufacturers. Rahal added “And so it’s not a huge cost to the teams … even the big teams like Penske.”

Rahal’s team repaired his morning gear box problem, making the second session more to his liking. On the apparent Chevrolet domination, Rahal said “The (Honda) guys are working hard on it, and I guess we’ll just have to work harder.”

Rookie Rocky Moran, Jr/No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda was the only driver who failed to go faster in the second session. The Red Flag came out mid-way through the session, when he and Carlos Munoz/No.26 AndrettiTV Cinsay Honda spun. Munoz continued, but Moran backed into the concrete barrier. He got out and walked to the Response Vehicle, while his car was towed away.

Kimball kissed the left side of his car on a concrete barrier and pitted to have his left rear tire checked/replaced. Rahal appeared to have repeated Kimball’s mishap, but kept on going with no problems. He admitted later he “ate Turn Eight.”

Carlos Munoz

Charlie Kimball

Francesco Dracone

Having the dubious distinction of being last in both sessions was Rookie Francesco Dracone of Italy, driving No.19 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing. His new-for-the weekend teammate, Rocky Moran, Jr. was twenty-second of the 23 drivers.

The late afternoon weather was still warm, mid-seventies, but the breeze also went stronger, up to 20 mph.

Saturday IndyCar has its final practice at 10am PDT, followed by qualifying at 2pm PDT.

41 … BUT WHO’S COUNTING

Welcome LBGP

This weekend marks the forty-first running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, long considered the grandfather of American street races. The event started out with a FIA qualifying F5000 race and then moved to Formula One. Thirty-two years ago indycars began, under various banners … CART, Champ Car and now IndyCar.

The schedule, as always, is full with something for most everyone. In addition to the Verizon IndyCars, also racing this three-day weekend are the IMSA sanctioned TUDOR Championship Series, SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge Series, Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series, ToyotaPro/Celebrity Race, KMC Wheels Super Drift Drift Challenge Series, and Robby Gordon’s SPEED Energy Off-Road Series.

Robby Gordon

Robby Gordon, along with Bryan Herta, was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame Thursday. This is the tenth year of honoring those who have made legendary contributions to the sport. Gordon has raced in four different series at Long Beach – IndyCar, Indy Lights Trans-Am, and last year for debut of the Formula Off Road Series. At Long Beach, he won in Indy Lights, Trans-Am and Off-Road, and finished third in IndyCar. In two more – different – series away from Long Beach, Gordon has won three victories each in NASCAR and the Baja 1000 Off Road race.

Herta has raced IndyCars and Indy Lights at Long Beach, winning the 1993 Lights Championship. He ran five Indianapolis 500 races, coming in third in 2005. As an IndyCar team owner, Herta’s driver, the late Dan Wheldon, won the 100th Anniversary running of the Indy 500.

Twenty-three drivers are entered for the Long Beach IndyCar race, with some new faces after the first two races of the season – at St. Petersburg and New Orleans.

Rocky Moran Jr of Pasadena CA is replacing Carlos Huertas in No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Huertas raced the first two races with Dale Coyne Racing. That announcement came Friday morning. Little was known about the change, other than a Tweet by Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star, saying that “Coyne told me that Huertas is a possibility for the Indianapolis 500. Carlos isn’t racing here ‘for business reasons.’

Sebastian Saavedra of Colombia is making his first appearance this year, driving No.8 AFS Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. Rookie Sage Karam, Ganassi’s development driver, raced the car in the first two races this year, and will race again at the Barber race, the Indianapolis 500 and all the remaining race until the season’s finale at Sonoma Raceway in August. Karam is the 2014 Indy Lights Champion.

Missing this weekend is Simona de Silvestro of Switzerland, who had raced the first two races in No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda, finishing fourth at New Orleans and eighteenth at St. Pete. She is expected back for the Indianapolis 500.

Empty IndyCar Tech

In the IndyCar paddock all the teams were beavering away while their drivers and Crew Chiefs were at the obligatory morning meeting. All the IndyCars had gone through the IndyCar scrutineering process on Thursday, so Friday the Tech Crew were “just sitting and looking pretty.” During the weekend, sometimes after on-track sessions, the teams will bring back a car to be checked. Otherwise, it’s all good.

The first IndyCar practice is 12:30pm PDT, with the second session at 3:45pm local time. Each session is 45 minutes.

SHAKY SUNDAY

IndyCar Paddock

Well, the good news that Sonoma Raceway in Northern California’s Wine Country survived the early morning 6.0/6.1 magnitude earthquake centered a few miles away. The track has surveyed the facilities and it’s all systems go, as planned.

Some spectators may have a bit of a detour getting to the track as some roads are closed, such as parts of #37 and #121, both major arteries to the track.

