Petty Motorsports Ford drivers, ARIC ALMIROLA/No.43 and MARCOS AMBROSE/No.9 were the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers to test their new Gen-6 race car on the Sonoma Raceway road course. They ran about 100 laps on Tuesday, with a break for an informal media and fan session, which included unveiling the track’s new concession concept – the Sears Point Grill. The test continues Wednesday. The weather was better than forecast – high sixties with partly cloudy skies. The expected showers never materialized.
Almirola said this two-day test was the second of the four tests NASCAR allotts each Sprint Cup team. Previously, the Petty team had tested at Richmond International Raceway. Almirola said he needed to learn road courses for the two on the Cup schedule – Sonoma and Watkins Glen. “I came here with the mind set not to win, but to run tenth.”
Ambrose said not many teams have done a road course test on the new Cup car. This year NASCAR changed the rules on suspensions, which affected the weight and downforce. Off The Truck, his times were the same as last year. Qualifying will be faster for the June Sprint Cup race – Toyota/Save Mart 350.”
For the 2013 road course Cup races, NASCAR has a new Qualifying procedure. Saturday Qualifying will be in groups, based on Friday’s Practice times. Ambrose is looking forward to the new Qualifying. Coming from a road racing background, as a championship V8 Supercar driver, he’s used to qualifying in groups. He feels it will be less stressful and pose less risk for the drivers – to get two-three laps before the tires wear out. The times will be more reflective of grid positions. While he expects the first Qualifying lap to be the fastest, there will be other laps if a mistake has to be rectified.
Ambrose was asked to compare the new Gen-6 car with last year’s model. “It’s not a Night and Day difference. There are subtle differences. He said it is too heavy and too powerful on the Sonoma track.” He has to drive it 100 percent.
Ambrose said “We’re going to be faster in qualifying with the new car, no doubt. It looks like the cars and tires slide around more, so I think you’re going to see the normal Sonoma action, just a little faster. The tires will make a difference on the long runs. They might lose lap time more aggressively than last year.”
For this test the Petty drivers aren’t working on fuel mileage. “The fuel map the drivers run in their car depends on variables,” said Ambrose – weather, grid and track position. Almirola said “We keep in mind the fuel/pit strategies.”
For this test, Ambrose said they started out using the setups from last year, which are to some degree interchangeable.
Sonoma Raceway President, STEVE PAGE, unveiled the new Sears Point Grill, which resembles a roadside burger stand. The menu will include burgers, locally-sourced sausages and other grilled items. To mark the occasion, Page had the chef create a specialty burger for each driver.
Almirola gave a two thumbs up for his bacon burger, with Smithfield bacon – his sponsor. “I think it definitely should be on the menu.”
Ambrose’s burger was a Tasmanian Special, with a surprise ingredient. You could tell from the look on Ambrose’s face that he was not pleased. The joke was on him. “They put bloody Vegemite on it. I wouldn’t suggest you sell that. It’s pretty rough.”
Also on the schedule Tuesday at the wine country course was ground breaking for the new Sonoma Raceway Garden on the hill above the main paddock. Partners in the garden include local groups, such as Sonoma Valley High School agriculture program and Garden Project. The program will provide starter plants to be put in 20-foot elevated garden beds.
Let’s hope the garden is safe from the herd of Peruvian goats utilized by the track to eat down the hillside vegetation. The goats are a common sight during the summer, as part of the track’s efforts to control the dry brush. Wildfires are a problem in California, even more so this year.
And speaking of growing things, Sonoma Raceway will receive a donation of 90 trees by the Arbor Day Foundation and that same Sonoma School Garden Project, led by KATHERINE HILL of the Sonoma Index-Tribune. Hill is also project leader for the new garden. The tree planting is part of NASCAR’s Green Clean Air Tree Planting program Delivered by UPS. Each Cup Series race market will receive 90 trees to plant in their local community.