Ganassi pair leads Wednesday Sonoma IndyCar test

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IndyCar teams completed more than 1,000 laps in five hours of testing on Wednesday at Sonoma ahead of this Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (4 p.m. EST, NBCSN). Drivers from the “big three” teams of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport locked out the top seven as teams worked to find grip and consistency at the 1.99-mile Sonoma Raceway.

Dario Franchitti, winless in 2013, led from Scott Dixon in the pair of Target Hondas. Interestingly this is only the fifth weekend of 13 thus far in 2013 where Franchitti has had Target on his car (St. Petersburg, Long Beach, Indianapolis, Toronto). Franchitti’s best lap of 38 turned was 1:18.2945, just ahead of Dixon’s 1:18.3694.

Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti), Will Power, Helio Castroneves (both Penske), James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti (Andretti) locked out the top seven ahead of the Dragon Racing Sebastie(a)ns, Bourdais and Saavedra, and Justin Wilson.

Hinchcliffe, Bourdais, Ryan Briscoe (Panther Racing), and series debutante Lucas Luhr (RW/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) set their fastest times in the morning two-hour session, with the remaining 21 clocking in their best in the afternoon. JR Hildebrand was 18th on his first day for Barracuda Racing, while James Davison’s first day in an IndyCar at Sonoma ended 23rd for Dale Coyne.

Official practice begins on Friday.

1. Dario Franchitti, 1:18.2945, 38
2. Scott Dixon, 1:18.3694, 46
3. Ryan Hunter-Reay, 1:18.4707, 37
4. Will Power, 1:18.5082, 45
5. Helio Castroneves, 1:18.8965, 48
6. James Hinchcliffe, 1:18.9329, 43*
7. Marco Andretti, 1:18.9912, 35
8. Sebastien Bourdais, 1:19.1274, 34*
9. Sebastian Saavedra, 1:19.2560, 35
10. Justin Wilson, 1:19.2731, 43
11. Simona de Silvestro, 1:19.3386, 39
12. Ryan Briscoe, 1:19.3941, 38*
13. Charlie Kimball, 1:19.4095, 51
14. E.J. Viso, 1:19.4495, 28
15. Josef Newgarden, 1:19.4671, 38
16. Tony Kanaan, 1:19.5319, 31
17. James Jakes, 1:19.5426, 44
18. JR Hildebrand, 1:19.6668, 51
19. Graham Rahal, 1:19.7002, 58
20. Simon Pagenaud, 1:19.7100, 57
21. Tristan Vautier, 1:19.9103, 44
22. Takuma Sato, 1:19.9302, 36
23. James Davison, 1:20.1534, 50
24. Ed Carpenter, 1:20.2236, 45
25. Lucas Luhr, 1:20.2262, 44*

*Set fastest time in Practice 1 instead of Practice 2

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.