ROSSI POLES IT!

Alexander Rossi/No.27 Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Alexander Rossi/No.27 Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Verizon IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda pulled yet another fast lap out of his pocket on the last lap of the Firestone Fast Six Qualifying Saturday afternoon at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.He turned a 1:06.5528/106.454 mph. This was his second career pole, the first one being at Watkins Glen last year. He said every pole is precious. They’re hard to come by. It is the Andretti team’s 35th pole position. Last year Rossi started fifth, and he’s looking for redemption after last year’s 19th place finish.

He waited in the pits until late in the session. “We had been pretty good on the first laps on tires, so I just didn’t want to carry around the fuel, and we just thought that we could get it done. The team put me in a gap, and it was just about finding the space on track and making sure the tires were up, and just kind of going for it.”yy

Alexander Rossi

Verizon P1 Award

Rossi's helmet

PHOTOS BY PABLO MATAMOROS.

The current qualifying track record of 1:066.2254/106.980 mph was set last year by Helio Castroneves … and still holds.

During Qualifying, it was 80 degrees F, with 11 mph winds and zero humidity.

Rossi pipped Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet at the end of the ten-minute Firestone Fast Six qualifying session. Qualifying third was another Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet. Fourth and fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. The 2017 IndyCar Champion, Joseph Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske was a disappointing sixth after he brushed the concrete wall on the front straight.

Alexander Rossi/No.27 Honda

Will Power/No.12 Chevrolet

Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet

Scott Dixon/No.9 Honda

Graham Rahal/No.15 Honda

Joseph Newgarden/No.1 Chevrolet

Left to Right: Alexander Rossi/No.27 Honda; Will Power/No.12 Chevrolet; Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet; Scott Dixon/No.9 Honda; Graham Rahal/No.15 Honda; and Joseph Newgarden/No.1 Chevrolet. All photos by Pablo Matamoros.

Robert Wickins/No.6 Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Robert Wickins/No.6 Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Robert Wickins/No.6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda was the top Rookie, qualifying tenth.

There are seven Rookies in this weekend’s race: Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet will start twelth; Matheus Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet starts fourteenth; Zach Veach/No.26 Group One Thousand One Andretti Autosport Honda starts sixteenth; Jack Harvey/No.60 Auto Nation/SiriusXM MSR w/SPM Honda starts seventeenth; Zachary Claman De Melo/No.19 The Paysafe Car Dale Coyne Racing Honda starts twenty-first, and Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet starts last with no time after hitting the wall.

In the second group of Round One Qualifying, qualifying penalties were assessed. Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet hit the wall, causing following cars to slow, assessing him the loss of his two fastest qualifying laps. Marco Andretti/No.98 US Concrete/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda spun, causing a local yellow and subsequent slowing for following cars, assessing him the loss of his fastest qualifying lap. Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda received a drive-thru penalty for “improper pit exit.”

Two reviews saw Stewards take no action against Rossi or Wickins.

ALEXANDER ROSSI – Starting on pole. “Hoping for some redemption here. So to get it (pole) here was good, good start for tomorrow, but this sport has a way of humbling you pretty quick, so we have to execute against tomorrow, and hopefully we can get that redemption we’re talking about.” And for about $500, he emailed his setup sheet to Will Power. Regarding tire wear, “Definitely, I think they’ll definitely go off.That’s going to be something that we have to think about, no doubt about it. It’s just kind of — you can have an aggressive car that’s fast and uses tires, or you can kind of go the other way, so it’s finding that line because obviously you don’t want to protect them too much that you don’t get the performance out of them. It’s something that we’ll all have to figure out overnight and kind of try a few things in the warmup and then see what works and what doesn’t. The fans will be on for an amazing show.

WILL POWER – Starting second. Won three times at Long Beach. “I felt like we had a really good car. Got to the Fast Six like we needed to, and yeah, just were not fast enough basically to be on pole, but very happy to be on the front row. You know, we’ve kind of crept up all weekend and definitely made the car better and in a good window now. Yeah, that was a lot of fun.”

SIMON PAGENAUD – Starting third. Won here in 2016 and matches his best start here. “It’s a really good result, all three of us (Penske drivers) in the Fast Six. It’s not easy these days. I have to say, I just want to pull my hat off to Team Penske for obviously understanding the street course setup. It’s been difficult just because of the success we’ve had with the previous aero kits. We’ve had to rethink a little bit, and three races we’ve been able to do it. Quite impressive I have to say. I’m quite excited to see that we could get the car in such a good place, and myself, I just have to extract a little bit more out of it, but obviously it was a fun and great qualifying.”

SCOTT DIXON – Starting fourth. Won Long Beach in 2015. We had a lot of traffic. We made some pretty big fundamental changes for qualifying. Almost spun going in to (Turn) Eight, lost all that time, and that was it. Pole sitter hasn’t won here since the mid 2000’s or something crazy.Yeah, if you can start near the front, that’s going to give you the best opportunity, best opportunity to have clear pit stops, clear start, stay out of trouble, et cetera. But I think ideally the car has got some good speed. I think we can shoot on it. I think we’re in a good starting spot there with fourth, and hopefully we can make up three spots.”

GRAHAM RAHAL – Starting fifth, matching his best start here. “I didn’t have speed to be anywhere near Alex.But you know, overall, that first session I was just happy to advance. It was unbelievably slippery and pretty ugly in Group One. It’s a fine line out there. Yeah, I think you’re using — I mean, as you see, particularly in the back section, Turn 9, 10, you get off line three inches, you’re going to hit the fence, but you know, trust me, in Q3 there was several times I thought I was going to hit the fence. There’s no doubt. As Will said, you’re giving it absolutely everything you have. You’re hanging on for dear life, and obviously around here there’s not a whole lot of space, right. But risk versus reward, you give it all you’ve got, and you hope that it sticks, and tomorrow you just pull it back just a little bit.”

