SONOMA, Calif. (Friday, Aug. 24, 2012) - Team Penske teammates Will Power and Ryan Briscoe topped the time chart on the 2.31-mile, 12-turn Sonoma road course in the initial practice session for the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on Aug. 26.
Power, who has won the past two IZOD IndyCar Series races at Sonoma from the pole in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, posted a lap of 1 minute, 18.6887 seconds in the 75-minute session. Briscoe, driving the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske car, supplanted Simon Pagenaud with 20 seconds left with a lap of 1:18.8782. Pagenaud, seeking to wrap up the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award, was 0.2341 of a second off Power's pace in the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car.
"It's coming down to the nitty-gritty now (for the championship) so it's important to get everything right," Power said. "It will be very important to start up front in the race if you want to finish on the podium."
The 12 and 2 combination wasn't exactly what title contender Ryan Hunter-Reay wanted to see. The Andretti Autosport driver, who is five points behind Power in the standings with three races left, was 19th of the 27 cars. Dario Franchitti and Rubens Barrichello also were in the top five. The top 13 cars were separated by 1 second on the recently modified course.
IZOD IndyCar Series Championship Facts:
• Will Power leads the IZOD IndyCar Series championship after 12 races for the second time in his career. He also led at 12 races in 2010.
• Power leads Ryan Hunter-Reay by five points. It's the fourth time that the lead has been less than 10 points this season. Helio Castroneves led Scott Dixon by eight points after St. Petersburg and two points after Barber. Power lead Ryan Hunter-Reay by three points after Iowa.
• There are 15 drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series championship: Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Simon Pagenaud (R), Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Ryan Briscoe, Graham Rahal, Oriol Servia, Justin Wilson, Takuma Sato, JR Hildebrand and Marco Andretti. Any driver who trails the leader by 107 points or more following Sonoma will be eliminated from championship contention.
• Sonoma will host its eighth IZOD IndyCar Series event. The winning driver at Sonoma has won the championship once in the prior seven races. (Dario Franchitti, 2009).
• In 16 previous seasons, three drivers have won the 13th event of the season and the IZOD IndyCar Series championship in the same year. Sam Hornish Jr. won at Texas in 2001, Dan Wheldon won at Pikes Peak in 2005 and Scott Dixon won at Edmonton in 2008.
In conjunction with the three modifications of the Sonoma road course, INDYCAR lengthened the IZOD IndyCar Series race by 10 laps with the goal of almost guaranteeing three service stops instead of stretching fuel to make it to the finish in two stops.
Examining the consumption of E85 in the 18.5-gallon fuel cell and increasing the race distance on the 3.12-mile, 12-turn circuit were calculations. Past full-course cautions also were noted (there was one last August and a total of 14 over the seven IZOD IndyCar Series races at the scenic venue).
"With the new track layout, we may see more passing," said series title contender Ryan Hunter-Reay, who will drive the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda car. "Plus the race is 10 laps longer this year, so it makes it almost a certain three-stop race. You'll have most of the field pushing 100 percent for the entire race rather than saving fuel. As drivers, we prefer it that way."
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Takuma Sato, who along with Hunter-Reay tested at the circuit Aug. 17, said the extra 31 miles will add to the challenge and excitement.
"It's not a bad thing because probably everyone will be three stops unless there are big yellows," he said. "Fuel saving is important but not so critical now, which means more aggressive racing."
Added Target Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull: "… it's three stops, which will provide revised and more exciting pit strategy variations. Keep your eyes open this Sunday as it will come down to the last lap."
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "The Verizon Chevy 12 car felt really strong today. It was good to start the weekend out in P1. It will be very important to start up front in the race if you want to finish on the podium. I like the new layout of the track and the track was fast for the first day. The hardest thing today was dealing with the wind. We've had success here in the past -we took the top three spots in the race last year and 1-2 today so Team Penske definitely has had good success here in the part. We'll look at our notes and try to go faster tomorrow. We'd really like a pole position to keep moving forward in the Championship race and we'll see if we can do that tomorrow, we'll see."
RYAN BRISCOE (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): "I love racing at Sonoma, it's always been one of my favorite events on the calendar, and I'm feeling good. We got a fresh Chevrolet engine in the No. 2 car this weekend that's feeling good, and I'm feeling good. We definitely want to win, so we'll see what we can do."
(About the success the team has had on this track): "It's been good, it's definitely a driver's track as well. When you've got two good teammates like Will and Helio, it's really just about pushing each other harder. We got back in today in the pits and we look over where each of us might be giving up a little bit, and then we just keep egging each other on to get it absolutely perfect. Last year was perfect, we qualified 1-2-3 and finished 1-2-3. We're hoping to do the same this year, and if we can reverse the podium around, I'll be even happier."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 7 TrueCar Dragon Racing Chevrolet): "The car is fast. It's actually faster than it shows on the time charts. It's just the wind was tricky today. It was very tricky last week at the test, but then it was blowing (from the north) and it's blowing (from the south) today. That obviously changes the car dramatically. Nothing that makes the car from good to bad or bad to good, but where you were really strong, you are struggling with the tailwind and vice versa. Still pretty happy with the car. We have some work to do, but we'll see where we are in qualifying."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "It was a decent start to the weekend for the Target team. We were really loose in the first practice session and couldn't figure out why. We went a different direction from the test last week and hope we can get back to where we need to be before qualifying tomorrow."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "Our day wasn't bad, really. We still have some work to do but judging by the times there were others a lot worse off than we were today. The track conditions changed a lot from what we saw at the test so that was challenging today."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda): "It was a difficult day for us. The session went well in terms of being able to go through the items we carried over from the test last week that we weren't able to try. Overall we need to improve the balance and grip; I wasn't particularly happy with that. Performance wise, we need to find more speed. We ran out of time in the end. We wanted to do a little bit more but hopefully tomorrow the weather will give us another consistent session and we can improve."
