SONOMA, Calif. (Aug. 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 Aug. 30.
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.”
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.
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.
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 Wilson’s Memory
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.”
Additionally, American Honda Motor Company and Honda Performance Development announced a contribution to the Wilson Children’s Fund based on laps completed by all Honda entries. The Wilson Children’s Fund was established this week to benefit the Wilsons’ young daughters, Jane and Jessica. American Honda and HPD will contribute $50 per lap completed in the Sonoma race by each of the 13 Honda entries for a possible donation of more than $55,000.
“Justin was a valuable member of our racing program, but he also was our friend, and all of us at American Honda and HPD grieve together at his loss,” said Art St. Cyr, president of Honda Performance Development. “We’re hoping to honor his memory with this pledge and hope that Justin’s many fans and friends can also assist the family at this tragic time.”
Firestone Racing announced it will donate $25 to the children’s fund for each tire used over the course of the race weekend – a total that could surpass $40,000.
A decal created to honor the memory of Wilson will be on the race cars this weekend. The logo also is on T-shirts that will be on sale at Sonoma Raceway and available online at http://shop.ims.com/indycar/
An account has been established on behalf of the Wilson family. Those wishing to contribute electronically can do so at http://justinwilson.co.uk/
Cards of support and other condolences may be mailed to the family to:
Keith Wilson c/o Lisa Davis
The Old Post Office
Southwater, West Sussex, England RH13 9EZ
Karam Finds Comfort with Racing Family at Track
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.”
Wheldon Karting Challenge to Honor Wilson
The Dan Wheldon Memorial Pro-Am Karting Challenge announced that the event and net proceeds from the Sept. 19 event at New Castle (Ind.) Motorsports Park will also be in honor of Justin Wilson. The event name has changed to the Dan Wheldon Memorial Pro-Am Karting Race Honoring Justin Wilson.
“In light of the recent events, we want to honor Justin and his family,” said Susie Wheldon, widow of the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion who died in a 2011 crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “Justin was a tremendous supporter for the event and to me personally, and I think that there is no better way to honor his memory than to pay it forward.”
Participants, featuring Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy drivers, will race to raise money for The Dan Wheldon Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association and the Wilson family. The event is open to the public.
Aleshin Excited to Be Back, Team Owner Schmidt to Drive SAM Car at Sonoma
Mikhail Aleshin returns to the Verizon IndyCar Series for the first time in nearly a year this weekend. The native of Moscow, who drove for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in 2014 with a best finish of second at the second race of the Houston doubleheader, sustained injuries in a post-qualifying practice crash for the season finale at Auto Club Speedway.
Aleshin has recovered and competed this year in the European Le Mans Series, but this weekend returns to the No. 77 SMP Racing Honda for the first time.
“It was a long journey to make it up here again; it was a long time for me to recover from the crash. I feel very good, better than last year,” Aleshin said. “Obviously, it’s difficult to come back at the end of the season and the track is difficult. The car is new (with the Honda aerodynamic bodywork road/street course package) and the race is long, but I will give 100 percent. I’m happy to be back with the team.”
Aleshin said he’s working on funding to return to the Verizon IndyCar Series full time in 2016. “I hope this race can be a significant step towards that goal,” he said.
Meanwhile, team co-owner Sam Schmidt, a quadriplegic, will drive a demonstration lap in the Arrow SAM (semi-autonomous motorcar) car 2.0 on the Sonoma Raceway road course on race day. The SAM Project is an innovative one in which a 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray car has been modified with integrated advanced electronics and a human-to-machine interface so a qualified quadriplegic driver can operate the car.
Schmidt drove laps in the 2014 Corvette at the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and reached a top speed of 107 mph. He also drove a lap in April on the street circuit before the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Golden Gate Bridge Indy Car Crossing Highlights Pre-Race Promotions
The Verizon IndyCar Series has made Northern California well aware that the 2015 championship is being decided this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. A flurry of events – including a first-ever drive of Indy cars across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge – helped usher in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma race weekend and pay tribute to Verizon IndyCar Series driver Justin Wilson at the same time.
It began Wednesday, when all six drivers still eligible for the championship gathered with Sonoma Raceway president and general manager Steve Page on the steps of the California state capitol in Sacramento to accept a resolution from State Sen. Jim Nielsen recognizing racing’s input to the state economy and culture.
Nielsen arrived in the INDYCAR Experience two-seat Indy car in time to pose for photos with Page, the championship contenders – Juan Pablo Montoya, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden – and the Astor Cup that is annually presented to the season champion.
That evening, Rahal threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the San Francisco Giants-Chicago Cubs game at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
The remaining five title contenders visited AT&T Park on Thursday morning for a pre-game photo opportunity that included the Astor Cup and the Giants’ 2014 World Series championship trophy. Each of the drivers was presented a personalized Giants jersey with their names and the number 25 (honoring Wilson) stitched on the back. Newgarden also took batting practice before the game from Giants hitting coach and former major leaguer Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens.
