The Verizon IndyCar Series is in wine country this weekend for the final event of the 2016 season. A champion will be crowned on Sunday, and it will be one of Roger Penske’s drivers. Simon Pagenaud leads Will Power by 43 points heading into the weekend, where double-points are awarded for the race itself. Power has dominated at Sonoma, winning three races and earning five poles in his last six starts. He has led 276 laps here, while Pagenaud has yet to win at Sonoma, or even lead a lap.
On Friday, it was the Team Penske driver that is currently third in the championship that paced the field. Helio Castroneves led both practice sessions, and was fastest overall with a lap of 1:16.6678 seconds. Both Pagenaud and Power were second and third overall on Friday. Andretti Autosport drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five.
Friday Combined Practice Results
Castroneves has one win, one pole, and has led 51 laps at Sonoma in 11 starts. Interestingly enough, all of those happened in 2008. Still, he has four other top-five finishes at Sonoma. Castroneves’ winless streak will reach 840 days on Sunday, with his last win coming at Detroit in 2014.
Rossi’s car stalled in the final minutes of the second practice session, but it was Conor Daly that had the moment of the day. His number 18 Dale Coyne Racing machine blew an engine as smoke poured out of the back of the car. This seems to be the norm for Conor and the crew though. His average starting position this season is 17.9, but his average finishing position is 13.9, so expect him to march forward when the green flag drops on Sunday.
There were a total of 686 laps turned on Friday, with Daly’s Rookie teammate RC Enerson (46) putting in the most. The four Penske cars were dialed in, with Montoya 6th fastest, and the others taking the top three spots. Josef Newgarden, James Hinchcliffe, and Tony Kanaan were 12th, 13th, and 14th respectively. Graham Rahal was 16th and Scott Dixon was 18th overall on Friday.
There will be one final 45-minute practice session tomorrow at 2 PM ET, followed by qualifying for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, which begins at 6 PM on NBC Sports Network.
Practice Photos via IndyCar
Juan Montoya: “We made some good progress in the afternoon session. The hum by Verizon Chevy had good balance at the end of the session. This track is fun to race. It’s really important to finish on a strong note.”
Helio Castroneves: “I have to thank Team Penske. The Hitachi car has been dialed in. When we left here last Thursday practice, we felt really confident. We try a lot of bits. I guess that paid off. So today was just a continuation of what we finished that day. It seemed to be working really well.” (About Team Penske having the championship clinched): “For the 50th anniversary of Team Penske, having Roger get the championship, having the championship on the 50th anniversary is just a perfect situation for Roger. We’re extremely happy, especially after last year, being so close and losing on the last one. Great recovery from the team. As far as my position, I actually talked to my two other drivers to see if they can sort it out, whatever happens, but if it can help out so we can finish 1-2-3 in the championship. That would be a phenomenal year, even that I don’t have the chance to win the championship.”
Max Chilton: “I think we made some really big gains today on track. This morning in first practice we were around second to last, and then in the final session we were in the top 10, which was a big jump forward. There were a few red flags and I realize a few people didn’t get their times in, but I think everyone is struggling for grip out there whether it’s the temperatures or something else. Everyone seems to have a loose car and we’ll work on that tonight before qualifying tomorrow.”
Scott Dixon: “It’s a bit of a frustrating start to the weekend here in Sonoma with the Target car. We were just kind of down on speed for some reason. We didn’t get a good run on new tires in the second session either, as both times we went out the session got red-flagged. It’s really critical to get your quick time on your first or second lap and we weren’t able to do that today unfortunately. I think we’re pretty close to the top six but we’ll have to wait and find out tomorrow.”
Tony Kanaan: “The No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet wasn’t putting up the times we wanted today, but I think it looked a lot worse than it actually was. We didn’t get a chance to run a second set of tires like a lot of the field, so our speed wasn’t there at the end like some of the other guys. We’re still just searching for grip out there, but we have a full practice day of data now to pair with our testing data and I’m sure we’ll get it all figured out tonight.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “It was an interesting day for the Plantronics – KVSH Racing Team. Obviously not testing here throws you behind the 8-ball, but a pretty decent recovery. It was not great this morning, but not so different from last year. We are making progress from our baseline, which was kind of questionable last year. We had a lot of unanswered questions and we are trying to get some answers. We didn’t have the cleanest of sessions. The car is tough to drive, but it’s not far off either. It’s one of those where you just have to clean your stuff up and put the lap together and fine tune this or that. I don’t think anybody has the perfect car. The asphalt is getting really rough over the years and when it is sunny like it was today track temperature goes up and grip goes down. That is always a challenge. Overall, we are in the top 10, not far off a fast six position, so hopefully we can clean things up and make it a little better.”
