With heavy hearts, the Verizon IndyCar Series heads west, for the final race of the 2015 season this weekend at Sonoma. After losing Justin Wilson this past week, it’s been understandably difficult for everyone to move on. Many will say that Justin would have wanted the show to go on, which is what will happen. Tony Kanaan has said the drivers will race in Justin’s honor on Sunday. For the first time since the tragedy last weekend, drivers and cars returned to the race track.
Today was technically a Test Day for the series, but it was essentially a 3 /12 hour practice session. Will Power had the fastest lap of the day (1:17.4858) followed by Graham Rahal, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, and Marco Andretti. Championship leader Juan Montoya has ninth fastest on Friday, as 984 total laps were turned by the 25 drivers. Four different teams were represented in the top five, and the top-ten were separated by six-tenths of a second.
It looks as though Power’s track record () set here last year will be broken during qualifying tomorrow. It wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him setting the new record, based upon how he has run here at Sonoma. In his last five races here, he has three wins and a runner-up finish to go along with four Pole starts. He’s also led 250 laps at Sonoma, 163 more than the next driver. That driver would be Dixon, who has won two races at Sonoma, and has completed 799 of the 800 laps he’s completed in (finished 1 lap down in 2012 race).
Montoya leads Rahal by 34 points heading into the final stage of the championship. Dixon is in third, 47 points behind Montoya. Even trailing by 61 points, Power has a slim chance at retaining the crown, as double points are being awarded for this race. Montoya is aiming to become the first driver since Sam Hornish Jr in 2001 to lead the championship wire-to-wire during the entire season. Sebastien Bourdais accomplished the feat in 2006 under the CART banner. Montoya is also looking to become the first driver since Dario Franchitti in 2010 to win the Indy 500 and the series title in the same year.
Firestone has brought new, softer compound primary and alternate tires to Sonoma this weekend, which could play a big role in the outcome of the race, as well as the championship. According to some though, the alternate red tires may not last long.
There are a few changes among the drivers in this weekend’s race at Sonoma. Oriol Servia will be driving Wilson’s No. 25 Andretti Autosport car, in honor of his late friend. Sebastian Saavedra will be in Chip Ganassi’s No. 8 car, which he has split with Sage Karam this year. Russian driver Mikhail Aleshin makes his return to the Verizon IndyCar Series as well, driving the No. 77 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, who will be fielding three cars this weekend.
Yesterday, the Verizon IndyCar Series shut down the Golden Gate Bridge for some time, making a grand entrance, and honoring Wilson. Marco was driving the No. 25 Andretti Autosport car, and Power, Rahal, and Josef Newgarden drove behind, with James Hinchcliffe in the two-seater, carrying the Astor Cup. Video of the scene can be seen below, courtesy of Blogdaindy Videos.
There will be one final 45-minute practice session tomorrow at 1:45 PM ET, followed by qualifying for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, which begins at 6:05 PM ET. Both the practice session and qualifying will air on NBC Sports Network.
Highlights from today’s action can be seen below, courtesy of IndyCar.
Will Power: “The Verizon IndyCar Series is going into Sonoma with heavy hearts this weekend. I had the pleasure – and I do mean pleasure – to race against Justin Wilson for many years in this series. To see how hard he worked was an inspiration to many people in the paddock. Justin was a great driver – a winning driver – but more than that he was just a fantastic human being. There is no other way to put it. My wife, Liz, worked with him for a couple of years so we became mates during our time together in the sport. This really hits home for both she and I. No one had a bad thing to say about Justin. No one. He will be sorely missed. My heart goes out to his family. We are all thinking about them.”
Juan Montoya: “Obviously the championship is important to everyone at Team Penske and our goal is to do our best to wrap that up at Sonoma this weekend, but it pales in comparison to the feeling we all have about losing our friend and competitor, Justin Wilson. I had the opportunity to compete with him in several different series, beginning in 1995 when I moved to Europe. He was the same guy then as he was when I came back into the Verizon IndyCar Series last year – always with a smile on his face but someone that was a great competitor on the track. The sport needs more like him and his loss is tremendous. I also have a wife and kids and I’m saddened for what they are going through.”
Helio Castroneves: “We all know that we have a job to do this weekend at Sonoma, but it doesn’t make it any easier as we deal with the tragic loss of Justin Wilson. A friend to everyone in the paddock, Justin was the kind of race car driver that everyone should want to be. He was a winning driver, a fan favorite and someone that we were all proud to know. I raced with him for many years and never saw him do anything that would be considered out of line. He was a gentleman, both on and off the track, and I pray for the comfort of his family and friends.”
Ryan Briscoe: “It is a really difficult time for the entire INDYCAR community. I’m terribly saddened by Justin’s passing and I will be racing in Sonoma with a heavy heart. I’ve been very proud to fill the seat for Hinch (James Hinchcliffe) in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics car this season. It’s been great to follow his recovery and it won’t be long until we see him back behind the wheel. I’m also looking forward to bringing home a good result for all the Arrow executives coming out to the track this weekend.”
Sebastian Saavedra: “It’s kind of a bittersweet feeling to be returning to the car this weekend. We’re obviously dealing with the loss of Justin and thinking about his family. On the other side, I’m excited to get back racing and I’ve been training hard and preparing myself physically and mentally for Sonoma. I want to help the team end the season on a high note, but it’s obviously a challenge to get ready given the circumstances. I’m motivated to do a great job and looking forward to working with the team again to deliver strong results for them in Sonoma.”
