WHISTLIN’ DIXIE & HAVING FUN

Scott Dixon

NTT IndyCar Series driver, Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda topped the chart in the second practice Friday afternoon at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, with a time of 1:07.7940. The weather was sunny and warm, nearly 70 degrees F. “I think it was only an average run. I think I missed the timing line when I went to get the fast lap out of it. We ran long, and the grip felt high, but I made a pretty big mistake in the first two laps.”

Dixon was one of four drivers who broke into the 1:07 area in the final five minutes of the 45-minute session. They were: Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Rookie Felix Rosenqvist/No.10 NTT Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, and Joseph Newgarden/No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet were the other drivers. Of those four, all but Felix, the top Rookie in the session, were at the top once during the session.

Rounding out the top ten were: Rookie Patricio O’Ward/No 31 GESS Carlin Chevrolet; Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda; Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda; Simon Pagenaud/No.DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet; James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; and Marco Andretti/No.98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Andretti Herta with Marco & Curb-Agajanian Honda. Say that fast five times.

Patricio O'Ward

O’Ward practically ran into the post-session media conference. RHR was asked if he was smirking at it. He said “He’s enjoying himself. You got to love it. He’s got that talent. He’s got the fire to do it. That’s what it’s about. It’s cool to see, for sure. Yeah, the more you go to press conferences, the slower the entrance becomes, I’m not sure how that goes.” O’Ward was then asked if he was actually having fun out there. “You have to be having fun doing this. I mean, I feel like if you’re not having fun, then why are you doing it, right? You have to enjoy it. You have to have fun where you’re at.

But I think it’s just a place that everybody likes to come to because of the energy around this place. I’ve never been here, but today is a Friday, man, and the paddock is full. The stands are, like, packed. I’ve never seen a Friday so full in my life.

It’s cool. It’s really cool. I wonder what it’s going to be like Sunday. So, I mean, I think Ryan knows better than I do, but I’m super excited.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay

Hunter-Reay responded” Yeah, it’s excellent. Don’t mistake what he’s saying. He’s not out there giggling while he’s on the track. He’s enjoying it because it ticks every box off for a driver that you want. You have the passion; you have the energy from the fans. The track is challenging you as a driver. It has that aspect to it that you really enjoy, you can’t wait to get back in the car.”

Mathew Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet was one of those drivers who found the 1.968-11-turn street course challenging. He drove into the Turn 9 runoffs area early on in the session, bringing out a Red Flag, for which he received a five-minute penalty – for causing the Red Flag. “We had a great Practice 1 here, but unfortunately in the second session, I think the higher temperatures and the setup that I had didn’t work well together. I had too much oversteer on turn-in, which doesn’t help you to go faster.” That was the only drama in the session, although Dixon admitted he probably hit the wall three-four times ‘just lightly’ during the session. He said “The course is very difficult. It’s quite a technical circuit, hard to piece it together. I think any street course, it’s very easy to get caught out. You’re constantly just rubbing the walls or getting close.”

Leist and two other Rookies – Colton Herta/No.88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda and Santino Ferrucci/No.19 David Yurman Dale Coyne Racing were the only drivers who were faster in the morning session. Everyone else went faster in the warmer afternoon.

Sebastien Bourdais, who races No.18 Sealmaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan in IndyCars is also racing the No.66 factory Ford GT for Chip Gannassi Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship this weekend. He is filling in for Joey Hand, who is ill. Dixon was asked in the post-session conference if he would have taken the opportunity if Ganassi called him. Dixon paused, and said “Chip did call.” Big stunned silence. “You said no?” Dixon – “I said, Call me back if you get stuck.”

In the Historic IMSA GTO qualifying session, Craig Bennett of Wixom MI got the pole in No.3 1990 Chevrolet Beretta. Second was Joel Miller of Oakbro IL in No. 62 1991 Mazda RX7 and Pieter Baljet in his 1990 Chevrolet Beretta. These cars are required to have run five races at five different tracks in a single year, and be outfitted with the original livery as it was period run. They have a 20-minute race Saturday at 5 pm.

IMSA GTO Podium Qualifiers

Left to Right: Keith Freiser, Craig Bennett and Joel Miller.

LIFE’S A BEACH!

Wyland Mural on Convention Center

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

Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 Honda

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

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

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

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

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

Sebastien Bourdais & Will Power

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

Sebastien Bourdais Medallion

Jim Michaelian

Will Power Medallion

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

Wyland Mural

HOW DRY I AM

Scott Dixon, 2018 IndyCar Champion

Scott Dixon, 2018 IndyCar Champion

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

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

Max Chilton

Max Chilton

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

Felix Rosenqvist

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Jack Harvey

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

Will Power

Will Power

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

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

Tim McGrane, with Danny Sullivan

Tim McGrane, with Danny Sullivan

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

Zach Veach

Zach Veach

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

IndyCar paddock

RHR & DIXON WIN!

