SONOMA, Calif. (Friday, Aug. 17, 2002) - Changes made to the raceway at Sonoma's layout for the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma drew positive reviews from IZOD IndyCar Series drivers testing at the 2.310-mile road circuit on Aug. 17.

Dario Franchitti, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
Dario Franchitti, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: Bob Heathcote

Officials at the raceway in Sonoma worked with INDYCAR drivers, teams and officials to modify the layout with major changes made to Turns 7, 9 and 11. Most felt the changes were positive with some suggestions at making the track even better.

"I think the track is definitely going to promote more passing in Turn 7," said Team Penske's Will Power, who leads the IZOD IndyCar Series point standings entering the Sonoma race. "The passing zone in (Turn) 7 is the best one, but if they changed Turn 11 to modify the exit curbs a bit it could be good, as well, but good changes, for sure."

The full day of testing allowed teams to acclimate themselves the course before practice begins at Sonoma on Aug. 24. While lap times were not indicative of the work being done to prepare cars, drivers came away feeling like the track had been improved.

"It early days, but so far it seems really good," said Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson. "It allows the track to drive better and the chicane is a big improvement. It's still going to tough to overtake, but Turn 7 is a lot better. Down in Turn 11, it's going to be a lot of slipping and sliding. It's tough, but I like it a lot."

Most drivers agree that the tightening of the Turn 7 into a hairpin U-turn was the most effective change, but differed on their opinions of other changes. Still, all credited officials with the raceway for making changes to improve the racing.

"I think opening up the Turn 9 chicane is definitely a move in the right direction," "A lot of the moves were done to help the passing, but until running side-by-side it's hard to tell if it's really going to be effective," said JR Hildebrand of Panther Racing. "I give the track a lot credit for making the changes and trying to adjust. We'll see as we continue to run how it all pans out."

Penske, Ganassi cars lead testing

Though official lap times were not available, cars from Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing set the pace at the test.

Unofficial lap times provided by engine manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda had Penske's Helio Castroneves and Will Power fastest among Chevy-powered cars at 1 minute, 19.1 seconds. Scott Dixon was the fastest Honda at also with a 1:19.1.

"It was almost like learning a new track," said Dario Franchitti, who was slightly off his teammate's pace. "It's just three new corners and it's actually quite different from what we're used to running, but any time you can get track time with this new car it's valuable. Not a bad day for the Target boys. Hopefully, we can turn it into a decent race weekend next weekend."

Servia livery features Dali

Oriol Servia's No. 22 Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet will sport a very different look thanks to team sponsor TranSystems, which will be the primary sponsor of the car at Sonoma.

The car's sidepods feature the same self-portrait of Salvador Dali that the Spanish driver uses on his helmet.

"That was a nice bonus from our sponsor TranSystems," Servia said. "They know how much I like Dali and having his face. They were smart to put it there. It definitely gets your attention and a little bit of craziness is always welcome."

Kimball returns to cockpit

Charlie Kimball was back behind the wheel of the No. 83 NovoLog Flex Pen Honda for Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing after missing the Mid-Ohio race with a hand injury sustained in a testing accident on July 26.

Kimball was cleared to resume racing by INDYCAR Medical Director Dr. Michael Olinger earlier this week.

"It's good to be back in the car," Kimball said. "I think it will ache later tonight. All in all, the doctors cleared me on Wednesday and we made some braces. I need to give a lot of credit to the team working on the steering wheel and making sure I was comfortable."

Nice ride, JR

Yes, that was JR Hildebrand driving around the raceway at Sonoma in a classic Chevrolet Corvette as drivers did reconnaissance laps prior to the test.

The red Corvette convertible wasn't his, though. It was just a prop for a shoot Hildebrand is doing for GoPro, the title sponsor of the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma and a personal sponsor of the race's hometown hero.

"We're doing a little work for GoPro driving around the Sonoma Valley here," Hildebrand said. "It was nice way to start the day. It's not something you want lean on too hard around here. But it was definitely a new kind of experience doing the track drivearound in that."

Source: IZOD IndyCar Series