SONOMA — It was slippery practice session for the IndyCar drivers heading into Saturday’s qualifying and Sunday’s race for the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway, Friday.
Target Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon claimed the top practice time, posting a lap of 1 minute, 18.3145 seconds at 109.635 mph, Friday, with Hitachi Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves a close second in 1:18.6694 at 109.035.
In the end, Friday’s times were up there with those of past years, but that didn’t stop drivers from voicing their opinions about the Wine Country’s 12-turn, 2.385-mile road course.
“I think, personally, the track has been very tough this year,” Dixon said. “A lot of that may be the tires. I think Firestone always had a great product, but maybe the tires just don’t match here that well. It definitely makes it interesting.
“I think both Target cars have been pretty quick. Dario (Franchitti, 1:19.0542) didn’t even run on a second set of tires in the (second) session and still got in the top seven, so he’s going to be one to watch (in Sunday’s race), for sure.”
Castroneves, the series’ points leader with 453, liked his practice sessions, but is wary of the way situations in Sonoma can change.
“The car seems to be in pretty good shape,” Castroneves said. “Certainly we just continued developing a setup of the Hitachi car during the day, and it sounds like we were going in the right direction. But again, the track changed so much that you never know, but we just focus on our thing. . . . It’s interesting. We’re going to see some interesting things in the race. But . . . I was very positive with the way things are going.”
Dixon is second in the points standings with five races to go with 422, while Ryan Hunter-Reay sits third with 388.
Rounding out Friday’s Top 5 practice times were Will Power (1:18.7454), Ryan Hunter-Reay (1:18.7766) and Justin Wilson (1:18.8704).
Hunter-Reay, the defending IndyCar champion, was pleased with Friday’s progress.
“It was a pretty good day – we led the first session and ended up third overall,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s a good start, but we definitely have to improve the car. We found some things that didn’t work today and found some things that we’ll apply tomorrow before qualifying. I think qualifying is going to be very important this weekend.”
Rookie driver Lucas Luhr made his IndyCar debut Friday in Sonoma, and was welcomed to Sonoma with a rude awakening.
Luhr was dead last of the 25 cars in practice, turning a lap of 1:20.6459 at 106.465 mph.
He was asked why he chose such a tough course to get his feet wet in IndyCar and how his sessions went.
” Well, if you look at the position, it doesn’t seem so, right,” Luhr said with a laugh. “For sure it’s not easy. It’s quite something different and a new experience for me . . . The cars have a whole different way of driving style, I guess. But I’m getting used to it a little bit, a little bit more and more every lap.
“But I am enjoying it. It’s a lot of fun and I hope I can continue improving over the weekend, and I’m looking forward to (Saturday) and Sunday.”
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.