JOSEPH NEWGARDEN – Starting sixth. I certainly messed it up for us, on our best tires. I probably got too greedy, hit the wall in Turn Eight and bent the toe, so I had to come in. I was trying to stay out of Rossi’s way, actually, so I didn’t interfere. It’s insane, though, when it happens, you’re going down the straightaway like this, so you know that’s the end of your qualifying session. The bent toe is a simple fix. We’ll change it most likely, get our setting back and be good to go. Nothing to be concerned about. The Track temp was dropping. It was slick, especially in the first session.”

INDYCAR QUALIFYING RESULTS

1. (27) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 1:06.5528 (106.454)
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 1:06.9054 (105.893)
3. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 1:06.9107 (105.884)
4. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 1:07.0483 (105.667)
5. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 1:07.1275 (105.542)
6. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 1:07.1922 (105.441)
7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 1:07.1415 (105.520)
8. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 1:07.1899 (105.444)
9. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 1:07.1943 (105.438)
10. (6) Robert Wickens, Honda, 1:07.2289 (105.383)
11. (14) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 1:07.3478 (105.197)
12. (20) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 1:07.6427 (104.739)
13. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, 1:08.3844 (103.603)
14. (4) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 1:08.1622 (103.940)
15. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 1:08.7167 (103.102)
16. (26) Zach Veach, Honda, 1:08.1763 (103.919)
17. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, 1:08.8207 (102.946)
18. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 1:08.2739 (103.770)
19. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 1:08.8623 (102.884)
20. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, 1:08.5294 (103.383)
21. (19) Zachary Claman De Melo, Honda, 1:09.1429 (102.466)
22. (30) Takuma Sato, Honda, 1:08.6340 (103.226)
23. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 1:09.7481 (101.577)
24. (32) Kyle Kaiser, Chevrolet, No Time (No Speed)

Ed Carpenter

IndyCar Official

Max Chilton

PHOTOS BY PABLO MATAMOROS

EVEN FASTER SATURDAY

Alexander Rossi/No.27 Honda. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Alexander Rossi/No.27 Honda. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Another beautiful day in Southern California for the 44th running of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Verizon IndyCar Series had its morning practice, in preparation for the mid-afternoon qualifying session.

Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda was the fastest IndyCar driver, at 1:06.6105/106.632 mph – faster than the fastest time of 1:08.4112/103.562 mph set Friday morning by Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He set it on Lap 12 of the 15 he ran.

Every driver went faster Saturday morning.

Second through fifth were Joseph Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet – who led twice and much of the session, Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda-who led once, and Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet.

Joseph Newgarden/No. 20 Chevrolet

Will Power/No.12 Chevrolet

Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet

Left to right – Team Penske drivers, Joseph Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. Photos by Nico Matamoros.

Also leading early on was Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

Yesterday morning’s fastest driver, Dixon, and Max Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet turned the most laps – 20.

Jordan Kind/No.20 Chevrolet. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Jordan Kind/No.20 Chevrolet. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Despite his bringing out the Red and Checkered Flag, Jordan King/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet was the top Rookie. He missed the apex and drove straight into the tire wall. It was the second Red Flag. Earlier, there was another Red Flag to retrieve Zachary Claman De Mello/No.19 The Paysafe Car Dale Coyne Racing Honda. That took 10.19 out of the 45-minute session.He turned the fewest laps – 11.

James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda was late going out. He finished twenty-first. All 24 drivers were on course.

Other fumbles including Veach driving into a runoff area and in need of a restart.

The minimum car weight for an IndyCar is 1620 pounds. The average weight for an IndyCar driver has been determined (by IndyCar) to be 185 pounds. So if a driver, such as Zach Veach or Takuma Sato weighs less, he must make up that difference in ballast, and conversly, if a driver (and there is at least one) weighs more, he can reduce weight in the car. Confidentiality precludes IndyCar indicating which driver is the heaviest.

Friday afternoon the IndyCar paddock was filled with queues of fans lined up for autographs from their favorite drivers. When I came in to watch, I was asked if I was allergic to bees. Evidently a hive had occupied a now cordoned-off corner and was being relocated. Only in California.

Juan Pablo Montoya and Joey Hand

Juan Pablo Montoya and Joey Hand.

In the BUBBA burgers Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach, only two IMSA classes are competing: Prototypes and GTLM.

Juan Montoya/No.6 Acura Team Penske Prototype is on pole for Saturday afternoon’s 100-minute race. He broke last year’s record set by Ricky Taylor, with a time of 1:12.922. JPM’s co-driver is Dane Cameron. This is the first pole for Honda in its third race since entering the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship this season.

Joey Hand/No.66 Ford GT Chip Ganassi Racing has the GTLM pole, and set a new track record of 1:16.869. He admitted he lost his second mirror on the wall. His co-driver is Dirk Mueller.

The top four Prototype drivers broke the existing track record. Montoya said “I just really love this car. This car reminds of a Formula One car, so balanced, so nice to drive.”

Montoya and fellow Penske IMSA driver, Helio Castroneves, were inducted Thursday into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame and had their name plaques installed, commemorating their LBGP winning history. Montoya said that was such a great honor.”“It’s unbelievable. I came here two years ago to see Roger get inducted. It was huge, huge names here. You don’t realize when you race and you win races, you never do it to be here. To get recognized for everything that you’ve done, it’s amazing.” Montoya won his first of 15 IndyCar races at the 1998 LBGP, and ran five races in Long Beach.