Nearby Napa, Vallejo and American Canyon suffered physical damage including broken water and gas mains resulting in fires and no way to put them out, lots of things falling and breaking, and a few injuries in facilities.

Many of the teams and drivers and other race participants were staying on the Vallejo/Napa side of the track and felt the quake much more. Team Penske gathered in its parking lot after everything including a well-stocked bar off-loaded to the ground. For some of the non-locals, this was their first earthquake, and quite unsettling to say the least.

The United States Geological Survey said this earthquake is first big one in the Bay Area since the really big 6.9 Loma Prieto Earthquake in Oakland in 1989. That explains why this is the first earthquake I’ve felt since that fateful day.

Sunday’s Sonoma Raceway’s schedule calls for Warm-Ups for Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires and Verizon IndyCar Series, followed by the second Indy Lights Grand Prix of Sonoma Race, the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma IndyCar Race, and the second SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli World Challenge Race.

Saturday saw the season’s finale for two of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series – Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda and Pro Mazda presented by Cooper Tires. Both series had exciting races to the finish for the championship.

RC Enerson leading Florian Latorre. Photo by Jeff Burghardt

RC Enerson leading Florian Latorre. Photo by Jeff Burghardt

RC Enerson No.7 Team E Racing won the USF2000 Race #1, while title contender Florian Latorre No.10 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing had contact while the two were dicing. Enerson continued and Latorre retired.

Latorre had a comback in Race #2 by winning, ahead of Enerson, and collected the title championship as well. The races were much more exciting than I have time to elaborate.

Jack Harvey of England won the Indy Lights race, his third in four races. He races for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and is now second by 12 points behind Championship leader, Gabby Chaves, who finished second in that race.

Spencer Pigot

Spencer Pigot

The most exciting series to follow was the Pro Mazda Series, which had two contenders going for the brass ring and that goes with including incentives to facilitate graduation to the Indy Lights Series, the next step of the Mazda Road to Indy. Spencer Pigot No.7 Juncos Racing was leading the points ahead of Rookie Scott Hargrove No.3 Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing.

In Mazda Race #1 Pigot and Hargrove were racing/dicing, with Hargrove leading and Pigot second, until they had body contact. Hargrove continued, Pigot, who led a lap, did not and retired.

Spencer Pigot's No.7

Spencer Pigot’s No.7

Pigot made an amazing comeback in Race #2. He started second, had yet another contact on the first lap, involving five other cars, leading him stranded. He got restarted at the back and charged his way to fifth place. Meanwhile Leader Hargrove had mechanical problems starting on Lap 15, and he fell back and retired. Pigot’s Juncos Racing teammate, Jose Gutierrez won the race, and Pigot won the championship.

The fog mostly lifted by the time the first race cars, Indy Lights, and the clouds parted to make room for the welcome sun.

It’s going to be another great day.

IndyCar Paddock

UNSUNNY SONOMA SATURDAY MORN

Saturday morning at Sonoma Raceway, the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock has more hustle in the bustle as the 22 cars are prepared for their first practice session at 10am PDT.

IndyCar Paddock

Penske Crew polishing wheels

Empty IndyCar Tech Center

The Scrutineering Bay is totally devoid of activity as all the IndyCars completed their initial Tech Inspection Friday. They will, however, be coming back time and again during the weekend to check on things.

The teams get busy early, as the garage opens at 7am PDT. The teams off-load their race cars from the transporters. Each night the cars are lift-gated to their transporter bed.

Ryan Briscoe's car lift-gated up

Ryan Briscoe's car lift-gated up

Ryan Briscoe's car lift-gated up

Chevrolet announced that it has won the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series Manufacturer Championship, with two races remaining in the 18-car schedule. In the 22-car field, Chevrolet has ten cars and Honda has 12. Chevy’s statistics so far this season include winning ten of the first 16 races, and starting on pole 12 times. Chevrolet rejoined the IndyCar Series in 2012 and has won this championship every year since. Chevrolet previous involvements in indycar racing were 1983-1993 and 2002-2005. During those years it’s won seven Indianapolis 500 races and six Driver Championships.

Saturday’s busy on-track schedule has two IndyCar practice sessions with qualifying last session of the day. Other series competition include Warm-Up and Race #2 for the Cooper Tires USF2000 Series powered by Mazda and the Pro Mazda Series presented by Cooper Tires, Qualifying and Race #1 with no Warm-Up for SCCA Pro Racing’s Pirelli World Challenge Series, and Race #1 with no Warm-Up for Indy Lights powered by Cooper Tires.

The weather started out cold and foggy with no breeze. It’s forecast for full sun by Indy first practice, and working up to a high of low eighties by mid-afternoon.

Team Penske Prep