Power Tops Practice 1 at Sonoma Raceway, Rahal Second Fastest …

Posted: August 29, 2015 in Uncategorized
Will Power apexes Turn 9A during practice for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway -- Image by Chris Jones for IndyCar

Will Power apexes Turn 9A during practice for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway – Image by Chris Jones

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Sonoma, California (August 28, 2015) – Three of the six Verizon IndyCar Series championship contenders were among the top five on the speed chart in the initial practice session for the title-deciding GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on August 30th.

Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power’s year-old track record of 1 minute, 17.2393 seconds, set in qualifications on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course, will be challenged in the three rounds of qualifying Aug. 29.

Power, who is fourth in the standings, recorded the quickest lap of 1:17.4858 today in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

“It was the first time we got to try the new (Firestone primary) tire. Basically on a long run, it definitely degrades a lot. I think that will create good racing,” said Power, who has won three times and added a second-place finish in the past five years at Sonoma Raceway. “It was a good session, but tomorrow, obviously, really counts.

“We’re in a good window. Just go home, study and have a look and see if we can make good changes, see if we can go a little faster.”

Graham Rahal heads toward Turn 10 during practice for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway - Image by John Cote

Graham Rahal heads toward Turn 10 during practice for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma – Image by John Cote

American Graham Rahal, who is 34 points behind championship front-runner Juan Pablo Montoya entering the season finale, was 0.1326 of a second off the top lap time in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Rahal’s assessment on the session: “I think it was a good start for us. The beginning of the session, we weren’t very good. We made some changes from the test and we were struggling pretty bad there. At the end of the day, we got the car turned around. The guys made some big changes. The guys did an excellent job back in the garage and got it turned really quickly. We went out there and it was miles better. We put a solid lap in there. We were on another one that was four tenths up on that one, but caught (Stefano) Coletti. The car seems good, it seems competitive, seems consistent. As Will (Power) talked about earlier today, it would be nice to start up front, but who knows what can happen. It’s going to be a long race.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has won two of the past three Verizon IndyCar Series races in the No. 28 DHL Honda for Andretti Autosport, was third (1:17.6423). Three-time series champion Scott Dixon, who is fourth in the standings, was also fourth in practice (1:17.7937) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

Montoya, driving the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, will chase his second career Indy car championship in the 85-lap race that features double base points in addition to the usual four bonus points available for earning the Verizon P1 Award (one point) in the three rounds of qualifying, leading a lap (one point) and leading the most race laps (two points).

He recorded a best lap of 1:18.0901 in today’s practice, ninth quick in the 3-hour, 30-minute session. Four different teams were represented in the top five and the top 10 were separated by six-tenths of a second.

“I think we’ve been doing everything we need to put ourselves in this position,” said Montoya, who has stood atop the standings since winning the opener March 29 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., to start his second Indy car season after a 14-year absence.

“It’s been a very cool year,” he said. “We had our struggles last year. We won a race and everything, but we struggled most of the year. So we did a little work over the winter to get where we needed to be. We’ve been really good all year.”

Helio Castroneves, who was seventh on the practice time chart, and Josef Newgarden, who posted the 13th-quickest lap time, also are eligible for the title.

“Whatever is going to happen is going to happen with double points,” Montoya added.

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Montoya Chasers Know What They Must Do

The six drivers mathematically eligible for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship heading into the race gathered to meet with media today before the practice session. While all five drivers trailing leader Juan Pablo Montoya realize their chances are slim, none are giving up.

“If there’s a chance, it’s possible,” said Helio Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, who’s fifth in points and trails Montoya by 77. “That’s exactly the mentality we have.”

All of the contenders chasing Montoya know the script is simple: Each pretty much must win the 85-lap race Aug. 30 and hope Montoya doesn’t fare well.

“That’s the best-case scenario,” said Graham Rahal, 34 points behind Montoya in second place. “We finish third, fourth, fifth (in the race), it becomes obviously a bit more difficult because you’re banking on Juan finishing 12th or worse. I don’t think that’s likely. We’re going to go out there this weekend and do the best we can and try to get a win.”

Will Power is the defending series champion, but knows what must happen if he has any hope of a repeat.