Castroneves raced 13 times since 1998, with one victory, three poles and currently holds the IndyCar qualifying track record of 1.06.2254 seconds/ 106.980 mph, set last year.

During the IMSA sessions there had been a lot of track limit violations, going over the new blend lines. No one seemed to know why.

Jimmy Hague, Chad Raynal, & Bill Ockerland.

Jimmy Hague, Chad Raynal, & Bill Ockerland.

Jimmy Hague/No.16 won the 11-lap HMSA Historic Trans Am Series Challenge in his 1970 Ford Boss 302 Mustang, after starting third. The Margin of Victory was a close 0.628 seconds, ahead of runner-up Bill Ockerland/No.25 1968 Ford Boss Mustang, who started fourth. Ockerland turned the fastest race lap – 1:40.396/70.569 mph. Early on, Hague had set the race’s fastest lap of 1:42.148.

Finishing third was Pole Sitter Chad Raynal/No.64 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.

Tomy Drisi/No.1 1970 Chevrolet Camaro finished third on the track, but was Disqualified.

No.16 1970 Ford Boss 302 Mustang

No.25 1968 Ford Boss Mustang

No.64 1969 Chevrolet Camaro

Twenty-seven started the race, and several failed to finish all the laps. John Hildebrand/No.49 1964 Pontiac GTO had a failed transponder, so didn’t show on the results. He had to pit early for overheating.

Autograph queues

NOT QUITE FASTER FRIDAY

Scott Dixon No.9 Honda

Scott Dixon No.9 Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

The weather warmed up nicely Friday afternoon, to nearly 80 F for the afternoon practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series, with wind ramping up to 6mph. Nothing like the gales and gusts experienced yesterday.

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi/No.26 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda was fastest overall at 103.342 mph/1:08.5567. This wasn’t faster than the morning’s top time of 1:08.41122. In the combined overall times for the day, Rossi and one other driver were the only ones who were faster in the afternoon. Rossi said “It was good to be P1 in Practice 2, it’s where you want to end the day on Friday. To have two team cars 1-2 is pretty awesome. We have a lot of motivation after last year to come back and really be strong here this year. We have a lot of work ahead of us still, and hopefully we can continue that over the next two days. Our main focus right now is trying to win Long Beach and get redemption on last year.”

Second through fifth were Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Joseph Newgarde/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda and Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Zach Veach. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Zach Veach. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The top Rookie was again Zach Veach/No.26 One Thousand And One Andretti Autosport Honda, in thirteenth position. “Overall, I think it was a good first day here. Phoenix went better than St. Pete and so far, this weekend has been going better than Phoenix. So just one step at a time. I think we definitely have the speed to transfer tomorrow to the fast 12, and maybe even a chance to get to our first Firestone Fast 6. I have a little bit of learning to do tonight, but I’m excited to show what we can do tomorrow.”

Other leaders in the afternoon session were Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet-twice, Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, Gaby Chaves/No.88 Harding Group Chevrolet, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, James Hinchcliffe/No.4 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda, Power, Newgarden, and Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. RHR held the time much of the session, before Rossi topped him.

Power said “With the sessions being so short at 45 minutes, it’s important to use the time well. Long Beach is a real driver’s track. Accuracy is needed. The walls are right there. It is a cool track.”

Dixon and RHR were the fastest two drivers for the day. Overall, the top five were Dixon, RHR, Rossi, Pagenaud and Hinchcliffe.

Dixon said “The cars are so fun to drive though. The track is really awesome without the added downforce too. The braking zones are a bit bigger and the power down is impressive especially out of the hairpin corner. I think come around Lap 20, drivers are going to be screaming for new tires around here. It’s great to be back here overall, though. Great cars, great atmosphere and being out there pounding around the Long Beach city streets.”

Regarding qualifying on a track rubbered up after the two-hour IMSA race on different tires, Dixon said “It’s always tough, but it will be the same for everyone. So it’s always tough to figure out. I think the ambient conditions probably play a little bit more havoc, but you’re right, it could be totally different, especially after a two-hour race. That’s a lot of Continental and Michelin rubber that’s going on. I know even driving the Ford GT, the Continental tire, the rubber messes a lot with the Michelin.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Hunter-Reay said, regarding being bolder with less downforce, “Bold, probably not. You’re not able to get away with quite as much. The car is more on top of the racetrack, moving around. You’re constantly catching it. You can feel it’s lighter in the brake zones, especially when you’re coming off modulating out of the brake pedal coming into the corner, you can feel you just have a little bit less of an elbow to lean on through the corner. It’s just a bit more lively. It’s fun, we love it. It just takes a bit of an offset kind of in your approach, and like Scott mentioned, it’s the same for everybody, so it’s a good thing.”

Declining to give away his tire strategy going forward, Dixon said his Preferred Tires were all blacks.” RHR agreed.

RHR said “I think everybody was a bit surprised the red wasn’t faster today, so there’s some questions, I think, hanging over everyone’s heads now about what the potential there is and where the long-term life is with that tire.”

Watching the on-board video from Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Team SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda, one gains a whole new appreciation for how bumpy is the ride.

There were several stalls and stumble, for the most part no harm-no foul, including but not limited to: Pagenaud, Dixon, Rookie Zachery Clamon de Melo/No.19 The Paysafe Car Dale Coyne Racing Honda, Kaiser, and a couple of cars so fast to recover they weren’t identified.

