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Simon Pagenaud tops time sheet at Sonoma Raceway open test

by Mike Haag | Posted on Thursday, September 14th, 2017

Courtesy of the Verizon IndyCar Series

SONOMA, California – Drivers chasing points leader Josef Newgarden took full advantage of today’s Verizon IndyCar Series open test at Sonoma Raceway to prepare for Sunday’s season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Simon Pagenaud exits the Turns 9-9A Esses section during the open test at Sonoma Raceway — Photo by: Chris Jones

Six hours of on-track action split into two sessions found reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud atop the time sheet at the end of the day. The driver of the No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet clocked the best lap late in the four-hour afternoon session, at 1 minute, 16.6511 seconds (112.014 mph) on the 12-turn, 2.385-mile permanent road course.

SONOMA RACEWAY OPEN TEST: Practice 1 resultsPractice 2 resultsCombined practice results

Pagenaud sits fourth in the standings heading into Sunday’s 85-lap race, 34 points behind his Team Penske teammate Newgarden. With double the normal race points available, Pagenaud is one of seven drivers with a mathematical shot as the Verizon IndyCar Series championship will be decided in the last race for a 12th consecutive year.

Helio Castroneves exits the Turns 9-9A Esses section during the open test at Sonoma Raceway — Photo by: Chris Jones

“We had a great day today,” said Pagenaud, who won the 2016 Sonoma race from the pole position to clinch the championship. “We wanted to explore a direction. We have a new Firestone tire this year, so we have to forget a little bit about what we did last year and be curious and try things.

“It was a very interesting session. The car feels really good, I feel really good. Everyone feels really excited in the group. It’s fun so far.”

Pagenaud led three Team Penske drivers atop the time sheet. Helio Castroneves was second at 1:16.7530 (111.865 mph) in the No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet and Will Power third (1:17.0550, 111.427 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. Castroneves is third in the standings, 22 points behind Newgarden. Power is fifth in points, 68 out of the lead.

Josef Newgarden exits the Turns 9-9A Esses section during the open test at Sonoma Raceway — Photo by: Chris Jones

Newgarden, meanwhile, was ninth on the day with a lap of 1:17.3491 (111.003 mph) in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, just three points behind Newgarden, was sixth fastest with a lap of 1:17.3016 (111.071 mph) in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda.

Sebastien Bourdais, winner of the 2017 season opener at St. Petersburg, was the fastest non-Penske driver in the open test. The Dale Coyne Racing driver took the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda for a lap of 1:17.2175 (111.192 mph).

“I was hoping to kind of hit the ground running,” Bourdais said. “Was pretty disappointed this morning, didn’t really feel we were where we thought we’d be or where we wanted to be. Didn’t really change (the car) much, but the conditions kept changing around, the wind changed, the grip changed and it kind of put the car back in the window a little bit. Then we had a couple of good laps this afternoon.”

Alexander Rossi exits the Turns 9-9A Esses section during the open test at Sonoma Raceway — Photo by: Chris Jones

Alexander Rossi, a longshot to win the championship at 84 points behind Newgarden, was fifth fastest in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda (1:17.2720, 111.114 mph).

“I feel like we have a pretty decent car with us,” said Rossi, winner of the most recent Verizon IndyCar Series race two weeks ago at Watkins Glen International. “We’re missing a little right now, but we’re in the window, so it’s all right.

“We knew that our baseline car was pretty decent, so we tried some things today. They weren’t the right direction, so we came back to a baseline car at the end of the day. It was P5.”

Takuma Sato races through the Turn 9-9A Esses during the open test at Sonoma Raceway — Photo by: Richard Dowdy

Zachary Claman DeMelo, fresh off finishing fifth in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season, is making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut this weekend in the No. 13 Paysafe Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. DeMelo completed a total of 71 laps in the two sessions, with a quick circuit of 1:18.4752 (109.410 mph).

The day’s lone incident occurred when reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato went off course in Turn 6, sustaining significant rear-end damage to the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda that ended his day about an hour before conclusion of the session. Sato was unhurt.

The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma race weekend officially starts with two practices on Friday, at 1 p.m. and 5:15 p.m. ET. NBCSN airs the second practice live beginning at 5 p.m.

Verizon P1 Award qualifying to determine the pole sitter airs live at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. The race to decide the 2017 championship airs live at 6:30 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Chilton heads Honda STEAM Connections visit at Cal-Berkeley

Speaking to a spirited group of students ranging from elementary school to college age Wednesday at the University of California-Berkeley, Chip Ganassi Racing driver Max Chilton realized his message may hit home with a select few. And he was fine with that.

Chilton was a featured guest as the Honda STEAM Connections Tour made its latest stop to spread the word on the importance of STEAM – an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and math – to successfully educate the leaders of tomorrow in racing and other areas of everyday life.

For Chilton, the opportunity to bring new minds to the world of racing is something he doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s always inspiring to give your story,” said Chilton, driver of the No. 8 Gallagher Honda that will race in the season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, on Sunday at nearby Sonoma Raceway. “I guarantee that someone in this room will probably end up in motorsports because that’s what you do when you’re a kid: You get idols and ideas in your head and think of what you want to do.

“It doesn’t always go according to plan, but at least one person in this room, if not more, will probably end up in motorsports and, if it’s all for the sake of that one or two children, (speaking to the large group) is worth doing because it’s a sport that I love.

“It’s a job that I love and I’m sure there are some good brains in here which will be handy.”

Honda has taken its STEAM Connections Tour to several college campuses and racetracks this season to inspire the next generation of racers and engineers. Joining Chilton to speak at Cal-Berkeley were Matt Taylor, the Honda Performance Development race engineer assigned to Chilton’s car; and Cara Adams, chief engineer for Bridgestone Americas Motorsports, which develops and produces the Firestone Racing tires used by all Verizon IndyCar Series entries.

Warriors star Thompson named race grand marshal

Sonoma Raceway announced Wednesday that Golden State Warriors star Klay Thompson has been named grand marshal for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Thompson is a three-time NBA All-Star. In 2015, he helped lead the Warriors to their first NBA championship since 1975. Thompson then helped the Warriors return to the NBA Finals for a third straight season this year, winning his second NBA championship. In 2014, he and teammate Stephen Curry – who attended the 2016 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with his wife, Ayesha Curry, the grand marshal last year – set a then-NBA record of 484 combined three-pointers in a season, earning the pair the nickname the “Splash Brothers.”

“Klay is a core member of one of the greatest sports teams in Bay Area history. He’s a true champion and we’re excited he will be with us to help crown the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion this Sunday,” said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager.

In his grand marshal role, Thompson will take part in pre-race activities on Sunday, give the official command for drivers to start their engines and wave the green flag to start the 85-lap race. He will also enjoy a high-speed lap around the road course with racing legend Mario Andretti in a two-seat Indy car.

This will mark his first visit to a motorsports event.

“I am beyond excited to be grand marshal for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma,” said Thompson. “I have heard so many good things about this race and I can’t wait to see everything up close in person.”  

About the Author

Mike Haag has covered motorsports in San Antonio and South Texas for more than 30 years. In addition to working for the San Antonio Express-News for nearly 28 years, Mike also has co-hosted TrackSmack with Dawn Murphy for 15 race seasons. In addition to being a writer, Mike also teaches English at Floresville High School.