RHR Champagne shower/Nico

Confetti:Cup:Champion/Pablo

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

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

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

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

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay

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

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon

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

Chip Ganassi

Chip Ganassi

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

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

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

Mike Hull

Mike Hull

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

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

Alexander Rossi and pack. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Alexander Rossi and pack. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

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

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi

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

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

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

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

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

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

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

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

Patricio O'Ward

Patricio O’Ward

Patricio O'Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Patricio O’Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

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

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

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

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

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

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryan Hunter-Reay & Scott Dixon

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

SONOMA SUNDAY SCENE SEEN

Sonoma Thank You Sign

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

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

Top Three Sunday Trans Am winners

No.49 Gray Ghose 1964 Pontiac Tempest

JR & John Hildebrand

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

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

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

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

Champagne & Cider Ceremony

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

FCC Winner, Patrick O'Neill

Saturday FS Winner, Courtney Crone

Sunday FS Winner, Rayce Dykstra

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

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

James Hinchcliffe

Graham Rahal

Simon Pagenaud

Takuma Sato

Scott Dixon

Alexander Rossi

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

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

Juan Piedrahita's IndyCar Honda

Kyle Kaiser's IndyCar Honda

Davey Hamilton's  IndyCar Honda

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

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

MC Hammer

MC Hammer

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

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

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

Get Well Wicky!

RHR SPOILER

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

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

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

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

Scott Dixon. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Scott Dixon. Photo by Nico Matamoros

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

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Nico Matamoros

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

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

Marco Andretti. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Marco Andretti. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Marco Andretti. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Marco Andretti. Photo by Nico Matamoros

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

Patricio O'Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Patricio O’Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

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

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

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

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

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Nico Matamoros

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INDYCAR Points Possibility Chart

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

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

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

Will Power

Will Power

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

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

QUALIFYING RESULTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICEMAN RULES!

Scott Dixon.Photo by  Nico Matamoros.

Scott Dixon.Photo by Nico Matamoros.

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

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Nico Mataoros

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Nico Mataoros

Will Power. Photo by Nico Matamoros

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

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

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

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

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

Zach Veach.  Photo by Nico Matamoros

Zach Veach. Photo by Nico Matamoros

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

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

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

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

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

Santino Ferrucci

Santino Ferrucci. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

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

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

Sebastien Bourdais.Photo by Nico Mataoros

Sebastien Bourdais.Photo by Nico Mataoros

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

Trans-Am Paddock

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

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

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

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

IndyCar Autograph Session

NEWGARDEN FAST AFTER ALL

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet recovered enough from his food poisoning and missing the entire first session to top the charts Friday afternoon at Sonoma Raceway in the hour-long practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The 2017 IndyCar champion was able to bounce back from his illness and fuel management problem in the morning to quick-step around the course at 1:17.8156 – not quite as fast as the morning time set by Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, but fast enough.

Newgarden said “I think we were okay. We tested here last week, so we were pretty ready to go. It was difficult this afternoon to be honest. When I first went out I wasn’t very happy the first run, and then we made really good progress the second run, and seemed pretty decent compared to last week. We were happy with our cars when we tested here last Thursday, so we felt optimistic coming into the weekend, and now we’re just trying to go through the motions and make the right steps all the way up through the end of Sunday. That’s kind of what you do on a race weekend. You try and make the right decisions every day.”

Second through fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing; Rookie Patricio O’Ward/No.8 Harding Group Honda; Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; and James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda.

Ed Jones. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ed Jones. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda had a brief moment of testing track limits, as did Ed Jones/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in Turn 7. His off caused a Red Flag of 2.14 minutes. Rossi ended up sixth, and Jones was seventh for the session.

Tires seemed to be on the minds of drivers interviewed Friday. Rossi said the low downforce definitely played into tire degradation. “Very bad. Terrible for tire wear. Yeah, it’s something that we’re all thinking about, we’re all concerned about. Fortunately it’s the same for everyone, right? So it’s just about kind of finding a way to hopefully make the tires last. It’s difficult without a warmup for sure so you’re kind of going through practice sessions trying to do both things, work on the qualifying car and the race car at the same time. But no, it’s definitely going to be a challenge on Sunday for sure.”