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 17 Team AFS Chevrolet): "It was great out there today. I'm very excited to be back in the IndyCar. It was very important that we were able to do that test last week to get used to the new car. It's very different from what I remember from last year. It's been good so far. We've managed to consistently improve the car together with my teammates' and we just need to keep fighting. The front guys are pretty quick and we need to close that gap."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central Honda): "I think overall it was a good day. We found some stuff but we definitely see Dario's a little bit quicker out there so we're going to try to go in his direction a little bit and I think that will help us a bunch. To be eighth, I think the car is pretty competitive. I think there's a little bit more time in the car, I just got caught in traffic on that new-tire run there. I think overall, it feels good to be in the ballpark there. I think tomorrow we'll start fresh and hopefully go a little faster."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "We made progress today from the test last week. We were all just working really hard to try and figure this track out. I think we've got a good direction for where we need to head. We're chipping away at it just like everyone else out there. We'll see what we can produce tomorrow."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPenHonda): "It's obviously disappointing to start off practice like that. I overestimated the track grip a little bit and spun off and we weren't able to get back out today. Our teammates are quick so we should be in good shape for tomorrows practice and more importantly tomorrows qualifying."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 Team GoDaddy.com Chevrolet): "It was not the day we wanted. We're just struggling a bit. There's no way to dance around it. We came here for the test last Friday and it was not great. We were hoping we'd come back here with something a little bit stronger. We're just really struggling with this track. I wish I could tell you why, then we'd have a better handle on it. We've got three cars. Marco was close to a top ten but even so, he was a second off the pace. There's a couple of guys that really have this place figured out and the rest of us are sort of trying to pick up the scraps in the mid-field and back. We didn't do a second set of tires today which a lot of guys did, so it might not be quite as bad as it looks on the timesheets, but it's still not where we need to be. But, we'll put our heads together. We'll work hard and try to get the Go Daddy car up a bit higher for tomorrow."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "It just wasn't a great session for us today. We tried something from where we ended the test (last Friday) and I think it did more harm than good. But that is something you have to try in the first practice. The wind was blowing a different direction today than from the test day. So that might have made the track a little different for us. We just need to sit down and go over the data to improve on Saturday. We can work with the car and make the proper adjustments for qualifying."
JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet): "This was a pretty reasonable first day for us. We came with the intentions of figuring a few things out from the test, and at the end of the session we just ran out of time to try a couple more things, so we put on a fresh set of tires. We ended up mid-pack, which for where we feel like we're at with the car right now, is about right. We still need to make some improvements and get the car to be a little more aggressive around here. But we definitely found some gains and we just need to figure a couple more things out. We've got one more practice session tomorrow before qualifying, and we'll get a couple more things sorted and be ready to go for tomorrow."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda): "It was a good start to the weekend. The HP team has done a good job preparing the car. It feels better and we're faster than we were at the test. I know we have a good car, so we'll just work on making it better for qualifying."
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus HMV Racing Lotus): "A good first practice. We haven't tested here so we're kind of getting everything going. Even myself, being out of the car for three weeks it feels a little bit strange in the beginning, but I think in the end we're OK. We're going to work on it tomorrow and try to put the lap a little more together and we'll see. I think we're in the mix. We're not super far off compared to the other guys, so we just have to keep picking at it a little bit and hopefully we can get in the top 20 or something like that. That would be cool."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Penske Truck Rental Chevrolet): "The Team Penske Truck Rental boys did a great job again, but the result wasn't the one we expected. We had such a great test here, but somehow our setup is very different than what we had. I know the conditions changed, but certainly through my teammates I can see that we can do much better. I know we can do much better and the good news is we have tomorrow to find out what happened and execute."
E.J. VISO (No. 5 CITGO/PDVSA KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "We tried some things today in practice that didn't work out. However, that is the advantage of having a three-car team. You can have each driver do something different and see what works best. Tonight we will sit down and go through all the data the team collected and come up with a setup for tomorrow morning's practice session and then, hopefully, have a good qualifying session."
RUBENS BARRICHELLO (No. 8 BMC/Embrase KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "It was a good day. We were slightly concerned by not testing here last week that we would have a lot of work to do, but having tested on the old layout back in February I was able to adapt quickly. I hope we can keep on running good like we did today for the rest of the weekend."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Mouser Electronics/GEICO KV Racing Technology Chevrolet): "We didn't test here last week like most of the other teams, so today was about learning the new track changes. It was a productive day in that regard. We will take a look at the data and come up with some changes that will hopefully improve the car for qualifying."