IndyCar reigning champion, Will Power/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet has the pole position for Sunday’s GoPro Sonoma GP at Sonoma Raceway with a blazing lap of 1:16.2597/112.589 mph. He beat his own 2014 qualifying track record of 1:16.2393/111.161 mph. It was the fourth qualifying track record Power set this season, sixth pole of this season, and 42nd of his career – fifth on the all-time list. He’s been on pole five times at Sonoma, and this time it’s two consecutive pole positions.
Team Penske has thirteen of the past sixteen pole positions.
Power is one of “The Contenders” for the 2015 Championship – six in all who have a mathematical chance at the Astor Cup. Power has an edge – three previous Sonoma victories.
“I love the area, love the track, which is very technical and you have to be very committed when it comes to qualifying. My favorite session of the whole weekend is the qualifying. You get to get the absolute maximum out of the car and ring its neck. I enjoyed it a whole lot. Obviously the race will be a fairly different story as there are a lot of points on the table tomorrow. We really need to be careful on how we execute this because we need to win. I enjoyed that lap a lot. A lot of points on the table for tomorrow, so definitely have to think about it. Firestone brought a really good tire this year which will play into strategy.”
The top three drivers in the Fast Six Session beat Power’s existing record.
Second was Josef Newgarden/No.67 Hartman Oil/GoPro CFH Racing Chevrolet. Third was Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.38 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, followed by Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Aveya Team Penske Chevrolet, Points Leader Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’ Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.
Power was aware that Newgarden was fast. ““I was just aware of the times that I had to beat and I didn’t know what the track record was. I just knew what Josef’s time was and needed to beat that. Our strategy was just to do two runs and just use reds, the sets that we used in the previous rounds. We didn’t think anyone would put blacks on but he did and he went quicker. So we had no choice at the very end but to put them on. He kind of showed us the way. If he had put them on at the end, I have a feeling he would have got the pole.”
Even though this is a double points weekend, there is only one bonus point awarded for the Verizon P1 Award.
Montoya waited until the last moment to go out for his last chance at the pole to get one hot lap on his reds (alternate tire), but only managed a fifth overall time. He feels good about starting up near the front, “But we still have to race and anything can happen and we have seen that already in road course racing. I feel that we have done everything in our power to get it done and if things go our way then we will be good.”
Championship Contender Josef Newgarden has additional/primary sponsorship this weekend from GoPro, which is the title sponsor for the IndyCar feature race Sunday. The young driver will have the flagship GoPro HERO4 black on his car. Newgarden wore it during the IndyCar Driver Autograph Session. Newgarden was coy about his Sunday strategy. “Most people are saving blacks for Sunday.”
Rahal, who is second in the points, is going for the win Sunday. He’s disappointed in his sixth overall lap, and was envious of how others managed the black tires for the session. “Tires will be key in the race. Everyone is under the gun and that will play into the decision making. Definitely lot of pressure. It’s going to be entertaining. I’ll tell you that.”
The temperatures soared to 81 degrees F ambient, but slowly dropped as the sessions wore down. Humidity had dropped to 40 percent and the wind grew to 13 percent. There was still some wispy clouds but there was strong visibility now that the Northern California forest fire smoke had moved on.
In Round One Group One, the top seven drivers broke the qualifying record set of 1:117.2393/111.161 mph last year by Will Power. Pagenaud was fastest at 1:16.8419, pulling it off at the last minute. He was followed by Rahal, Kanaan, Andretti, Kimball and Montoya.
Round One Group Two saw even faster times, with Power turning a 1:16.5702. The ambient temperature had dropped two degrees.
Hawksworth pitted early in Group Two, dropping oil everywhere, making it difficult for the other cars, especially Newgarden who was trying to get into the Top Six. But Newgarden prevailed and bested Pagenaud’s time, turning a 1:16.5982. And then so did Power who went to the top, and Dixon who tucked in ahead of Newgarden – all faster than Pagenaud’s Round One lap. Behind Newgarden were Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Saavedra and Munoz. Contender Castroneves didn’t make the cut and will start fifteenth.
The Group Two incident between Takuma Sato/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda and Stefano Coletti/No.4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet went under Steward’s Review, and no action taken. They ended up with Sato in eighteenth place and Coletti in twentieth.
In Round Two, Power again topped off, going even faster than before – 1:16.5571, followed by RHR at 1:16.5620. Third through sixth were Pagenaud, Newgarden, Rahal and JPM. Contender Dixon was ninth overall in the 12-car field. He got caught out by someone else’s dirt sprayed on the Turn Six track. “Kanaan (teammate Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet) and I both went through it and that just killed both our lap times. It’s very tight out there and you simply can’t afford to lose time like that.”
Oriol Servia is driving Justin Wilson’s No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda. He said Friday he “was just a passenger, but Saturday he was a race driver.” He admitted he wasn’t in shape when he got the call. But the overwhelming social media support Servia got for running Wilson’s car meant the world to him. Servia said he knew Justin was laughing at him.
This year, the primary tires are grippier, so there’s not as much different between the blacks and optional red tires. Popular opinion says that this should make for an even more interesting race.
INDYCAR QUALIFYING RESULTS
SONOMA, Calif. – Qualifying Saturday for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma Verizon IndyCar Series event on the 2.385-mile(s) Sonoma Raceway, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, aero kit-engine, time and speed in parentheses:
1. (1) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:16.2597 (112.589)
2. (67) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:16.3964 (112.387)
3. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:16.5254 (112.198)
4. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:16.6683 (111.989)
5. (2) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 01:16.8437 (111.733)
6. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:17.1769 (111.251)
7. (83) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 01:16.6669 (111.991)
8. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:16.8710 (111.694)
9. (9) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 01:16.9677 (111.553)
10. (8) Sebastian Saavedra, Chevrolet, 01:17.1596 (111.276)
11. (10) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 01:17.2899 (111.088)
12. (26) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 01:17.3302 (111.030)
13. (20) Luca Filippi, Chevrolet, 01:17.1077 (111.351)
14. (77) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 01:17.3885 (110.947)
15. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:17.2550 (111.138)
16. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 01:17.4310 (110.886)
17. (5) Ryan Briscoe, Honda, 01:17.4886 (110.803)
18. (14) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:17.5599 (110.702)
19. (25) Oriol Servia, Honda, 01:17.5724 (110.684)
20. (4) Stefano Coletti, Chevrolet, 01:17.8293 (110.318)
21. (98) Gabby Chaves, Honda, 01:17.7994 (110.361)
22. (7) James Jakes, Honda, 01:17.8968 (110.223)
23. (19) Tristan Vautier, Honda, 01:17.9876 (110.094)
24. (18) Rodolfo Gonzalez, Honda, 01:18.3867 (109.534)
25. (41) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 01:19.0408 (108.627)