Sonoma Qualifying Report

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Obviously, the crash involving Will Power and Nelson Philippe that occurred early in Saturday’s practice cast a cloud over the rest of the proceedings of the day. Fortunately, neither driver sustained life-threatening injuries although both are likely out of action for the remainder of the season. Will Power’s absence from this afternoon’s race also takes out one of the top contenders for the victory.

Qualifying went pretty well according to script. The top three cars on the grid are all red cars, with Franchitti taking the pole position and the single point that goes with it to bring him within nineteen points of his teammate Scott Dixon. He nipped Briscoe’s top speed at the last second to move Briscoe over to the second spot, but still on the front row. Helio Castroneves had a surprisingly strong showing, after a couple of lackluster performances had led myself and others to question his focus this late in the season. I should remember that he won this race last year and that Penske usually has a strong showing at Infineon.

Another pleasant surprise was the strong showing of the Andretti-Green Racing stable. Marco Andretti, who won this race in 2006, will start fourth and Hideki Mutoh will go off in fifth place. While they didn’t make the Firestone Fast Six, Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan both had solid showings in the second round of qualifying with Mutoh edging out his teammate Kanaan in the last few seconds, to take his spot in the Fast Six. Kanaan will start seventh while Danica begins in eleventh place. In a one-race effort, Franck Montagny will start in eighth position.

Graham Rahal was impressive in even making the Fast Six since his Newman/Haas/Lanigan team was one of the few teams that didn’t go to Infineon to test. Oriol Servia didn’t fare as well as I had predicted. Plagued with a fuel pump problem, he never made it out of the first round of qualifying and will begin in the seventeenth starting spot.

One of my few predictions that actually did come true was that Scott Dixon wouldn’t fare to well at this race. Of course, the race hasn’t been run yet, but he was never a threat to make it out of the second round and will start in the tenth starting spot. To be fair, I never envisioned his qualifying run to be that bad. I just thought after the scorching pace that he set two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio, that he might come back to earth just a little bit. His crew could find the problem before this afternoon, but I don’t see him winning today.

I will still maintain that Ryan Briscoe will be at the top of the podium by the end of the day, with Dario Franchitti running a close second. My prediction for third will be a wild card. I still think that Helio is ready for this roller-coaster season to be finished. I think he might suffer another momentary lapse in concentration, as he did at Mid-Ohio, and finish further back in the field. I have no clue who the wild card will be. It could be Marco, Rahal or someone from the back of the pack. By back in the pack, I don’t mean Milka Duno or Ed Carpenter. I’m not ready to go THAT far out on a limb.

I have heard nothing to indicate that the injuries to Nelson Philippe or Will Power are career threatening. Their immediate health is the most important thing, but racecar drivers think about only one thing…when they can get back in a car. Not to minimize Philippe’s career, but this could be a big blow to Power’s career. Here’s hoping that any chance he had with Team Penske in the future isn’t dimmed by what happened yesterday. Enjoy the race.

George Phillips

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