IndyCar: An odd Friday on tap, with no practice occurring

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SONOMA, Calif. – This Friday is a bit weird for the Verizon IndyCar Series, because teams are parked, but there won’t be any on-track activity.

A rare two-day session on a road or street course is on tap here at Sonoma Raceway, for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Usually the two-day shows are reserved for ovals, but this for IndyCar is similar to the races in Brazil – now off the schedule – which operated only on a two-day schedule.

Friday’s sessions will see all three of the Mazda Road to Indy divisions – Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 – for practice, qualifying and Pro Mazda/USF2000 races and additionally two Pirelli World Challenge practice sessions.

Meanwhile IndyCar will have two 45-minute practice sessions Saturday (10-10:45 and 1:15-2 PT) before qualifying at 4:35 p.m. PT (live at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Sunday will feature a standard 30-minute morning warmup before the race.

The one-week gap in-between the Milwaukee and Sonoma races has meant a shift in when teams have arrived.

Those not based in Indianapolis – Team Penske and A.J. Foyt Enterprises – opted to come straight from Milwaukee to the west coast.

Per Team Penske president Tim Cindric to MotorSportsTalk, the extra day means more to Indianapolis-based teams because they’d be able to go home, while for those not in Indy, it just made sense to prep for the west coast trip in advance.

So Thursday, teams were still arriving at the track because of the extra day gap in the schedule.

As for the pit lane, the front half of pit in – from the hairpin to pit entry through the curve to the second half of pit lane – has recently been repaved.

The 22 pit boxes on the second half will see 14 cars slotted, with the remaining eight in the back. This should provide more pit space given last year, pit entry/exit was in the crosshairs when Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing contacted a crew member from Will Power’s crew exiting his pit stall. It was Dixon, however, who was penalized.

The race car count is down this year from 25 a year ago, 27 in 2012 and 28 in 2011, so there will be more available pit space this go-around compared to previous years.

Here’s a few pics to explain the changes and pit assignments:

Hamilton: McLaren could help create four-team F1 title fight in 2018

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Lewis Hamilton says the Mercedes Formula 1 team cannot afford to let up in its push to improve ahead of a fiercer fight at the front of the field in 2018 – potentially including former team McLaren.

Hamilton clinched his fourth F1 drivers’ title in Mexico at the end of October as Mercedes continued its perfect record of championships since the introduction of the new V6 turbo hybrid engines in 2014.

The team faced a stiffer challenge in 2017 thanks to a resurgent Ferrari, while Red Bull also posed a threat towards the end of the season, setting the stage for another close fight next year.

Hamilton is expecting both Ferrari and Red Bull to remain a force at the front of the pack, but also feels McLaren could join the fight after ditching Honda in favor of a Renault engine supply for 2018.

“When I’m training and preparing for a new season, I firmly believe that we can be contenders for the next championship. It may turn out to be not possible, but you have to have that mindset,” Hamilton said.

“If you go in with expectations of finishing fifth, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to gear yourself up to win.

“Next year, McLaren will have Renault engines, then we may see four teams fighting for the championship. I think Red Bull will be quicker and Ferrari for sure will be fast again.

“We can’t stand still – we have to keep moving forwards.”

Hamilton started his F1 career with McLaren back in 2007, winning his maiden world title in 2008 before leaving the team for Mercedes at the end of the 2012 season.