The Frontstretch: IndyCar In Depth: GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma by Toni Montgomery -- Friday August 23, 2013

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IndyCar In Depth: GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma

Toni Montgomery · Friday August 23, 2013


What’s News

Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing will expand to a two car team this weekend and will turn to sports car veteran Lucas Luhr for driving duties. Luhr has won in American Le Mans Series competition at Sonoma but this will be his first time piloting an Indy car. As a matter of fact, it will be his first time out in an open-wheel car since racing in German F3 in 1998. Luhr was able to get comfortable in the car during an unofficial test at Sonoma Raceway last week.

“[Driving in an IndyCar for the first time] was nothing totally unexpected,” Luhr said. “I didn’t have too much seat time, but for the amount of driving I did I feel quite comfortable already. I don’t know every reaction the car is going to make, but that just comes with more laps. Overall I’d have to say I’m very positive from my first impression.”

Lucas Luhr will make his IndyCar debut this weekend in a second car for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

About the Track

This week the series journeys to California wine country and the twists and turns of Sonoma Raceway. This is a 12 turn, 2.385 mile permanent road course. Race distance is 85 laps for 202.73 miles. The IZOD IndyCar Series first visited the track in 2005 and since then, seven different drivers have posted wins there. All seven are entered for this weekend’s event, and Will Power is the only repeat winner. Last year’s winner was Ryan Briscoe, who will be back in the seat for Panther Racing this week. Television coverage will start at 4PM ET on NBC Sports Network with radio coverage on Sirius/XM 211.

What’s the Points? – Drivers

Helio Castroneves remains the points leader by 31 over second place Scott Dixon. Ryan Hunter-Reay is a somewhat distant third, 65 in arrears of the leader. Marco Andretti and Simon Pagenaud round out the top five.

Who’s momentum will be stronger in Sonoma? Scott Dixon and Team Ganassi are on a roll, winning the last four races, including three in a row for Dixon, but Team Penske has dominated at Sonoma, winning four of the last five races there.

What’s the Points? – Manufacturers

Looks like we have a race, folks. Honda and Chevrolet are currently tied in the manufacturer standings with five races remaining. Chevrolet took the early lead on the season, but Honda has won the last four races, all courtesy of Chip Ganassi’s team, giving both manufacturers seven victories on the season. The good news is, with five races it means someone will definitely come away the victor.

Driver to Watch

Who would have thought we’d get all the way to August without seeing perennial championship contender Will Power atop the podium yet this season? That’s after posting a total of 14 victories over the past three years. Take heart Power fans because Sonoma presents a great opportunity to put this winless streak to bed. Power has won the last three poles at Sonoma Raceway and won the 2010 and 2011 editions of the race. He’s a large part of the reason Team Penske has been so successful on this circuit.

Who Ya Got?
Toni Montgomery thinks Team Penske does indeed continue their winning ways at Sonoma, but thinks it will be with Helio Castroneves, who is making a serious bid for his first series championship but will need to pull out all the stops to hold off surging Scott Dixon. Huston Ladner also predicts a Penske victory, but for Will Power instead. Not to overlook Chip Ganassi’s organization, Matt Stallknecht is picking Scott Dixon.

Other News?

In other driver news, JR Hildebrand returns to the track with Barracuda Racing this week. It will be Hildebrand’s first race in the series in nearly three months. Barracuda Racing recently parted ways with driver Alex Tagliani and is evaluating options for next season. Hildebrand will drive for the team this weekend in Sonoma and again in the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in October, splitting the seat with Luca Filippi, who drove the car in the last race at Mid-Ohio.

Hildebrand, who drove for Panther Racing for his entire tenure in IndyCar up until being released earlier this season, stopped short of calling the ride an “audition” for next season.

“This is as much about getting used to being somewhere else and so far, I’ve really enjoyed the environment,” he said. “I think for all of us, we’d like to put a result together. It would be good for me, good for the team. This about all of us getting together and doing a good job.”

What’s Next?

No off-weekend this time! The IZOD IndyCar Series will be back in action next week for the Grand Prix of Baltimore. This run on the streets of Charm City will happen on Sunday, September 1. Television coverage begins at 2PM ET on NBC Sports Network with radio coverage as always on Sirius/XM 211.

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