The dry, rolling hills of California’s Napa Valley beckon once again this weekend as the IZOD IndyCar Series makes its annual visit to Sonoma Raceway, deep in the heart of the US western coast’s wine region for Round 15 of the 2013 series.
|Date:||01-03 June 2012|
|Lap Length:||2.300 miles / 3.703km|
|Event Schedule:||Free Practice Session 1||Fri 14:00-14:45|
|Free Practice Session 2||Fri 17:00-17:45|
|Free Practice Session 3||Sat 14:00-14:45|
|Qualifying Round 1 (Group 1)||Sat 17:30-17:40|
|Qualifying Round 1 (Group 2)||Sat 17:50-18:00|
|Qualifying Round 2 (Trop 12)||Sat 18:10-18:20|
|Qualifying Round 3 (‘Fast Six’)||Sat 18:30-18:40|
|Sunday Race Warm-Up Session||Sun 13:05-13:35|
|Race (85 laps, 196 miles)||Sun 16:30-18:45|
|Past IndyCar Winners:||Ryan Briscoe (Team Penske Dallara DW12 Chevrolet)||2012|
|Will Power (Team Penske Dallara Honda)||2011|
|Will Power (Team Penske Dallara Honda)||2010|
|Dario Franchitti (Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda)||2009|
|Hélio Castroneves (Penske Racing Dallara Honda)||2008|
|Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda)||2007|
|Marco Andretti (Andretti Racing Dallara Honda)||2006|
|Tony Kanaan (Andretti Racing Dallara Honda)||2005|
Sonoma is a tough track to set a car up for. This time of year rarely sees much rain, so the weather will likely not be much of a factor, but the nearly constant elevation changes in the first two-thirds of the lap demand a driver’s full attention, as one errant wheel is capable of kicking up a cloud of dust and throw a driver off course in a big way.
The majority of the corners of a lap are not overly fast, which limits overtaking opportunities until the latter part of the lap. Most passing chances will come at the end of the longest straight as the cars round the downhill left-hand bend back onto flat ground and zoom towards a very slow right-hand hairpin. Incidentally, this may also be where many of the crashes or comings-together between drivers occur. Time will tell on that matter.
Some old faces return…
Fourteen races into the 2013 season, and it seems as though the ‘silly season’ is still underway – such has been the movement among the driver market in the three weeks since the last outing at Mid-Ohio.
After a reliable, positive drive last time out, Australian James Davison will be repaid by Dale Coyne Racing with the second seat this weekend. Despite his strong test outing though, a deal could not be put together in time for promising Japanese rookie Ryo Hirakawa, but this does not mean we won’t see him at some point this year – he is probably wishing the series still went to Motegi, where he would have been a certainty to race.
Also, after receiving medical clearance, Ryan Briscoe returns to the seat at Panther Racing after injuring his wrist in Race 1 at Toronto a few weeks ago.
One thing many readers may not be aware of is just how close we came to not having championship points leader Hélio Castroneves in his seat this weekend. Seven days after Mid-Ohio, Castroneves travelled back to his native Brazil to compete in the Brazilian Stock Car Series on the street circuit at Ribeirao Preto.
Castroneves suffered a heavy impact with the crash barriers after the brakes on his car failed. Hélio’s legs were split open to the point where his shinbone was visible, and paid a visit to hospital to receive treatment not just on his legs, but for a sore neck and upper torso. At no point was the incident life threatening, but any associated soreness may have impacted his ability to seamlessly climb back into his Dallara DW12. Thankfully, this didn’t eventuate, and early open test sessions this week have seen the points leader setting pace-setting times with no discomfort.
The Form Guide
Speaking of Hélio, coming into this weekend, the ever-consistent Brazilian holds a 31-point lead over Scott Dixon, with a further 34 points back to Ryan Hunter-Reay.
With four races to go, including a double-header at Houston, it would be naïve to rule any of the top five out of mathematical probability just yet, but Castroneves and Dixon are firmly in the box seats at this late stage.
Such an eventuality may occur this weekend where team-mates Will Power, Dario Franchitti or Charlie Kimball may even be asked to play the team game and move aside for their title-seeking cohorts should the situation call for it.
Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi have shared the spoils here in recent years. You need to go back to 2006 to find a winner not representing either of these teams, and pretty much every driver to suit up for these two since then has stood tallest on the podium on Sunday afternoon.
Sonoma is just as capable of delivering a processional race as it is a nail-biting grandstand finish. So don’t forget to tune in and see how the next chapter of this enthralling series is written.