Among other leaders during the session were Rookie Santino Ferrucci/No.39 Cly-Del Dale Coyne Racing Honda; Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda; and O’Ward.

Patricio O'Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Patricio O’Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

O’Ward was the top Rookie of the session, and also top Rookie for the day. He is the current Indy Lights Champion, winning that title after his ninth series victory in Portland, from the pole. As Champion he will receive $1 million towards an IndyCar ride, including the Indianapolis 500. This weekend he and his Lights teammate, Colton Herta, are racing Chevrolets with Harding Group Racing. Herta was Lights runner-up in a tightly-contested season.

The hour-long practice session was followed by a 15-minute Pit Stop practice session. The drivers would do slow laps around the course and come in for the practice pit stops. This is not to be confused with the Pit Stop Challenge competition held prior to the Indianapolis 500 race.

James Hincliffe

Graham Rahal

Sebastien Bourdais

Left to Right: James Hinchcliffe/No.5 SPM Honda; Graham Rahal/No.15 RHL Honda; and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Photos by Nico Matamoros.

Art St. Cyr

Art St. Cyr

Art St. Cyr, President of Honda Performance Development, met with the media and showed off the 2018 Manufacturer’s Championship Trophy that Honda won this year. Overall, the moderator said it was a pretty successful season. St. Cyr said “I can’t say it’s ultimately successful because we did not win the Indy 500 this year. Winning 10 of the first 16 races has been really good. It was nice to have clinched the manufacturer’s championship at Gateway, so it’s allowed us to really focus on the driver championship, which for yet another year is coming down to the last race here in Sonoma. It should be pretty exciting.

“We have two horses in the race, right, with Scott and Alexander fighting against Will and Josef. I definitely like our position better than their position for this one. You definitely want to be in front coming into the last race. Still have to execute.

“This is a difficult, difficult track. From what I hear, especially with the lower downforce this year, the tires are wearing off, if possible, even quicker than they have in the past. It’s going to be a very interesting run on Sunday.”

FINALE FRIDAY

IndyCar Paddock Crowd Scene

Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan

The season finale race for the Verizon IndyCar Series at Sonoma Raceway is also the last IndyCar race, at least for now, for the wine country race track. Next year the season finale race will be held at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and Sonoma will not be on the schedule. This ends a run of 14 years for the 2.385-mile IndyCar-configured elevated road course. The first race in 2005 was won by Tony Kanaan. This weekend Kanaan, who admits to being nearly 44 years old, is Kanaan’s 300th consecutive indycar race. He said he’s growing a beard this weekend, to show people that “so people can see that I’ve got some gray on my 300th start.” Two current IndyCar drivers in that inaugural 2005 IndyCar race were Scott Dixon and Ed Carpenter. That race also included Bryan Herta, whose son Colton Herta is racing here this weekend as a Rookie for Harding Group Racing in No.88 Honda. Kanaan used to be racing teammates with Bryan Herta and Kanaan was Colton first sponsor when he started go-kart racing.

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.DHL Andretti Autosport Honda was the fastest Verizon IndyCar Series driver Friday morning at Sonoma Raceway. His lap was 1:17.5742. Second through fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet; and Marco Andretti/No.98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Andretti Autosport Chevrolet.

Zach Veach/No.26 1001 Group Andretti Autosport Honda was the top Rookie, in ninth place, with a time of 1:18.3541. He set that time in the morning ‘Rookie’ practice, ahead of six others in that session.

The Rookie drivers who were ‘auditioning’ acquitted themselves nicely, staying out of trouble. The two Dale Coyne Honda drivers – Pietro Fittipaldi/No.19 and Santino Ferrucci/No.39 – were 11th and 12th, respectively. The two Harding Group Honda drivers – Colton Herta/No.88 and Patricio O’Ward/No.8 – were 16th and 24th, respectively.

Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz is driving the No.6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, filling in for the recovering Robert Wickens. The Canadian driver was injured in a horrific accident during the Pocono weekend, suffering massive injuries, and is currently rehabbing in Indianapolis. We all wish him a speedy recovery. Wickens was declared the Sunoco Rookie of the Year after the last (Portland) race despite competing in only 14 of 16 races to that point. He amassed so many points, there was no way the other two full-time Rookies – Veach and Matheus Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet – could catch him.

One driver didn’t go out, but not for lack of trying. Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was in Pit Lane, but the car wouldn’t start … fuel pickup problem. The team said it was “a minor non-engine mechanical issue.” It took longer to remedy than that, but all’s well…with the car. Not with Newgarden. He has food poisoning and is not feeling well at all.

