Hunter-Reay on top in Sonoma first practice

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Ryan Hunter-Reay parlayed his testing pace at Sonoma into the fastest time in Friday’s first official practice session for the IZOD IndyCar Series’ GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (4 p.m. EST, Sunday, NBCSN). The Andretti Autosport driver lapped the 2.3-mile Sonoma Raceway at 1:18.6814 as he seeks his third win of the season, and second on a permanent road course (Barber) this year.

Helio Castroneves (Team Penske) and Dario Franchitti (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) were next up at 1:18.6976 and 1:18.8124, respectively in the 45-minute session. All three went out fairly late in the session before setting their fastest laps. Temperatures increased from 64 (ambient) and 92 (track) degrees Fahrenheit to 67 and 98 by the end of the session.

RHR’s Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti, 2006 Sonoma winner, clocked in fourth ahead of Ryan Briscoe, for Panther Racing.

Of note, JR Hildebrand was ninth in his first official session for Barracuda Racing, James Davison was 19th and Lucas Luhr 25th among the part-time entries.

The second practice session from Sonoma occurs at 5 p.m. EST (2 p.m. PST and local time) later Friday afternoon.

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.