Will Power: “I think we’re in a good spot. The Verizon Chevy ran well today in practice. We’ll go back and look at data and work on what we can do for tomorrow in qualifying. I definitely love this track and it’s challenging, but I believe we’ll be fine for tomorrow.”
Takuma Sato: “I thought it was good test day despite the lap times. The conditions seem to be quite a bit different from the test. The wind direction is very different which affected the balance a lot. I think our initial set up or foundation is pretty good and we just need to get more grip out of the car and get the balance right. Today the balance shift through the lap and from new tires to used tires is quite a bit different so we’re still learning a lot. We collected good data so hopefully we can put it all together for a good qualifying run tomorrow.”
Graham Rahal: “The Steak ‘n Shake Honda was half decent in the first session, but in the second practice session we didn’t get to do a new-tire run so it’s very hard to say where we were going to end up had the two red flags not come out. There is a lot of work to be done tonight. We need to come up with some new concepts to change the characteristics of this car.”
Conor Daly: “It’s probably been one of the most difficult Fridays that we’ve had on a race weekend. Obviously we had some sort of a technical issue that I started feeling early on in the (first) session and then something let go in a big way. We’ll get together with Honda and see what happened and get everything sorted out. Hopefully we can just find some good direction tomorrow to finish the weekend on a high note.”
RC Enerson: “I think today was a pretty positive day. We still have to figure some things out with the car but we’re making progress so it’s all good. I think we’ll have a strong car for tomorrow. We’ll see where we can put the car in qualifying and see what it can do on reds. It looks like those Penske guys are pretty competitive so we’ll see what we have for them.”
Spencer Pigot: “We definitely made good progress in the second session. There was a lot of traffic and some red flags that interfered with our new tire run so we weren’t able to put a good lap in. The potential is there for us to move up quite a lot. Tomorrow will be a good day as long as we can get come clear running space on-track. The Samsung/Fuzzy’s Vodka guys were doing a great job and I’m really looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”
Josef Newgarden: “It was a decent day. I got through a good checklist of items. We need to do a little work but we have a handle on what we need. I’m excited to roll into tomorrow and get another practice in to test couple more theories. If we can qualify like we have the past couple of years we should be sitting pretty well for the race, then we’ll work on the racecar from that point.”
Simon Pagenaud: “It was really great to get back into the car. It took some of the edginess away. Today was a good start to the weekend for the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet team. We had good pace in the second session after trying a couple of different things in the morning. I’m looking forward to building on that tomorrow and get a good qualifying result.”
Carlos Munoz: “For sure the afternoon was better than the morning. This track, it just comes down to putting everything together, including new tires for your laps. If you aren’t getting it right – the second run is slower than everyone, so we will have to get it right on new tires. We have some stuff to improve for tomorrow. We’ll see what happens with the weather and everything because this track is really tricky with the wind conditions. So, we will see what happens tomorrow.”
Marco Andretti: “We ran up front in the morning session, but this afternoon we didn’t get a chance to run on new tires so we’re not sure where we ended up overall. I think we’ve carried over some things from the recent test here and are really focused this weekend on just learning as much as we can from the car.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “It was a positive day overall; I think we left some time on the table. We know where we have some imbalances to sort out tonight to come back and start Practice 3 and carry on into a qualifying effort. It’s a good platform to start from – we’re P4 right now and it’s encouraging for the DHL team. We’ve finished second here for the last two years in a row, so we’re really hoping to climb one more step up that podium this weekend.”
Jack Hawksworth: “It’s been an interesting day. We got through a few bits and bobs. The track changes here a lot. We’ve got to try and help the back of the car as it’s a little bit loose right now. We’ve got some work to do tonight but I think we’ll be alright for tomorrow.”
Charlie Kimball: “Overall I think it was a pretty good day for the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing guys. The No. 83 car wasn’t quite as good today as when we finished out the test here last week, but we worked to make it better after the morning session. We still have a little room to improve definitely. Being inside the top 10 is good, but not great. We’ve got to find a little bit of speed to be up front tomorrow but we absolutely have the capability of making it into the Firestone Fast Six tomorrow for qualifying.”
Alexander Rossi: “I think so far things are going pretty well. You know, this morning we had a few issues. I think we resolved maybe 70 percent of them this afternoon, so that was positive. But still quite a bit to work on. We got to the front, which we like to see. Overall, I know it’s our most positive Friday outside of an oval this year. Couldn’t have come at a better time – this is the home race. There’s been kind of a lot of activities leading up to this in my hometown, which has been great, but very busy. Happy to be back in a race car at a racetrack, so I don’t have to think about that.”