Someone in a blue car grazed the concrete wall but kept on going. Charlie Kimble/No.23 Tresibe Carlin Chevrolet kissed the front straight concrete wall and continued. It was more like a hen peck.

Takuma Sato - before crash. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Takuma Sato – before crash. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda was the first to really hit the wall. He brought out the Red and Checkered Flag with 12 seconds to go when he hit in Turn One. He came in too hot and slid rear first into the wall, bounced around and hit the front on the same wall. He said “We made good progress today. It was a productive day until the end of the session.”

Newgarden was eating lunch and was late to the mandatory weigh-in after the first IndyCar practice. His punishment was to be parked for the last ten minutes of the second practice.

IndyCar Weigh-in

All 24 drivers were weighed after the first practice session – that session chosen as it’s the least busy for the IndyCar tech team. The weights are averaged, and when the average weight is determined, each driver either is allowed to find ways to delete weight from the car to compensate, or add weight to the car to compensate up to the average weight. Last year Graham Rahal was the ‘heaviest’ of the full-time drivers. This year at this weekend, the specific details are not yet known. But, no matter what is the magic number, Rookie Zach Veach will have to add weight to his car.

Thirty-two HMSA Historic Trans-Am cars are entered for their Challenge race. One of the drivers is John Hildebrand, father of IndyCar driver, JR Hildebrand, and JR is here crewing for his Dad. The Hildebrand 1964 Pontiac GTO is Number 66 – same as JR’s 2018 Indy 500 car. Historic Trans Am cars are required to have a documented history, be prepared to the period specifications, liveried in the manner they raced, and have actually raced in the Trans-Am Series 1966-1972. That is the cutoff date, according to Series Director, Chris van de Griff, as SCCA changed the rules after that and the current Trans Am Series is nothing like the original.

In the Friday afternoon Trans Am session, Chad Raynal/No.64 1969 Chevrolet Camaro was fastest. Second fastest was Karman Cusak/No.22 1968 Ford Mustang. Jimmy Hague/No.16 1970 Ford Boss 302 Mustang was third fastest. Twenty-seven cars were on course.

Robbie Gordon/No.7 was fastest in the midday practice session for his Super Stadium Truck Series. His fastest time was 1:45.6727 including the ramps and jumps. He was followed by Series points leader, Matthew Brabham/No.83, Jeff Hoffman/No.47, Gavin Harlien/No.55 and Blade Hildebrand/No.68. There are 14 Trucks in all.

James Davison

Another IndyCar driver was announced Friday for this year’s Indianapolis 500 race – James Davison of Australia. He will drive No.33 Chevrolet for Foyt Racing-Byrd’s Racing, Hollinger Motorsport and Belardi Auto Racing. Try saying that fast, even once. Last year Davison filled in for the injured Sebastien Bourdais – on short notice. This year Davison is tickled that he will be having his first full two-week program. It was seeing Davison fill in for Bourdais that first brought Davison to the attention of the Byrd Brothers. Hollinger Motorsport supported Davison in last year’s Indy 500. Davison was running fifth when involved in a multi-car pileup.

Conor Daly

For the first time in awhile, there will be more than 33 entries for the 2018 Indy 500. Also running the race is Conor Daly, who will run the No.17 Air Force Honda for Dale Coyne Racing and Thom Burns, who partnered with Buddy Lazier last year. Daly acknowledged that it is a low-budget program so there will be no SIM testing. He is re-viewing his previous race videos and has kept up with his race workout training.

A refresher Indy 500 session will be held on 30 April 2018 at the Brickyard.

Saturday’s IndyCar schedule calls for a morning practice and mid-afternoon qualifying.

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

DIXON & NASR FASTEST FRIDAY MORNING

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Sunny blue skies, nary a breeze, and lots of noisy race cars filling the streets down by the harbor. What more could one ask! The Verizon IndyCar Series is the headliner, with five other series adding to the very full bill of fare for the 44th running of the country’s oldest street race. Last year’s attendance was 183,000, and GPALB President, Jim Michaelian, said Thursday that ticket sales are strong and everything is on track for as good or better attendance this year.

Filling the dance card, besides IndyCars this weekend, are the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Pirelli World Challenge, Historic Trans-Am, Stadium Super Trucks, and Motegi Racing Super Drift Challenge. There also will be two-seater IndyCar rides, two concerts, a Go-Kart track, and lots of other fun activities including the Lifestyle Expo. Something for everyone … and warm weather.
Scott Dixon's No.9 Honda

Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, who led twice, was the fastest of the 24 IndyCar drivers on track. His best time was 103.562 MPH/ 1:08.4112. He turned it on Lap Nine of the 14 he ran.

Second through fifth were Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet,and James Hinchfliffe/No.5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda. All but Hinch led once during the session. Also leading early one was Max Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Chevrolet.

Zach Veach's No.26 Honda

Zach Veach/No.26 Group One Thousand One Andretti Autosport Honda was the fastest Rookie, in thirteenth place. There are seven Rookies this weekend, nearly a third of the field.

There was a Red Flag lasting 5.07 minutes of the 45-minute session, to retrieve Gabby Chaves/No.88 Harding Chevrolet who stalled in the Queen’s Hairpin. He got back out and was twenty-first for the session. Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet went off course, stalled and had to be push started. He was last for the session.Charlie Kimball/No.23 Tresibe Chevrolet drove off and stalled, near the end. There wasn’t time to push him. He finished twenty-second.

There will be another 45-minute IndyCar practice Friday afternoon, followed by an Autograph Session in the paddock.

