The Verizon IndyCar Series held an open test Thursday at Sonoma Raceway. Five teams with eleven drivers took to the track for the one-day session on the IndyCar course configuration.
The one-day IndyCar test was open and free to the public. The weather claimed to be in the low eighties, but it was a chilly wind a-blowing and the corner works were layered up.
As it was a test, there was no official Timing or record-keeping, and anything proprietary was not shared with the media.
All but one of the Verizon IndyCar drivers met with the media in several groups during the lunch break. Josef Newgarden No.67 Hartman Oil Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda was busy closeted with his race engineers during the down time. The other ten drivers spoke about the track, their testing, and fielded questions from the media, and also from the fans who were allowed access to the paddock and Media Session.
Indycar runs a 12-turn 2.38-mile configuration and last year’s IndyCar race lasted 2 hours 20 minutes for 85 laps. NASCAR runs a 10-turn 1.9-mile configuration, with no carousel and a shorter Turn 11. This year’s Sprint Cup race ran 110 laps for 218.9 miles in 2 hours 51 minutes and 30 seconds.
Three-time Sonoma race winner/pole winner, Will Power No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, is leading the IndyCar Drivers Championship Standings with 548 points. Close on his heels is teammate Helio Castroneves No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, with 544 points. Third through fifth are Ryan Hunter-Reay No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda/485, Simon Pagenaud No.77 Oculus Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda/484, and JPM with 447.
Power said, regarding the points chase with his teammate, Castroneves, at Sonoma, “I’m strong, he’s strong, and he’s going to be ready for it. So I’m going to keep pushing hard and working the details.” Power was last year’s winner, and holds the IndyCar qualifying track record of 111.116mph/1:17.2709 set in 2012.
“Penske teammates are all working together while at the same time trying different things because we have three cars and we can try all random stuff,” said 2008 Sonoma pole and race winner, Helio Castroneves No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.”It’s a chance to try stuff, as when we come back here we pretty much have to be dialed in.”
Juan Pablo Montoya No.2 Hawk Team Penske Chevrolet was asked to compare his NASCAR Cup Car and his IndyCar at Sonoma Raceway.”No Comparison. I don’t mean to be rude, but this track is not a place for a Cup car, with the hills and ups/downs. I can barely get into fourth gear. In an IndyCar, it’s a rush. It takes a lot of cojones to go around this place.”
Another question from a fan for JPM was whether he regretted his move from IndyCar. “No. Why would I? I ran Formula One. I won in everything I ran in Indycar, races, championship, all the road and street courses. And I won what I wanted to win in Formula One. Do I regret it – Hell no.”
The camaraderie and synergy among the Penske drivers was quite obvious, and just getting through the interview with all three wasn’t easy for all the joking. The three seems to be a good fit, and since Montoya joined the team back in IndyCar, his beautiful smile has become quite evident, much more so than when he was in NASCAR.
Another observation was that all the IndyCar drivers get along well with each other … for the most part. During the various media sessions Thursday, it was quite noticeable how much by all the joking and joshing with each other, despite team affiliations.
All described the track similarly: challenging, technical, and all felt the wind shifts, changes and directions affected their driving.
Graham Rahal No.15 National Guard Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda made it quite clear he was not going to discuss the recent announcement that the National Guard would be endings its motorsports sponsorship at the end of the year (with RLLR and Dale Earnhardt in NASCAR Sprint Cup.)
Rahal said his performance has been getting significantly better, things are looking good, and we’re trying hard to get better and better. I do well on street courses, but I didn’t think road courses were my strong point, but then we finished fifth last week at Mid-Ohio. This place here has been pretty good to me. I think I have more top tens than any other driver. So hopefully that kinda carries over. On road courses there is more runoff, although it can be through a lot of dirt, so you wouldn’t hit something … initially. On street courses, there is zero margin for error, they’re bumpy and abusive on your body. However, here there are more blind corners, and you sit so low to the ground, so you’re using a lot of different reference points.
Rahal had been to the Sonoma track recently with girlfriend, drag racer Courtney Force. Rahal thought it would be fun to try the Sonoma Raceway Wednesday Night drags, but he’s tried the drag strip in an IndyCar and it didn’t work. It was slippier than racing in the rain. Sure, I’d like to try it. Maybe Courtney and I could go head to head. But the problem is that she’d be really ticked if I beat her. Extremely. She’s probably the most competitive person I’ve ever met.”
Charlie Kimball No.83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet said “On the car side, we have four avenues, and at the end of the day, circle back and see what worked out best. The wind is definitely a challenge, last year was really active and definitely changes; and I always watch the flags as it affects the car.”
The 2005 Winner, Tony Kanaan No.10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, said “The car is doing better here, after our first test. Now we’re just making sure what we did still applies. I think it’s going to be interesting to look at the lap times.
Ryan Briscoe No.8 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, 2012 winner and 2005 pole winner, said “This is a really fun race track, and we’ve been chipping away here and there over the year. There’s a lot of points to make up in a short amount of time (Briscoe is P11 with 368 points), so hopefully Sonoma will be a big part of that. It’s a unique, challenging course with elevation changes – a lotta fun. Tire degredation is crucial and one of the things we’re testing today.”
Scott Dixon No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Chevrolet, said “Sonoma Raceway is technical and challenging to me, one of my toughest tracks; and when you do get it right, it’s always rewarding. It’s always fun. The wind is what it is and it’s the same for everybody. But definitely changes the track a lot, and different in the morning and afternoon.” Dixon won the 2007 race, and was on pole in 2006. “It’s always a fun event here and great to be in the wine country. Unfortunately not many of us get to experience that.
Rookie Carlos Munoz No.34 Andretti Autosport Honda is running the 12-turn 2.38-mile road course for the first time. “There are quick sections, and it’s really tough. I like the track so far – you like it when you go fast, so we’ll see after the race weekend if I like it a lot. My teammate Ryan has been here a lot and he’s fast, so I can learn. It’s always good to have a good teammate. I’m comfortable so far and it will be better when we come back.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda said “I can’t believe we’re talking about the final road course of the year. It’s pretty neat. It’s always a blast coming here every year. It’s a really fun race track. We’re chipping away on getting better and better here so hopefully this will be our best year here. There are a lot of points to make up in a short amount of time and hopefully Sonoma will be a good part of that.
The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma IndyCar Race is Sunday 24 August 2014. It is a three-day weekend, but the IndyCars will only be on course Saturday and Sunday. Saturday calls for IndyCar Practice and Qualifying and the race Sunday afternoon. The other support categories racing during the weekend include Indy Lights, SCCA Pro Racing Pirelli, World Challenge, Pro Mazda Series and USF2000 Series.
Left to Right: Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, and Ryan Hunter-Reay
Left to Right: Graham Rahal, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden
Left to Right: Carlos Munoz, Charlie Kimball, and Juan Pablo Montoya
All car photos courtesy of Mike Doran