IndyCar: Five teams, 11 drivers to test at Sonoma on Thursday

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This upcoming week may be an “off week” for the Verizon IndyCar Series in terms of an actual race weekend, but not in terms of on-track activity.

Half the 22-car field will be in action at Sonoma Raceway on Thursday for an open test, which will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free to the public.

Fans who purchase a ticket to the upcoming GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (August 24), or have already purchased tickets, will be given a FREE pit tour for an up-close look at the racecars and drivers. The Raceway Café will also be open for lunch, and a press conference will fall during the lunch hour.

Those drivers and teams confirmed to test include:

  • Andretti Autosport: Ryan Hunter-Reay & Carlos Munoz
  • Chip Ganassi Racing: Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan & Charlie Kimball
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing: Graham Rahal
  • Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing: Josef Newgarden
  • Team Penske: Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya & Will Power

Newgarden is embarking on a crazy, whirlwind week where he returned from Mid-Ohio to Indianapolis for the Indiana State Fair, will head west to Sonoma on Thursday, then heads back southeast to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. for the weekend to compete in a Honda-powered Formula F car. More here from the SCCA.

Interesting from a championship perspective is that Castroneves, Power and Hunter-Reay will have an extra day’s worth of data compared to Simon Pagenaud, who is not testing here. But Pagenaud and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team did test at Sonoma over the winter, so they’ll have that data to work off of.

Penske has traditionally run well at Sonoma, and since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 has won both races – with Ryan Briscoe in 2012 and Power a year ago.

We’ll see whether anyone is able to make key gains this week.

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.