The Indianapolis 500 Roster is filling up. Thursday Dreyer & Reinbold announced JR Hildebrand will drive No.66 Chevrolet, a number special to JR. Sponsorship will be from Salesforce. JR will be teammates with Sage Karam, making this D&R’s first time for a two-car team at the Indy 500. Both cars are new and the team has requested shakedown time in the car. So far the answer has been no, but they’re still hoping.

The Weathertech IMSA Series was first on track Friday morning, and Felipe Nasir/No.31 Cadillac ended up fastest at 1:13.582. Teammate Felipe Albuquerque in No.5 was second, followed by Helio Castroneves/No.7 Acura. For much of the session Ricky Taylor was fastest in No.7 Acura.

Ryan Briscoe was the fastest GTLM car in No.67 Ford GT Chip Ganassi Racing at 1:17.898, followed by Dirk Mueller in the sister car, No.66. Earl Bamber was third in No.912 Porsche GT Team. The next session for IMSA is qualifying late afternoon.

ENDURING SUNDAY

8-Hour Grid

Pace Car Burnout

PaceCar Smoke Trail

Sunday started out warm and sunny and just grew hotter as the day wore on. It was downright scorching mid-day, and a nearby brush fire blew a smokey brown cloud over the track. It was contained and the skies cleared somewhat with a late afternoon breeze.

The race got off to a rousing start, with the Pace Car doing a proper burnout worthy of a drag racer, leaving a smokey trail into Turn Two.

It was an Audi parade for the race, with an Audi always in the lead – with one brief exception. Often there were two or three Audi’s at the front.

Pierre Kaaffer, Markus Winkelhock, and Kelvin van der Linde

Pierre Kaaffer, Markus Winkelhock, and Kelvin van der Linde

Kelvin van der Linde of South Africa won the California 8-Hour International GT Challenge Sunday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, driving the No.44 Audi Sport Team Magnus USA Audi R8 LMS. He made a daring pass in Turn Five on then-leader, Christopher Mies of Germany in No.29 Audi Sort Team Land USA Audi RS LMS. Pole sitter Team Land, with drivers Pierre Kaffer and Markus Winkelhock of Germany, had led the majority of the race including almost all of the first six hours. It wasn’t until the seventh hour that another car took the lead, but not for long. The No.11 Belgian Audi Club WRT from Belgium led at the top the hour, with Team Magnus and Team Land on his heels.

No.9 McLaren car art

No.9 McLaren car art - 2

No.9 McLarencar art - 3

Finishing third was Bryan Sellers of USA in No.9 K-PAX Racing USA McLaren 650S GT3, with co-drivers Alvaro Parente of Portugal and Ben Barnicoat of Great Britain. Their car was decorated with sayings from Pokemon Go, a favorite of the owner.

David Calvert-Jones, Tim Pappas, and Jeroen Bleekemolen

David Calvert-Jones, Tim Pappas, and Jeroen Bleekemolen

Winning the GT3 Pro-Am Class was its pole sitter, Jeroen Bleekmolen of The Netherlands, with teammates David Calvert-Jones of Australia and Tim Pappas/USA in the shiny metallic green No.54 Black Swan Racing USA Porsche 911 GT3 R. They led most of the race and turned four of the class fastest laps, finishing fifth overall, two laps down. The other fast lapper was class runner-up, No.77 Calvert Dynamics/GMG Racing USA Porsche 911 GT3 R with an all-America driver line-up: Michael James Lewis, Preston Calvert, and Andrew Davis. They finished eighth overall, six laps down. They were the only leader that wasn’t an Audi or GT3 car. This was in the first hour during a short-fuel pit stop.

No.54 Porsche 911 GT3 R

No.54 Porsche 911 GT3 R

Jeff Westphal of the US won the GT4 Class in No.26 Rearden Racing USA Porsche Cayman GT4-R, with fellow Yanks, Jeff Kearl and Sean McAlister. They finished eleventh overall, 28 laps down. Second in class was Andy Lee in No.8 HKG Racing/GMG Racing Porsche GT4 Clubsport MR, with an all American driver lineup: Carter Yeung and Jon Miller.

Winning the Invitational Class was one of the two MARC Cars from Australia – No.193 with Jake Camilleri, Hadrian Morral and Morgan Haber. They finished ninth overall, 20 laps down. They were the fastest once, but their teammates were fastest in class the rest of the race. That would be No.194 with drivers Keith Kassulke of Papua New Guinea, Ryan McLeod of Australia and Will Rodgers of USA. They finished second in class, tenth overall, also 20 laps down.

Jake Camilleri,  Morgan Haber, and Hadrian Morral

Jake Camilleri, Morgan Haber, and Hadrian Morral

To say there was great speed differentials in the cars would be an understatement.
It made for lots of blue flagging.

There wasn’t much in the way of position changes during the eight-hour race. Sixteen of the 19 cars finished with the top three cars on the lead lap – 314. Three cars failed to finish, due to mechanical problems.

I didn’t get to follow the race as closely as usual, as I spent much the day moving from corner to corner, relieving corner workers. I got to see the cars and track from new perspectives, and gained a new appreciation for standing on a corner in the blazing hot sun with no shade.

It was a safe race without much drama. Alls well that ends well. And the endurance series might be back again next year.

LET’S GO RACING!

MAZDA 787B

Saturday was race day at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, with seven races on the schedule, along with several qualifying sessions. The entry to the track has a new addition – a large mural of the NO.55 Mazda 787B sports car, driven by Johnny Herbert, Volker Weidler and Bertrand Gachot. It was the last Wankel racer. It is 32 feet wide and ten feet tall, was commissioned by SCRAMP and built by local artist, John Cerny.