Newgarden is one of four drivers mathematically able to win the 2018 Championship this weekend, a double points race – he and Penske teammate, Will Power/No.12 have to basically win their race from the pole, lead the most laps, and for the two top contenders to have a bad weekend. Newgarden concedes this will be a difficult scenario.

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Dixon is the current leader in the Driver Standings, 29 points ahead of Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda. They are basically the contenders for this year’s championship. Rossi spun out over the rumble strips in Turn 10, saved it and pitted. Rossi was eighth in the session.

Tony Kanaan. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Tony Kanaan. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Kanaan did a couple of short cuts across dirt, sort of agricultural racing. He was nineteenth for the session.

Hinchcliffe went off in Turn Two, into the tire wall right side. It wasn’t a hard hit and once pulled out and the tires cleaned off car checked by AMR IndyCar crew, he drove it in, scrubbing the tires at first and then stepping quite quickly to the pits. The accident was similar to an earlier Formula Car incident by Bill Weaver/No.67. Both drivers were alright and suffered only minimal body damage; but both incidents caused a session-stoppage. In Hinchcliffe’s situation, it was a Red Flag for 4:13 minutes.

Other leaders in the session included Graham Rahal/No.15 TOTAL Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

IndyCar has a second practice session Friday afternoon.

Also on the weekend schedule are the IMSA Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Series, Formula Car Challenge Series, and Historic Trans-Am Series.

J TAYLOR ON IMSA POLE & DUSTY DRIVING

Dust Cloud

Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, it was sunshine from the moment the sun crested over the Turn Nine hill and bathed the paddock in light, bringing out the shades at 7:30am. Today there is more practice, an 8am warm-up for a 5:45pm race, qualifying and three races. Busy Day!

The day started out frisky and none of the morning sessions went uninterrupted. The drivers kicked up their heels … and a lot of dust and gravel. The corner workers got a work out with a rainbow of flags – Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Yellow/Red, and White. The SFR E Crew were kept busy retrieving.

Amused Visitors at F&C Meeting

Porsche Driver Coach Craig Stanton & Race Director Randy Buck

SCRAMP (Sports Car Racing Association of Monterey Peninsula) CEO, Tim McCrane and IMSA Driver Advisor, Elliot Forbes-Robinson visited, amused and educated us at the 7am morning meeting of the SFR SCCA Flagging & Communications Crew, with IMSA Official, Jo Ann Jensen, Jim Swintal, Pirelli Porsche Race Director Randy Buck and Driver Coach, Craig Stanton. Lots to go over with all the IMSA rules, ways and means.

Jordan Taylor

No.10 Konica/Minolta Prototype Cadillac

In IMSA WeatherTech Qualifying, Jordan Taylor/No.10 Konica/Minolta Cadillac has the pole position for Sunday’s America’s Tire 250 Race for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. His lap was 1:16.181/105.758, a new track record – breaking the one set last June by his brother, Ricky Taylor – 1:16.853. There are thirteen Prototypes in the race. This was Jordan’s tenth (or 11th) IMSA pole, his second WeatherTech Championship pole, and his first pole at this Laguna Seca track since 2015. The team hasn’t won at Laguna Seca since 2013. Jordan and teammate Renger Van Der Zande are fourth in the Driver standings. Cadillac is leading the Prototype Manufacturer Standings. Thirty-four drivers qualified.

Jordan hasn’t had a victory this season, and hopes this pole will remedy that. He said “We’ve been putting ourselves in a good position to win all year. Getting pole certainly helps. I guess it’s time for us to get a win and get ahold of this championship.” He said “Action Express is our main competition.”

Jordan said “It was a good lap, we have had a good Cadillac all weekend. Renger was fast in practice all week. I had a good qualifying set-up that worked over one lap, but in practice we were working on a car that would handle for the whole race. It is nice to start from the pole. We will work from the front and see if we can control it. Laguna is always a low grip track, you are always sliding around. We focused on the handling toward the end of the stint. Renger is going to finish the race and developed a set-up that best suits him, so hopefully we have the car set-up right so he can battle for the win.”

Oliver Gavin

Oliver Gavin/No.4 GTLM Corvette

Oliver Gavin/No.4 Corvette Racing Corvette C7 R took the GTLM pole position ahead of seven competitors. It was his first-ever pole position at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. He’s had more than 50 career poles in various series.

For awhile during the fifteen-minute Qualifying session, he and teammate, Jan Magnussen/No.3 were 1-2, before Dirk Mueller/No.66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT inserted himself to be the filling in a Corvette sandwich.

