It’s bright, sunny and warm at Sonoma Raceway for the first of the three-day race weekend in the famed Northern California wine country. The feature race is the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, starring the Verizon IndyCar Series. The support races are SCCA Pro Racing’s Pirelli World Challenge Series with all the GT classes, Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda Series presented by Cooper Tires, and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Series powered by Mazda. The usual afternoon brisk breeze cut the mid-seventies temperature.
This weekend has a different schedule than in the past. IndyCar is only on track Saturday and Sunday, which means its two forty-five minute practice sessions on Saturday are mid morning and early afternoon. The 70-minute qualifying starts at 4:35pm Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning half-hour warm-up is at 10am, with the 85-lap race starting at 1:40 pm, all Pacific Coast Daylight time.
On Friday, the IndyCar teams were unloading, prepping and teching the cars. Drivers were scarce. Several drivers were at the Presidio Golf Course for a Charity Golf Tournament. One IndyCar foursome was Rookie Mikhail Aleshin of Russia, Josef Newgarden/USA, Simon Pagenaud/France, and Sebastian Saavedra/Colombia. Although I heard points leader Will Power and Penske teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya were at the track, the only IndyCar people I spotted in the paddock were IndyCar Director of Competition, Derek Walker; IndyCar Series Race Director, Beaux Barfield; Andretti Autosport Honda Rookie, Carlos Munoz was tooling around on his bicycle; Schmidt Peterson Hamilton team owner, Davey Hamilton; and Ed Carpenter, who owns his Ed Carpenter Racing Team, but is not driving this weekend. He runs the oval track races, and Mike Conway of England races on the road and street courses.
Recently announced was the merger of the Carpenter and another single-car team, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. Its driver is Josef Newgarden in No.67 Honda. No details so far on which engine package, driver line-up, or personnel absorption. Both teams want to get through this 2014 season, which ends Labor Day weekend. Then plans will become more apparent.
Will Power in No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet is leading the IndyCar Driver Standings with 602 points. His team seemed to have everything under control as the only person I saw was someone dusting the car. Power’s teammate, Helio Castroneves in No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet is second, 39 points behind. Simon Pagenaud in No.77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda, 92 points behind. Power’s Penske teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya in No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, is fifth, 114 points behind the leader, and 16 points behind fourth placed 2013 IndyCar Champion, Ryan Hunter-Reay in No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda.
For the other series, there was practice, qualifying and races. Each of the support series has two races this three-day weekend on the 12-turn 2.38 IndyCar configurated road course.
Rumor has it that Honda challenged Chevrolet to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. That should prove interesting. Stay tuned.
The paddock had a few fans, and some unexpected, to me, visitors. TUDOR USCC driver, Scott Pruett had an off day as his DP class was not on the schedule for this weekend’s race at Virginia International Raceway. This is the second weekend in a row that he showed up as a relaxed spectator. Last weekend he enjoyed his first-ever Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Pruett, who lives in Northern California, was again relaxed and low profile.
Another familiar face – to me – was Michael Smith all the way from Melbourne, Australia on a ‘working holiday.’ He is the CAMS (Confederation of Australian Motor Sports) F1 Secretary of the Meeting at the annual Formula One race in Melbourne. Smith was at the track just for the day before heading East. He is also on the FIA Commission for Volunteer and Officials, which happens to be having its quarterly meeting this Friday. Smith’s good news from Down Under was that the date for the 2015 AGP has been announced as 12-15 March 2015, and it will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the race being in Melbourne. The race had its contract extended for another five years, and guaranteed to be the first race of each F1 season during that time.