The weather all day was sunny and clear, warm with some breezes. Ideal racing weather.

Christopher Haase

The California 8-Hour International GT Challenge had an hour-long qualifying session, followed by a 13-car Pole Shootout. The overall winner and GT3 pole sitter was the No.29 Audi Sport Team Lane Audi R8 LMS, with Christoher Haase of Germany setting the fastest lap of 1:23.961/95.96mph/154.43kph on the last of his five laps. His teammates are Connor De Phillippi/USA and Christopher Mies of Germany.

Jeroen Bleekemolen

The fastest GT3 Pro driver was Jereon Bleekemolen of The Netherlands in No.54 Black Swan Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R. His teammates are David Calvert-Jones/Australia and Tim Pappas/USA.His lap was 1:24.766/95mph/152.96kph. They will grid seventh. He set his fast time on the seventh of his ten laps.

Brandon/Michael Davis

The fastest GT4 driver was Brandon/Michael Davis/USA in No.07 TRG USA Aston Martin GT4. His teammates are Greg Milzcik and Derek Deboer, all of the US. His lap was 1:31.655/87.90mph/141.46kph. They will grid 13th. His fast lap was set on the last of his four laps.

Jake Camilleri

The fastest invitational driver was Jake Camilleri of Brisbane Australia in No.193 MARC Cars Australia Marc Mazda 3 V8, with a lap of 1:29.086/90.43mph/145.54kph, set on the last of his four laps. They will grid 11th. His Aussie teammates are Hadrian Morral and Morgan Haber. They will grid eleventh. They have been the invitational team at two other races in Malaysia and Belgium. They are traveling around the world spreading the gospel on their unique cars.

Jake Pipal, PJ Groenke, and Canaan O'Connell

Jake Pipal, PJ Groenke, and Canaan O’Connell

Pirelli World Challenge Touring Championship had its classes divided into two separate races, a move which was applauded by all concerned. The TCA/TCB race was a barn burner and hotly contested. The lead changed several times officially and more so unofficially. Then-TCB Points leader, Jake Pipal/No.6 Honda led the most laps but in the end was beaten by P.J. Groenke in the No.25 Sonic, with the two of then ending up with 243 points to tie for the lead going into the last race. Race pole sitter, Canaan O’Connell/No.24 Sonic finished third, and second in the standings with 240 points. The grid for the finale race was set on the fastest race laps for each, so they gridded teammates O’Connell and Groenke, with Pipal starting third.

Kenny Murillo, Eric Powell, and Tom O'Gorman

Kenny Murillo, Eric Powell, and Tom O’Gorman

In the TCA race, the grid and finishing positions were similar, but there was a lot of racing in-between flags. Pole sitter Eric Powell/No.23 Scion took the checkered flag in the nine car field. However he was DSQ for being underweight, putting Kenny Murillo/No.33 Mazda MX-5 Cup in first, Tom O’Gorman/No.94 Honda now second, and Jeff Sexton/No.89 MX-5 in third. Powell had turned the fastest race lap of 1:42.286/78.76mph/126.76kph. The Championship went to Matthew Fassnacht/No.74 MX-5, who finished fourth overall.

The second race was more of a parade, with fewer passes or position changes. Groenke won and turned the fastest race lap of 1:53.269/71.76mph/115.49kph. Pipal finished second, and Jasper Drengler/No.01 Honda third. With the victory, Groenke, who has been racing TCB since 2012, won the championship by two points ahead of Pipal, and Pipal is in contention for Rookie of the Year. Groenke was over the moon about his standing start and winning the championship.

O’Connell finished out of the running with a DNF for transmission.

The TCA/TCB events at MRLS will be televised on Wednesday, 25 Oct 2017 at 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.

This is just the third race weekend for young Murillo, and in six races, he’s amassed three victories, one pole, two runner-up finishes, and a fourth place. This must be a bittersweet weekend for Murillo and his family, with whom he lives. Their family home was burned to the ground this week in the horrific Sonoma County fires while they were coming back from Road Atlanta where the family runs an IMSA ST Porsche team – Murillo Racing with Jeff Mosing and Eric Foss. The team won its championship. Kenny works on the team. He’s just turned 21 so he can drink champagne on the podium.

Greg Liefooghe, Paul Holton, and Pierre Kleinubing

Greg Liefooghe, Paul Holton, and Pierre Kleinubing

In the TC race, Paul Holton again won, with Greg Liefooghe coming in second and Pierre Kleinubing/No.26 BMW finishing third. Mason Filippi/No.12 BMW finished fourth and won Hard Charger Award for gaining three positions – which he did early on, and held on for the rest of the 25-lap race. Mark Drennan, who had turned the fastest race lap in the first race, retired with mechanical problems.

Sunday’s schedule begins with the 9:15am local time start for the California 8-Hour International GT Series race.

FRIDAY THE 13TH!

Friday Sunrise

Friday dawned clear and cloudless with a beautiful sunrise over the hills at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for the first official day of the Pirelli World Challenge Grand Prix of Monterey. How can a day like this be unlucky when it starts like this!

There’s a full schedule of races, with a new to California event – The Intercontinental GT Challenge. This will be an eight-hour endurance race on Sunday. The entries for the nineteen teams come from the US and abroad – Australia and Belgium; and the drivers come from America, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain,the Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, and South Africa. This series has a unique concept for the four races it runs: It works with local GT3 teams in the country in which it’s running, transporting drivers and engineers instead of cars and equipment. The other events are Liqui-Moly Bathhurst 12 Hours, Total 24 Hours of Spa and the Sepang 12 Hours.

