Sonoma Preview

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After a crazy couple of weeks that saw a leading driver lose it (and then $30,000), a protest denied and an over-hyped announcement that finally confirmed what we all knew for months – the IZOD IndyCar Series will mercifully return to the track this weekend. I don’t know about you, but I’m awfully tired of hearing and writing about the events at New Hampshire. Thank goodness, we have some on-track activity to talk about.

Unfortunately, the track that has the activity is one of my least favorites on the IndyCar schedule. When you look at every natural terrain road course that open-wheel racing has visited over the past twenty years, Infineon Raceway near Sonoma is one that I almost dread to watch. Some of those tracks include venues such as Road America, Mid-Ohio, Portland, nearby Laguna Seca, Watkins Glen and Barber Motorsports Park. Some feature better racing than others, but at least the cars look good tooling around a scenic track even if the racing is lacking.

Then there is Infineon – the track formerly known as Sears Point Raceway. I’ve always found the racing to be especially boring at Sonoma. Unlike other tracks that can at least offer a picturesque view while cars drive around in single-file – Infineon sits in the middle of what appears to be a dust bowl.

For years, I’ve heard different announcers in NASCAR and IndyCar wax poetically about how beautiful the track is. I’m always tempted to check my cable box to make sure they are describing the race I am watching. I’ve never been to Infineon, so I’m assuming that the track sits in a region of great beauty that we television viewers don’t get to see. But from my couch, I see lots of brown dead grass that appears to be sitting on top of dusty sand.

Every time a tire even thinks about drifting off of the track, giant clouds of dust plumes engulf the track. Taking away the driver’s visibility seems to be the only way to inject any form of excitement into the racing at Sonoma. So not only do we get a boring race, but the psychological effect of watching a race in the desert is to make us all very thirsty.

There is not a whole lot on television this Sunday afternoon. NASCAR will race at Bristol the night before. College football is still a week away. If anyone cares, the only NFL pre-season game on Sunday will be that night. A casual fan might somehow land on Versus while flipping around. If they want to see what IndyCar is all about, I’m afraid they won’t come away very impressed after watching a few minutes at Infineon. If I weren’t a hard-core fan or was not interested in the points battle, I’m not sure I would watch it. To me, this race has always been one of the most grueling races to watch on TV. Being there may be different, but it simply does not make for very compelling television.

As I mentioned however, there is still a points battle going on. In fact, it got a little tighter following the New Hampshire race. Will Power now trails Dario Franchitti by only forty-seven points. Don’t look now, but after a win at Mid-Ohio and a third place finish at New Hampshire, Scott Dixon is only twenty-six points behind Will Power. They are the only ones still realistically alive for this championship. Had Dario not screwed up at New Hampshire, he would have a very comfortable lead right now. Still, he’s in the driver’s seat. As long as he has no major foul-ups like he did at New Hampshire, he’s in a good position to win his fourth IndyCar championship. What’s most impressive about that is, assuming he does win it – he will have won the championship in the last four consecutive years that he drove in the series, after sitting out the 2008 season in his failed attempt at NASCAR.

Team Penske desperately needs a good showing this weekend – not just from Will Power, but also from all three of its drivers. This has been a most un-Penske-like season. Not since the late nineties can I remember such a swoon with Team Penske. The last time this happened, The Captain cleaned house, hired new drivers and changed his chassis, engines and tires. The result was two CART championships and two Indianapolis 500 victories over the next three seasons. If I were Ryan Briscoe or Helio Castroneves, I think I might force a little oomph into my step this weekend. Otherwise, I think they would both be justified to be looking over their shoulder as the season winds down and we move into the silly season.

Through twelve races this season, I have a perfect record picking race winners – I’ve missed them all. In fact, it seems that more times than not – my choosing someone to win causes them to be a complete non-factor throughout practice, qualifying and the race. I have to get one right sometime, don’t I? So who is my pick for this week that will doom them to obscurity? Tony Kanaan. His KV Racing Technology team has been very close this season, and Kanaan won the first IndyCar event here in 2005. I think he will win giving KV their first IZOD IndyCar Series win. We’ll see how close I am.

In case you missed it: For your viewing pleasure; John McLallen and I recorded our second edition of One Take Only on Wednesday afternoon and posted it below yesterday. Check it out.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “Sonoma Preview”

  1. Ben Twickerbill Says:

    If the new chassis and engine combos prove to be the horsepower and handling hallmarks that they have been advertised to be, you will begin to see much more exciting road course and street races. But as long as we are saddled with the current lead sled, we will all continue to suffer the same parade like boredom… These de-tuned, rev. limited powerplants just do not have the guts for roads and streets and they never have….

  2. The Sonoma-Napa Valley area is really one the more beautiful areas I’ve visited. Scenic rolling hills, vineyards, blue clear skies. A vacation centered around the Infineon race, with visits to wine country and San Francisco and Muir Woods would be a great way to spend a week.

    I’m not sure why the track looks like a landfill.

  3. As for the race, I believe that this one will be Dario’s race. We can say that he does well at this track or that it is his year, but I think that his little dust up with Sato got his attention and put the look back into his eye. From here on the series championship is his.

  4. Simon Garfunkel Says:

    I agree with George. I cant stand watching Snorama. Does it never rain there? Maybe that could get rid of the dust.

  5. Lots of GP2 grads in this race. I’m looking forward to what Pantano’s got for IndyCar this time around.

  6. Yawn…. wake me up when it’s over. At least we’ve got MotoGP this weekend

  7. As Redcar Says says, the Sonoma-Napa Valley area is drop dead gorgeous. The track is about 30 miles north of San Francisco just off San Pablo Bay. If you are looking for the green green grass of home, that ain’t it, but the area is beautiful never-the-less. I believe that both the Foyts and the Andretti’s have winery’s in the area. Nothing says class like the image of A.J. sipping a nice Chardonnay. Try a bottle during the race George and maybe you won’t be so grumpy.

    Sure, not my favorite race either, but in a few months we will be wishing we had a race to watch………..any race. Besides, could it be more boring than the Titans?

  8. George, A last comment about NHMS. We drove just over 1000 miles from Indy area. The fans were great. The track is very nice. During driver intros, give their fans credi, they cheared as darn near loud for James Jakes as they did for Helio or Dario. I got the impression they were happy to see INDYCAR back. The race was worth the trip. Chances are you will not talk about Sonoma as long as New Hampshire.

  9. Ed Osborn Says:

    As a few others have noted, the Sonoma region is quite beautiful at any time of year, Infineon’s dusty appearance notwithstanding. What may be less apparent to anyone not familiar with the area is that the dry, dusty state of the grass is normal for that part of the world at this time of year. During the winter and spring there is more rain, and hence more green on the ground. Mid-summer through the fall is much drier (and prone to wildfires). If the race were run in the Spring the view would be more picturesque (if not less parade-like). There is a clip on Youtube of the Golden Gate 150 at Sears Point run on April 4, 1970, that shows lots more green (and much less runoff area) than exists now. Apart from historical interest it shows the course to a much better visual appearance than we’ll get this weekend.

  10. Ben Twickerbill Says:

    Mario & Will Power…

  11. I’d like to send a shout out to the US Government (my own government) for keeping me safe from Simona De Silvestro. There might have been a bomb hidden in her racing gloves.

    I know that one isn’t Indycar’s fault, but it’s embarassing nonetheless.

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