A qualifying boost at Sonoma could fuel Andretti driver title chances


At 65 and 76 points back, respectively, in the IZOD IndyCar Series 2013 points standings, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti will need a mix of ill fortune on Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon plus wins or podiums of their own to close down the gap in the remaining five races.

Their chances would be helped, massively, by a big-time qualifying run at Sonoma next weekend.

For all of Andretti Autosport’s accolades over the years, Sonoma Raceway has been something of a bogey track for the team. And especially compared to rivals Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, mere fractions of seconds have made the job on Sunday all the more difficult for Andretti’s quartet.

The team has not made a Firestone Fast Six at Sonoma since 2009, when Andretti and Hideki Mutoh qualified fourth and fifth. That year, the then-Andretti Green Racing placed all five of its race entries into the top 11 on the grid. Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway have come close the last two years, but just missed.

Here’s a breakdown of their grid positions at Sonoma since 2009:

  • 2012: 7 (Hunter-Reay), 10 (James Hinchcliffe), 12 (Andretti), 23 (Sebastian Saavedra)
  • 2011: 7 (Mike Conway), 14 (Andretti), 19 (Hunter-Reay), 25 (Danica Patrick)
  • 2010: 8 (Hunter-Reay), 9 (Tony Kanaan), 18 (Andretti), 23 (Patrick)
  • 2009: 4 (Andretti), 5 (Mutoh), 7 (Kanaan), 8 (Franck Montagny), 11 (Patrick)

Unsurprisingly, that’s made it difficult for any in the Andretti contingent to post a result at a track notorious for its lack of passing opportunities. No Andretti driver has claimed a top-five result at Sonoma in the last three years, and Mutoh’s fifth place in 2009 was the last top-five finish for the team there.

The improved team chemistry between this year’s quartet of Hunter-Reay, Andretti, James Hinchcliffe (who has one Fast Six appearance at Sonoma, in 2011) and E.J. Viso with engineers Ray Gosselin, Blair Perschbacher, Craig Hampson and Michael Cannon has paid dividends with excellent qualifying efforts for most of this year. As another confidence booster, Hunter-Reay set the unofficial fastest time in Tuesday’s open test.

Next week, they need to continue that Saturday performance to give themselves a fighting chance.

Newgarden fastest as Castroneves returns in weather-shortened Barber test

Photo: IndyCar
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The Verizon IndyCar Series took to Barber Motorsports Park on Tuesday for an open test, with 24 entries tackling the 2.38-mile road course.

Weather intervened in the afternoon, preventing nearly the entire field from going out, but the weather held off during the morning enough for one session to be run in its entirety.

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden led the way, with a quick lap of 1:07.979, ahead of Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves. For Castroneves, this marked his first IndyCar outing of 2018.

Helio Castroneves was back in an IndyCar on Tuesday at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Sporting the Pennzoil “yellow submarine” paint scheme, Castroneves turned 41 laps around Barber in the morning session, with a quick lap of 1:08.315. He was also the only driver to venture out on track in the afternoon, completing eight laps.

The Dale Coyne Racing duo of Sebastien Bourdais and Zachary Claman De Melo completed the top five.

Results are below.