Other races on the schedule are for the Pirelli World Challenge TC class, PWC TCA/TCB Classes, Battery Tender Global MX-5 Cup and Pirelli GT# Trophy Cup USA.

Friday’s schedule called for a 90-minute practice and a pre-qualifying session for the California 8-Hour Series, two practice sessions and a qualifying session for the PWC Touring classe, a practice and a qualifying session for the MX-5 Mazdas and a 45-minute race at days end for the GT3 Porsches. All in all, a ten hour day.

The California enduro cars had two sessions, and the No.29 Audi R8 LMS was fastest in each. The results don’t list which of the three drivers turned the fastest lap, and the monitor isn’t always up-to-date. Christopher Mies/Germany was listed last. The other two drivers for the car are Connor De Philippi/USA, and Christophe Haase/Germany.

Second in the afternoon Pre-Qualifying session was Patrick Long/USA in No.58 Porsche 911 GT3R, with co-drivers Jorg Bergmeister/Germany and Romain Dumas of France.

Third fastest in the afternoon was Alvero Parente/Portugal, with Bryan Sellers/USA and Ben Barnicott of Great Britain in his first ever time at MRLS.

No.29 Audi

No.58 Porsche

No.9 McLaren

Left to right: No.29 Audi R8 LMS; No.59 Porsche 911 GT3 R; and No.9 McLaren 650S GT3.

The PWC TC classes have a championship is on the line this weekend. The point spread is especially close in the TCB class – three points before qualifying between three drivers: Jake Pipal/No.6 Honda, PJ Groenke/No.25 Sonic, and Canaan O’Connell/No.24 Sonic.

O’Connell has the TCB pole position with a provisional new track record lap of 1:51.488/72.2 mph. This gives him another point, which now ties him for second in the standings with teammate, Groenke and just two adrift of Points Leader Pipal. Young O’Connell, a driver instructor at Bondurant’s Driving School in AZ, said “We’re so close – PJ (Groenke) and Jake (Pipal) and I – that I can’t hold anything back.”

Legendary sports car/GT driver and 4-time PWC GT Champion, Johnny O’Connell, is getting used now to being “Canaan’s Dad.” He joked that “the kid finally took my advice.”

Canaan O'Connell

PJ Groenke No.25 Sonic

Jake Pipal

Left to right: Canaan O’Connell; PJ Groenke No.25 Sonic; and Jake Pipal.

The TC class races are Saturday morning and are split, with the TC class by itself, and the TCA and TCB running together. The fastest race laps of those races will set the grid for the afternoon races. Their Awards Banquet is that evening.

Paul Holton No.71 Audi

TC Points Leader, Paul Holton/No.71 Audi has the TC pole with a lap of 1:35.474/84.3 mph. He said “That (qualifying lap) was one of those laps where it was either going to be on the pole or it was going to be in the wall. Thankfully we got it on the pole. I don’t think I’ve sent a car off the Corkscrew as hard as I did that time.”

Eric Powell/No.23 Scion turned a 1:41.680/79.2 mph for the TCA pole. “It’s awesome to get our own race, to be the feature event. Aside from that, it’s nice to not have to worry about incidents in the Touring Car class affecting our race.”

Another championship which will be hotly contested will be the MX-5 Mazdas, who are racing for a lucrative $120,000 in prize money including $75,000 to the Saturday afternoon race winner. The provisional pole went to Nikko Reger/No.01 of Texas. Second and third were Robby Foley/No.63 of NJ and Patrick Gallagher/No.29 of Ohio. There are 19 cars in this group, including 12 Rookies.

Russell Ward/No.35 won the 45-minute race for the Pirelli GT3 Trophy Cup USA, from the pole position. Second and third finished in their qualifying position also: Loren Beggs/No.08 and Alex Kirby/No.01. All three are in the Diamond class.

The weather was sunny all day, warming up nicely in the afternoon, with the breezes ranging back and forth between gentle to stronger.

Thursday was an all-day test session. Two drivers had bad crashes, but they are alright. The cars are not and at least one is undergoing a 24-hour restoration, with more car parts on the way. As the day went on, observed one series Chief Steward, the drivers pushed the limits further and further. The SFR SCCA Course Marshals and Emergency Crews were kept busy picking up and cleaning up while the flaggers got plenty of practice with the variety of flags.

Saturday’s schedule calls for two qualifying sessions and seven races. Throw in a PWC TC Autograph session and noontime Race & Rods Parade Laps and you have another rich and full ten-hour day.

THE CAPTAIN WINS!

Roger Penske and the No.2 Newgarden Team

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

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

Simon Pagenaud, Race Winner

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

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

Josef Newgarden, Champion

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

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

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden photos by Pablo & Nico Matamoros.

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

Will Power

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

Scott Dixon fueling

Scott Dixon fueling. Photo by Nico Matamoros

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

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

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

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

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

Roger Penske, Simon Pagenaud & Tim Cindric

Roger Penske, Simon Pagenaud & Tim Cindric

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

Simon Pagenaud.

