Dixon & Castroneves Lead Sonoma Practice
Dixon improved by more than one second from the first practice session to the second on Friday.
“I think it was the driver actually putting a lap together,” Dixon said. “This morning we really struggled getting the first few laps together from the test session on Wednesday trying a few things. It’s a track with such low grip and with the tires it will make for an interesting weekend.”
Castroneves is competing in his first race since he suffered injuries in a crash in a Brazilian Stock Car race several weeks ago.
“I’m not feeling anything now,” Castroneves said. “I was there racing for Shell-Pennzoil and it was a new street course with a wall only 10 feet from the track. They couldn’t remove the wall and because the track was brand new and they didn’t have a long enough straightaway to cool down the brakes by lap six the brake pedal went completely down. I was able to downshift and ran out of options. I tried to slow down but because the wall was so close from the track I was able to slow down from 140 to 60 miles per hour. My shin hit the dash and the cut was small but very deep and you could see the bone. It was such a violent hit and they took X-rays and CAT Scan and everything was clear.
“A lot of people criticized me for racing there but I did the deal back in April. There was a risk involved but when you make a commitment it’s hard to make a change. I even had second thoughts after Tony Stewart had his issue and broke his leg. Sometimes it happens for a reason.
“It wasn’t a fun call from Roger Penske.”
Hunter-Reay was third quick in the combine practice session at 1:18.6814 (109.124 mph) in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
“It was a pretty good day – we led the first session and ended up third overall,” said the defending IndyCar champion for Andretti Autosport. “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 have to apply tomorrow before qualifying. I think qualifying is going to be very important here this weekend, so hopefully we’ll get the No. 1 DHL Chevy starting up front on the front row and go from there. It’ll be difficult getting the lap time out of the cars; it’s a small margin to get it right.”
Team Penske’s Will Power finished the Friday practice fourth with a fast lap of 1:18.7454 (109.035 mph). He is 11th in points and although he remains mathematically alive in the championship 148 points behind his teammate he has too many drivers to surpass to have a legitimate chance at the title.
“We definitely were improved in the afternoon session and it was good to put up a fast time in the Verizon car,” Power said. “We still have a bit of work to do to get ready for qualifying but I think we’re getting closer. It was a good job by the Verizon guys today and hopefully we continue to improve on Saturday.”
Dario Franchitti rounded out the top five in practice at 1:18.8124 (108.942 mph) in a Dallara/Honda followed by Justin Wilson’s 1:18.8704 (108.862 mph) in another Dallara/Honda.
Andretti is fourth in points and was seventh in Friday’s practice session at 1:18.9740 (108.719 mph) in a Dallara/Chevrolet.
“Considering the test we had last week, we didn’t finish where we wanted in today’s practices,” Andretti said. “Hopefully tomorrow we can put the RC Cola car towards the top in qualifying.”
Friday marked the return of two drivers to the cockpit as defending race winner Ryan Briscoe was back for Panther Racing after suffering a broken wrist in a crash at Toronto in July. He was ninth fastest. Panther’s previous driver, J.R. Hildebrand, is also back for his first race since the team fired him after the Indianapolis 500. He is driving for Bryan Herta Autosport and was 13th fastest in the combined practice session.
ALMS driver Lucas Luhr is making his IndyCar debut and was last of the 25 cars in practice – three mph and nearly two seconds slower than Dixon. James Davison is also in the field, driving the No. 18 entry for Dale Coyne Racing.