“Basically, I have to win, I need to get the bonus points,” said Power, 61 points behind Montoya in fourth place. “These other guys have to have a really bad day. It’s obviously kind of a longshot, you could say, when you’re relying on someone to have a bad day, but it’s still mathematically possible.”

Power, Montoya and Castroneves all drive for Team Penske and make up half of the contenders’ field. When asked if there were any team orders this weekend, Power quipped: “Don’t take your teammate out. If it’s not your teammate, take the others out, all of them.”

Servia Honored to Drive No. 25 Car in Wilsons Memory

Oriol Servia being fitted in the #25 Car for the GoPro -- Image by Shawn Gritzmacher

Oriol Servia being fitted in the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda – Image by Shawn Gritzmacher

Verizon IndyCar Series veteran Oriol Servia is driving the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma this weekend in tribute to Justin Wilson, who succumbed to a head injury Aug. 24 sustained in the race Aug. 23 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.

“Justin was a true racer and advocate to our sport,” said team owner Michael Andretti. “We will have Justin and his family in our hearts this weekend as we honor him in the way he would want us to, by doing what he loved: racing.”

Servia, a close friend of Wilson, said it will be a difficult role but he’s honored, too. He is slated to make his 197th career Indy car start.

“It’s hard for the words to come out the right way,” Servia said. “I have known and raced Justin for more than 10 years. I have an enormous amount of respect for him as a racer, but his qualities as a human were definitely an inspiration to anyone who ever met him.

“As I said earlier this week, I truly feel he was one of these souls who has evolved a lot more than the rest of us, and it is something you could feel immediately during your first exchange with him. He will be greatly missed as we all try to emulate his spirit. I am honored and emotional with the opportunity of driving his car this weekend.”

Stefan Wilson, Justin’s younger brother, spoke for the family in applauding Servia being named to drive the No. 25 car.

“As a family, we cannot imagine a better person to race in Justin’s honor than Oriol,” said Stefan Wilson. “His path and Justin’s crossed in many different ways through the years. As a competitor, and also as a person, he carries Justin’s spirit well. And we know that Justin would approve.”

Karam Finds Comfort with Racing Family at Track

Sage Karam being interviewed during a press conference at Sonoma Raceway -- Image by: Chris Jones

Sage Karam being interviewed during a press conference at Sonoma Raceway — Image by: Chris Jones

Verizon IndyCar Seriesrookie Sage Karam said nothing in the onboard telemetry or video can point to why his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet spun in Turn 1 of Lap 180 of the ABC Supply 500 on Aug. 23 and made heavy contact with the SAFER Barrier.

The crash, while Karam was leading the 200-lap race, scattered debris on the Pocono Raceway racetrack. A section of the front wing assembly bounced off the asphalt racing surface several times and struck driver Justin Wilson, who was trailing the incident by several seconds. Wilson, driving the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda, succumbed to a head injury Aug. 24.

“We looked into the data and I did nothing different from the laps before. I was actually in the lead for a few laps, so the clean air didn’t catch me by surprise or anything,” Karam said today at Sonoma Raceway. “I made a few adjustments two laps before to give the car a little bit more understeer. Nothing popped out, nothing on the car broke. I didn’t hit the apron. It was a late-corner spin, and when it went, it went fast.”

Karam, 20, of Nazareth, Pa., is attending the championship-deciding race this weekend but was not scheduled to drive. Sebastian Saavdera is driving the No. 8 AFS Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course.

Karam said he’s been working with a psychologist this week. He visited with Wilson’s younger brother, Stefan, at the hospital and they have remained in touch this week.

“This isn’t a good week for racing, losing such a great guy. It’s been tough on me, but the main thing is Justin’s family,” Karam said. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through.

“I had questions about coming to this race, whether I needed to or not. But it’s always good to be around the racing family because these are the people who are closest to me and will be able to pick me up when I need to be picked up. Being around my teammates and the crew and all the fans out here has been good so far.

“I don’t think there’s any comfort in this but it was such a freak accident. At night, you’re (in bed) looking at the ceiling and saying, ‘What if I didn’t spin?’ And that’s the toughest thing.”

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