SONOMA, California (Thursday, September 14, 2017) – 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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, 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.”
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.