“It was the coolest thing ever to hit in the cage and work with ‘Bam Bam,'” said Newgarden, who played baseball in high school. “Dude knows how to get the ball in there. My dad wanted me to be a center fielder for the New York Yankees when I was a young kid. That didn’t work out. Baseball is my second sport; I played since I was 5 years old.”
From there, Newgarden and Power scurried to the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge, where they joined Rahal and Marco Andretti to drive competition Indy cars across the 1.7-mile span. Andretti led the procession in the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda, the car driven by teammate Wilson.
“It was an honor to drive Justin’s car. It was emotional, for sure,” Andretti said. “It’s hard to put into words what you’re feeling. It’s tough. We’re trying to stay as focused on the next race because we know Justin would want us to do that. At the same time, it’s a tremendous loss.”
Also taking part in the high-profile drive across the bridge was the INDYCAR Experience two-seater, driven by James Hinchcliffe – the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver’s first time in a race car since his May 18 practice crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hinchcliffe, who hasn’t shaved since the accident, ferried the Astor Cup across the bridge in the passenger section of the two-seater.
“I didn’t shave after the accident and it kind of grew into this thing, literally and figuratively, and so I said I wasn’t going to shave until I got back into a race car,” he said. “Technically, I put on my suit, my boots, my helmet, my gloves and I got in a car and drove it. So, I don’t know if this is a gray area. We might have to get the lawyers involved.”
Later Thursday, Hinchcliffe asked his Twitter followers whether the beard should come off in a #Save or #Shave vote. Hinchcliffe reported today via social media that the votes to shave the beard won out.
Two Holmatro Safety Team trucks brought up the rear of the Golden Gate Bridge crossing procession. Each truck carried a flag in its bed bearing a likeness of Wilson’s helmet and the popular #BadAssWilson hashtag to commemorate the British driver.
WILL POWER (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It definitely was an interesting session. 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. 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 (No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda): “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.”
RODOLFO GONZALEZ (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “I think we made a lot of good steps in practice today. I think it is the best we have started out any race weekend that I’ve done this year. I think the fact that we had so much time to run and log laps helped with that. It allowed me to get to know the track and be more level with the other drivers. I think to end up a few tenths behind my teammate shows that I’m just about at the limit of the car setup. I think we can work together to get a bit faster. The track is really fun and fast. It is probably my favorite track I’ve driven this year. I think I can get a bit faster and think we can do that tomorrow in practice. I’m feeling very positive right now.”
TRISTAN VAUTIER (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “Well, our session was shortened, obviously, because of the penalty (assessed after the Pocono race). We tried to make the most of the time we had by making quite a lot of changes to the car. We didn’t really get to where we wanted to be. I thought we would have improved our time at the end on fresh tires, but the changes didn’t quite work out. We will sit down and analyze why that is the case. I think we will get to where we need to be with a bit more time.”
LUCA FILIPPI (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Racing Chevrolet): “It was a very long session which was a little unusual for us. It was good because it gave me time to learn the circuit. In the meantime, we experimented a lot in terms of setup. By the end of the day, I think we found what is good for tomorrow. We will be in a good position fortomorrow’s practice session.”
ORIOL SERVIA (No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda): “It was a little bit what I expected after such a long time not being on a road course. These cars now have so much downforce, and this track is where you really feel it. It’s just getting used to the car. I have not raced here in two years. The car feels good. Obviously this Andretti Autosport team has a good car. I just need to be able to use the new tires. Every time we put new Firestone tires on, I’m not using them yet. Overall, a good practice session. We tried a lot of things. We obviously want to be a lot faster than that, but I just really couldn’t put it together on new tires. Hopefully tomorrow.”
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 26 AndrettiTV/Cinsay Honda): “Today was a long practice. We started out pretty good, but we didn’t end up where we wanted to be. My AndrettiTV/Cinsay car feels good, competitive, but we’ll go back and think how we can improve for tomorrow because tomorrow is what counts: one more practice and then qualifying. We’ll see where we are tomorrow.”
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Snapple Honda): “Not a bad first day in the Snapple Honda. We had similar balance to our test day here a few weeks ago. We just ended today with some brake issues, so to be in the top five with some issues (is OK). Hopefully, if we sort those out, we’ll be right there.”
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Today was a good test, a good first day of practice here at Sonoma. I’m optimistic for tomorrow and looking forward to getting together with my teammates and figuring something out for tomorrow’s qualifying in the DHL Honda.”
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Hartman Oil CFH Racing Chevrolet): “It was a long day. We started off with some experimentation between Luca and myself. Some stuff worked, some stuff didn’t but towards the end I think we figured out some things we wanted for the weekend. I’m happy about where we finished. We’ll make the most of all the data we got today and we are going to be a lot better tomorrow. I am excited to get into practice and qualifying.”