Gavin is the ninth different driver to get the pole position in ten races. He and teammate, Tommy Milner are fourth in the GTLM Driver standings with 252 points.Their fellow Corvette, No.3 with Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen, is leading the standings with 269 points. Gavin and Milner won their 2015 IMSA class at Laguna Seca in 2012.

Gavin said “It was nice to get back to P1. It’s always great to get pole position here at Laguna Seca. Thanks to everyone at Corvette Racing and the crew. It takes a massive effort from everyone on the team to get back to P1. It’s nice to have this moment for the guys on our team. It gives everyone a nice little fill-up going into the race tomorrow.

“I’m thrilled, but this is only a small step in trying to achieve what we want to achieve tomorrow, and that’s a victory. Once the green flag drops tomorrow, this is all kind of forgotten. We have a very good race car; obviously it fell in nicely for qualifying. The Corvette C7.R has been strong all year. We’ve had an amazing team, great strategy and pit stops. We just need to execute tomorrow. The competition is at an all-time high in GTLM, and to be able to beat those guys is pretty satisfying. But the real work is ahead for tomorrow.

“We’ll be pushing like crazy at the start and we’ll work hard tonight to make sure we have everything covered and we’re fully prepared for the race.

On there being so many different GTLM pole winners, Gavin said “It speaks to the level of competition in the class. We’ve obviously got a good race car and an amazing team. It’s great for the guys. GTLM competition is at an all-time high and beating them (other competitors) feels good.”

Katherine Legge

Katherine Legge/No.86 GTD Acura

Katherine Legge/No.86 Meyer Shank Racing w/Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX got her first WeatherTech IMSA pole position with a time of 1:24.456. She said it was nerve-racking the last five minutes waiting to see if anyone topped her time. She credited her team for giving her such a good car. “First pole in a GT car for me, so I’m over the moon over that. The team gave me a great car, so thanks to them. Now it’s all about tomorrow. We really need a good result here and Petit [Le Mans] to be in with a shot at the championship.”

Legge is in a tights point battle with Bryan Sellars and Madison Snow in No.48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3. Sellars and Snow are 18 points ahead of Legge. Her co-driver, Alvaro Parente is further behind in the standings.

IMSA WeatherTech sportscars had an hour-long morning practice. Ranger Van Der Zande/No.10 Konica/Minolta Cadillac was the fastest overall and the fastest Prototype, narrowly shading his Friday fastest overall time, to clock a 1:16.605/105.172 mph. His co-driver is Jordan Taylor. The No.911 Porsche Team Porsche 911 RSR with Patrick Palet and Nick Tandy was quickest in the GTLM Class, at 1:22.839/97.258 mph. The No.58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911GT3 R driven by Patrick Long and Christina Nielsen was tops in GTD, at 1:24.619/95.212 mph.

The Lamborghini Race was marred by a jarring accident at the bottom of the Corkscrew on Lap Four. LB driver Sheena Monk/No.7 had no brakes and drove straight into the tire wall and flipped, landing right side up. The SFR Emergency Crew and IMSA Medical Team responded to the driver, and the SFR Course Marshals and Track equipment arrived to repair the damaged tire wall. “Monk was transported to a local hospital for further evaluation, and she was awake and alert.”

The Red Flag lasted most of the race, which featured driver changes. The race restarted, there were driver changes, and then another incident so the Pace Car took the Checkered Flag ahead of Pro Driver, Taylor Prolo/No.50 US Race Tronics. His co-driver is Edoardo Piscopo, who qualified the car. Trent Hindman/No. 1 Wayne Taylor Racing turned the fastest lap in the class at 1:25.651. Unfortunately he and co-driver Johnny Cecotto DNF.

ProAm driver, Loria Spinelli/No.71 P1 Motorsports, had led until the restart after the Red Flag and their driver change to JC Perez. They won the ProAm class, finishing fourth overall. Spinelli turned the fastest class lap of 1:25.515

Brian Thiennes/No.17 US Race Tronics won the Am Class, driving alone. He finished sixth overall. Damon Ockey/No.09 US Race Tronics turned the fastest class lap of 1:27.302.

Mark Proto and Parris Mullens won the LB Cup Class, finishing eighth overall. Brett Meredith/No.66 P1 Motorsports drove alone and turned the fastest class lap of 1:27.776.

Fourteen drivers finished the race, with 13 on the lead lap. Only 15 laps were completed in the 50-minute race, due to the half hour or so Red Flag time. Two drivers were penalized time for short pit stops – No.67 PPM in the Am class and No.71 P1 Motorsports in the ProAm class.

Next up the two-hour race for IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and 45-minute race for Pirelli Trophy West U.S.A.