SONOMA — A warm, sunny morning welcomed a handful of IndyCar teams and drivers Wednesday at Sonoma Raceway in the only day devoted to testing their cars in the Wine Country until August.
Like most testing days, it’s about getting the car set up in a way that works best at any given track, and in Sonoma, a 12-turn road course, it’s no different.
Anytime the drivers get a chance to wind around the circuit in Sonoma, those who have a chance take advantage of it.
“This place is always changing,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, the defending IndyCar champion and the 2012 winner in Sonoma. “It’s a very tricky race track. You can never do enough laps here. You never get the lap when you say ‘Now that lap was perfect and I nailed it.’
“It’s one of those kind of race tracks that’s never quite right for you. And that’s great because it’s challenging. It challenges you as a driver and it challenges the engineers to try and get the car set up. We’re constantly tweaking on it. The track temperature changes by 10 of 15 degrees and then the setup will change, air quality, the whole thing. So every lap you can get around here is extremely important. And that’s why we’re here.”
JR Hildebrand, a Bay Area native from Sausalito, has run hundreds of laps in Sonoma, and even he wouldn’t miss getting in more.
“I think this place is always changing a little bit,” said Hildebrand, who finished eighth here last season. “When you come here this time of year, it’s green and the grass is kind of keeping the sand and dust and stuff from going onto the track. It’s a great time of year to be out on this track. Things are much more consistent. Once you get into the summer, that kind of changes things. It’s a very temperature-sensitive track. As far as the actual track conditions go, it’s always a little bit different.”
Sebastien Bourdais had his own take on this unique circuit.
“This is more of a road-course setup, a little stiffer,” he said. “This is a rough track with road course characteristics, but it has a street course kind of grip. The track has not changed a whole lot. They’ve created a lot more passing opportunities.
“The big characteristic of this track is it’s kind of rough. You really have to be on the money if you want to have a car that doesn’t fall off three seconds (during a lap). . . .You have to focus on your lap time and know where you need to get it done. That comes with experience.”
Simona de Silvestro, who wound up 26th out of 27 cars in last year’s event, didn’t want to miss her chance to get in some testing laps.
“This is our first test here in Sonoma and it’s been a lot of fun,” de Silvestro said. “I’m really happy to be here. It’s a really flowy track that’s a lot of fun. We have a new team . . . and have Chevy power now, so that makes a big difference. It’s almost a bit scary at times when we get in the car. It’s definitely fast. With the new team and the Chevy power, when you press (the gas), something really comes out of it. That’s something really cool.”
Reach Brian Arnold at 427-6969 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/barnolddr.