Time to crown a champion in Sonoma
It’s less than two hours before the Verizon IndyCar Series holds its season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Taking place on the 2.385-mile Sonoma Raceway undulating road course, this 85-lap contest will determine which Team Penske driver earns the 2016 title in the team’s 50th anniversary season. Will it be Frenchman Simon Pagenaud or Australian Will Power?
A half-hour warm-up was held just before noon, under sunny, growing hotter-by-the-minute skies. We’re expecting temperatures around start time to peak well into the 90s and stay there throughout. This will cause even further tire degradation than the teams have been talking about since their Friday arrival and could change the status of the race greatly.
This morning, Josef Newgarden was quickest in the half-hour of running; he starts 10th later this afternoon. Pole sitter and points leader Pagenaud was only 18th in practice and his sole challenger for the title, 2014 INDYCAR champion Power (starting fourth) turned only the 21st best lap in practice, of 22 drivers.
While you can’t call the outcome of a race from its warmup session, it’s easy to see who’s working on what aspects of the upcoming 85-lap enduro. Yes, there were plenty of race-ready pit stops performed but with 382 laps turned in half an hour, it’s obvious everyone was focused on how their cars perform in traffic on this low-grip racetrack.
So take a look at the warmup results versus the qualifying standings and starting positions. And please note, everyone but rookie Conor Daly starts on Firestone’s red, alternate tire, which has shown itself to be short-lived. It would appear most team managers are expecting an early caution period by doing that, so they can get their obligatory two laps of green on the alternates completed before the race finds its true groove.
By Anne Proffit