Scott Dixon: “We lost an amazing human being in Justin Wilson and we will all miss him to no end. We’re all going to be thinking of him and the Wilson family this weekend in Sonoma, and honoring Justin by doing what he loved to do – which is race. Sonoma is huge for us from the standpoint that it’s Target’s biggest race too. It’s a fantastic race and it’s been very exciting there the last few years. For us to win last year was really cool. It was kind of our turnaround on the season to try to regain some strength on what started out to be a pretty slow start to the year. I’m excited that Team Target is still in contention for the championship, with this being a double-points race. Hopefully we’ll be celebrating with a lot of wine in victory circle for a championship and a race victory.”
Tony Kanaan: “Heading into Sonoma this weekend, all my thoughts and prayers are with Justin Wilson’s family. It’s not easy to switch your mind back into race mode after something like this happens, but I know we’ll all come together and finish the season strong in Justin’s honor. I’ve had some strong results there, with the highlight being my win in 2005. The No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet is definitely capable of getting another win this weekend with how consistent we’ve been all year. I’d really like to finish out the season the same way we finished last season in Fontana – with a win.”
Takuma Sato: “I think it is very hard for all of us to race in Sonoma after we lost our friend, Justin Wilson, INDYCAR’s most respected driver. But we will race for Justin’s parents, his wife Julia, daughters and entire family and sport. I will race with my deepest condolences to his family. Regarding Sonoma, it is one of the most dynamic road courses in our recent calendar, so I always love racing there. Last year we had our best finish at this challenging track, and it will be double points this year so we will be doing our best to finish high again.”
Graham Rahal: “Justin was the epitome of a great guy, an incredible teammate, great father and a wonderful friend. My time spent with him will forever be time I cherish, and I learned more from him than any other teammate I ever had. He led by example, he cared about others and the greater good, and he had a genuine way about him that you always knew you were safe when he was around you on the racetrack. We will race to honor him this weekend. Last year (at Sonoma), we got through a bunch of challenges and we were able to get to the front of the pack and lead a bunch of laps, but unfortunately we didn’t top off with fuel on one of the last yellows so while we led the last 18 laps we needed a yellow the entire time. We saved a lot of fuel and damn near made it, but we had to stop with a couple of laps to go for a splash of fuel. With that in mind, I feel pretty confident that we can have a similar sort of race this year in terms of running up front and being a contender. At this point we have to go there to win, we have no other choice. In order to beat (Juan Pablo) Montoya, we have no choice. We’re going to go all out, do the best we possibly can and see what happens. I still have a lot of confidence going into race weekend. Obviously I would have liked to have the type of momentum we had after Mid-Ohio going into Sonoma, but it is what it is. We went from the highest of highs after Mid-Ohio to the lowest of lows, but we’re going to go out there with a fresh mentality, attack as hard as we can, get the best result we possibly can and have some fun.
Luca Filippi: “We are very sad over the loss of Justin Wilson and I know the entire CFH team is thinking of his family. We will go to Sonoma because we know that is what he would want us to do. While we are there, hopefully we can get a strong result to end the season well. More importantly, I hope it is a good race that will honor Justin.”
Simon Pagenaud: “I know we are all going to Sonoma with a heavy heart following the passing of our friend, Justin Wilson. The news was a stark reminder that, although we love this sport, it can also be very cruel. I know all of us want to go to Sonoma this weekend and win for Justin because we all know what Indy car racing meant to him. We will all miss his bright smile. My thoughts and prayers are with his beautiful family. I hope they are able to find peace in this time.”
Jack Hawksworth: “It’s been a very difficult few days for the sport with the news of Justin’s passing. However, Justin was a racer and one of the great ambassadors for our sport and, with knowing that, I’m sure he would be pushing for us all to put on a great show this weekend. Sonoma is one of the most interesting circuits on the calendar, it’s low grip and almost street-course-like in places, but then it’s extremely fast and high grip in others. The race in Pocono did not go well for us despite having a decent car in the race, due to an issue at the first pit stop and then being squeezed under the apron later in the race. It was extremely disappointing but I’m hopeful we can put that behind us and finish out the season strong this weekend on one of my favorite circuits.”
Josef Newgarden: “The racing world lost a friend, a competitor and a brother in Justin Wilson. We will be racing with heavy hearts this weekend in Sonoma, but Justin would have wanted everyone to continue doing what they love and getting back behind the wheel. That’s what we will do and we will race in honor of Justin. Hopefully we have an exciting race for everyone to watch and we will make Justin proud.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “I’m very happy to be back in INDYCAR for the Sonoma race with a great team like Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and SMP Racing. I had such an interesting season here last year with this team. I enjoyed all the new tracks and it was very different from racing in Europe. It was a long journey to make it up here again and I will use this opportunity to give it 100 percent of my effort. I would like to dedicate this race to the memory of Justin Wilson, who was a great race driver, man and father. I will miss him a lot.”
Charlie Kimball: “Obviously the biggest thing on our minds right now is Justin, just one of the best guys in the paddock. We’re sending all of our thoughts and well-wishes to his family as we head to Sonoma. For the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team, the focus for the finale is to finish this tough Verizon IndyCar Series season on a high note. With it being double points, we have the chance to move up a bit in the championship standings with a good result, and I think that can go a long way as far as our confidence heading into the off-season. We’ll be working hard as soon as the No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Chevrolet rolls out on Friday.”
Gabby Chaves: “After our team’s best race of the year in Pocono where we were in contention for the win until the failure, we are in a good position to use this confidence and momentum to boost our best finish and finish out the year strong. We look forward to bringing home our best finish of the year in the No. 98 Alarm.com Bowers & Wilkins Castrol EDGE Honda. Of course, the Wilson family will be on our minds all weekend. Justin was a role model to us all, a kind-hearted human being who left us too soon. I’m just praying to God to help and guide his family through this.”
Practice Photos via IndyCar