Sonoma Preview

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The IZOD IndyCar Series heads west to wine country this weekend, for the IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma. This is not my favorite race on the schedule. In fact, now that Belle Isle is no longer on the schedule; this may be my least favorite track. But some track always has to occupy that position, doesn’t it? At least it’s a race. In a few weeks, we’ll be clamoring for any type of open-wheel racing – so let’s enjoy the last five races while we can. Besides, saying a race is my least favorite IndyCar race is like rating the best and worst days of a vacation – when all is said and done, they’re all pretty good.

Before getting into the race itself, I must indulge in a completely shameless plug. This Sunday, I will be joining a few other IndyCar bloggers for a live chat on Versus.com during the race broadcast. I’m not exactly sure who will be heading up this forum, but I can assure you it isn’t me. More than likely, it will be Kevin Graham from Versus.com or Roy Hobbson of The Silent Pagoda and Versus.com. They will be joined by yours truly, along with The Speedgeek and Tony Johns of PopOffValve.com. This is not the most scintillating of races, so if you find yourself thinking of flipping the channel, log onto our live chat instead. It should be an interesting experience, if nothing else. To learn more, check out Roy Hobbson’s teaser from Versus.com here.

Anyway, back to important matters – the race itself. As I’ve said many times before, this race is a necessary evil. It serves the northern California market and occupies a place on the schedule. This was the site of the very first IZOD IndyCar Series road course in 2005, although they had already raced on the streets of St. Petersburg earlier that season.

When I think of road racing in California, I immediately think of one of my racing heroes, Dan Gurney – who is now a surprising seventy-nine years old. Gurney won the first Indy car race at Sonoma in 1970, when USAC ran Champ cars there.

For more than two decades however, the narrow course formerly known as Sears Point Raceway and now called Infineon Raceway, was best known for one of two road course stops on the NASCAR circuit. As recently as Wednesday night, I heard Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee talking about how beautiful the scenery is at the track. I will qualify this by saying I’ve never been to Infineon Raceway, but based on what I’ve seen on television over the years – it looks like a dustbowl. Brown grass and a lot of dust is not my idea of beauty. Perhaps the area surrounding the track is pretty, but the camera fails to show that part. Either that or I need to examine my definition of beauty.

I don’t expect this to be an exciting race. It usually never is. Teams should put a strong emphasis on qualifying, because where a driver starts in this race will be a pretty good indicator as to where they end up finishing. Like Barber and Mid-Ohio, passing will be at a premium on Sunday. The narrow and winding circuit offers only about two really decent passing zones. The best place to pass on Sunday will probably be in the pits, like it was two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio. After that race, some said that there doesn’t have to be passes for the lead to make a race exciting. That may be true to some extent, but it sure helps. Not many people came away talking about how riveting Mid-Ohio was. Chances are, it’ll be the same on Sunday.

As if he really needs it, Will Power will have some extra incentive to excel at Sonoma this weekend. This was the site of his season-ending crash last year that resulted in a broken back. He probably feels he owes the track some payback. I think he’ll get it this weekend. Not only will he have the chance to exorcise those demons from last year, but he knows this is the last track of the season where he’ll have a decided advantage over everyone else. Without a win this weekend, he’ll have to do something he’s never done before to win the championship – win on an oval. I predict Power wins this weekend.

If he doesn’t, I think there may be a surprise winner emerge from a group that hasn’t won yet this season – namely Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson or possibly Marco Andretti. They have all had some frustration this season and this is their last chance to grab a win on a type of track where they have had success.

I wouldn’t say I’m jumping on the Simona de Silvestro bandwagon, because I’ve been on it all year, but I think she will continue to turn heads this weekend. What she has done with so little this season is nothing short of phenomenal. Her driving ability in the car may only be exceeded by her demeanor out of the car. She has quickly become one of my favorite drivers.

Barring any of the surprise possibilities I mentioned earlier, this will be contested between the Penske & Ganassi cars. Ryan Hunter-Reay drove a great race through a lot of adversity two weeks ago, but I just have a gut feeling that he won’t be much of a factor this weekend. Neither will teammates Tony Kanaan or Danica Patrick. Lately, only one Andretti Autosport car per weekend has been allowed to shine. This weekend will be Marco’s turn, as he re-visits the site of his one and only IZOD IndyCar Series win – way back in 2006. It seems like ancient history now. Little did we know then that it would be four years and counting since that lone victory.

But, cheer up – if it gets too boring, you can always go over and join our live chat during the race at Versus.com. I can assure you that we will not be near as predictable as the race.

George Phillips

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11 Responses to “Sonoma Preview”

  1. I have Dario winning. Also, not much excitement unless Marco decides to block/wreck Danica or TK (RHR will be up front and the young Andretti won’t have a shot at him :) ).

  2. I tend to agree that Infineon Raceway is not my favorite track on the IndyCar schedule, and yes, the races can be uninteresting; in fact, I haven’t seen an interesting 2 or 4 wheel race of any series at Infineon other than the NHRA Full Throttle drag racing series, and that is indeed a sad indictment of the track. I do understand that it is a necessary evil and it actually is an interesting track to drive on, just not an intersting track to RACE on.

    So what does one do when the race is lacking excitment? Well, you can do many things. One is to complain about it, as some undoubtedly will. I, however, try to think about the things I do find interesting about the race. The fact that it does take skill to drive a 650hp car around the track. Strategies: fuel mileage, when to pit, reds vs. blacks. That is how I take a unexciting race and make it so.

  3. I would love to see Justin, T.K., or Graham win.

  4. If it gets boring (which is almost a guarantee), the saving grace is that this will be the last of these 110 MPH lame-ass road/street races for about 6 months.

    I think to liven things up (and keep some folks awake), Milka should be placed at the start of the field on all yellow flags. You want action? This would do it.

  5. I’ve visited Napa Valley several times and it is very scenic–parts of it feel like you’re in France. Rolling hills and grape vines and small picturesque towns and all that. Amazing restaurants and wineries. Winding two-lane blacktops and temperate weather.

    So I’m not exactly sure why the track looks like a dustbowl. Maybe Mr. Barber–who certainly has time on his hands because he’s not working on improving his track–could come plant some flowers for them.

    • I think the folks at Sears Point should paint all of that dirt green and plant fake trees and shrubs all over the place so they don’t have to worry about watering anything. Ta-da! Instant scenery! Take that, George Barber!

  6. I’m very much hoping Franchitti wins. Just for the championship, that could be a prelude to an interesting finale. For the race itself I don’t care much, that’s very likely gonna be a borefest anyway.

  7. There’s…. really nothing interesting about this race….. seriously… we just got our fix of non passing parades with Edmonton and Mid Ohio… must we really go through it again???

  8. Enos Strait Says:

    The race hasn’t been run yet (although its almost a guarantee that either Helio, Power or Franchitti is going to win) and I’ll predict that most of the nimrods at TF/Crapwagon give the race at least a 7 on their “1 to 10″ scale of rating each lame Indy Car race.

    Of course, most of the fools there wouldn’t know a good race if it bit em’ on their candy asses. They are more concerned with how much money the 23rd starter today makes each year or what BS their savior “The Nard Dog” blabbered about in some interview or how its the fans fault for why Indy Car Racing sucks and has no interest anymore in this country.

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