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Nico Matamoros

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

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

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

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

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

American Flag Parachute Jump

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

UNOFFICIAL GOPRO OF SONOMA RACE RESULTS

POS Car# Driver Car Laps Status

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

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

First Lap

First Lap. Photo by Nico Matamoros

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, it’s mild and sunny, with hazy blue skies and a moderate breeze. The Verizon IndyCar drivers got to sleep in a bit as they’re not on track until 11:30am for their half-hour warm-up. Other activities were ongoing as the weekend wound up its four-day schedule. There were five two-seater IndyCars giving VIP rides with drivers Mario Andretti, Gabby Chaves, Davey Hamilton, Arie Luyendyk Jr, and Zach Veach. The morning race schedule included Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS races, as well as another Pirelli Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge race. It was fascinating to watch the transition between the various series, which are paddocked in various reaches of the elevated road course, including the World Challenge cars which are parked outside Turn Seven. So all three ‘lanes’ on the front stretch are a maze of activity with the various cars going in different directions simultaneously. They snake up one lane, down another, and around the course up to Turn Seven, or into the pit lane and paddock behind the IndyCars.

IndyCar Pre-Race Ceremonies began at 2:20pm local time, and the Green Flag set for the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma IndyCar race at 3:30pm. It will air live on NBCSN. By 6pm there will be a race winner and 2017 Champion – one or two different drivers. The excitement mounts.

For the race, nine drivers including the top three drivers, will start on Black Primary Tires. The other 13 will start on the softer red Alternative tires. Of the four Penske drivers, three will start on Primary, with only Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Chevrolet out on Alternatives, as will the other two contenders, Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda. Let the games begin!

Tony Kanaan

IC Autograph Crowd

Sebastien Bourdais

Saturday morning the IndyCar drivers got up early and sat in the chilly morning air to sign autographs for a huge, orderly crowd of fans.

Paul Blevin

Ever wondered what it takes to be an IndyCar Starter? I asked Paul Blevin of Riverside just that. He was asked 18 years ago by the then-current starter to come on board as an assistant, and that it would take some travel. Blevin came from flagging off road and Mickey Thompson events. He found open wheel and road racing was a bit more complicated. With larger fields and all those pits stops, blue flagging is more complex. Experience over the years has helped. And now there is technology to assist. In the Starter Stand, Blevin has a computer and monitor which keeps him apprised of the running order. There is also a screen resembling the video game, Centipede. It has a track outline showing the position of each race car – diamond icon for the leader, circles for the field, and a yellow box for those a lap down.

The job has grown over the years and just this year the crew has added its third Starter – Brad Hackaday. He joins Tom Hansen who’s been a starter for more than five years.

Among the duties on their job description now comes working with the IndyCar Timing & Scoring crew, helping with setup and breakdown. There are eight TV monitors to run just for Race Control, and “miles and miles of cable.”

Marcia Ulise

At an IndyCar weekend, Blevin will be on the stand for the IndyCar race and any other race under the IndyCar umbrella. This includes the three official series in the Mazda Road to Indy: Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda; Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires; and Indy Lights. There also could be the occasional Mazda MX-5 Cup Series, part of the Mazda Road to the 24 Series.

This weekend Blevin is working with Hackaday and local starter, Marcia Ulise.

Honda’s Art St. Cyr met with the media and discussed the 2017 season. Honda had seven wins this season and all of its five teams won a race, including the Indianapolis 500 with Takuma Sato from Andretti Autosport. Last year AA won with Rookie driver Alexander Rossi. St. Cyr said he was pleased that Honda had its team line-up for 2018 set, although not all the individual drivers. The teams are (again) Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. And St. Cyr wouldn’t be drawn into any speculation on the musical seats. “Driver lineup might be a little bit different, but having those teams set right now gives us a chance to really put our plan in place early on to make sure that the offseason testing will go well, especially with this new universal aero kit, make sure that the information that we can provide for the teams gives them a good foundation for them to launch off next year. Hopefully next year will be even more successful.”

Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors All-Star and points guard for the last two recent NBA Championships, is the Grand Marshal for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. He got a two-seater ride in an IndyCar with Mario Andretti, and was awed by the experience, saying he was impressed by how the drivers put it on the line every time they get in the car.

The IndyCar Series Manufacturer Championship was determined before this weekend’s events, and the huge trophy was presented by Jay Fry, IndyCar President of Copetition and Operations to Chevrolet’s Jim Campbell, Vice-President of Performance Vehicle an Motorsports and Mark Kent, Director of Motorsports Competition.

Chevrolet Manufacturer's Trophy

Also present were the three Chevrolet team owners whose drivers earned the championship: Ed Carpenter, AJ Foyt and Roger Penske. Points were earned by drivers and teams based on finishes on the first four engines they ran. This put a premium on reliability and performance. Going into the weekend, Chevrolet had nine wins and ten poles this season. It became 11 poles by Saturday afternoon. Currently there are eight Chevrolet drivers, approximately 40 percent of the field. Campbell hinted there could be more drivers next season, but refused to be drawn into any further elaboration.

Left to Right: Team Owners TonyGeorge, Larry Foyt, AJ Foyt, Roger Penske, Ed Carpenter, and Chevrolet's Mark Kent & Jim Campbell. Back Row Ilmor: Steve O'Connell, Wayne Bennett, Paul Ray & Steve Miller.  Photo by Mike Levitt/GM.

Left to Right: Team Owners Tony George, Larry Foyt, AJ Foyt, Roger Penske, Ed Carpenter, and Chevrolet’s Mark Kent & Jim Campbell.
Back Row Ilmor: Steve O’Connell, Wayne Bennett, Paul Ray & Steve Miller.
Photo by Mike Levitt/GM.

HERE’S TO THE KID!

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

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

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penske Posse Paying Attention

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

Will Power

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

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

Simon Pagenaud

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

Helio Castroneves

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

Roger Penske

Roger Penske.Photo by Pablo Matamoros

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Dixon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takuma Sato

GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA QUALIFYING

POS CAR# DRIVER CAR TIME SPEED

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