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:

NHRA Gatornationals: John Force qualifies 15th with no motor explosion, says ‘I need to race smart’ Sunday

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There’s good news and bad news for John Force fans.

The good news is the 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ did not suffer yet another motor explosion after enduring his third in three races during Friday’s qualifying session at Gainesville (Florida) Raceway.

In fact, Force intentionally feathered the gas pedal on his Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car to make sure it wasn’t again overtaxed, qualifying 15th with a run of 4.281 seconds at 222.88 mph.

Now for the bad news.

When Sunday’s final eliminations begin at 11 a.m. ET, Force will be matched against daughter and No. 2 qualifier, Courtney Force (3.914 seconds at 332.18 mph).

“It is a little bit of a bummer that I have to race him in the first round,” Courtney Force said of her father. “Tomorrow is a new day and we will have all our stuff ready and we will put on our game faces to go for that win.”

Courtney Force is seeking her second consecutive win, having also won two weeks ago at the second national event of the season in suburban Phoenix.

“I want to have a good side-by-side safe race tomorrow in round one,” Force said. “Our goal is to take my dad down and have a long day at the track winning rounds.

“We want to move the momentum over from Phoenix. I feel like my guys have a good handle on this Advance Auto Parts Camaro.”

But don’t count out dear old dad, an eight-time Funny Car winner at Gainesville.

“I am the kind of guy that, when it is qualifying day, I run it to the edge.,” John Force said. “I run it even if I know it will hurt itself.

“(With his three motor explosions this season) I am rethinking all that. What I am looking is the long haul. To go out here and say I have to win this race or I have to qualify low after as much stuff as we have put on the ground in Pomona and Phoenix and then to come here and do it again is bad. … We want to fix this problem and move on.

“Tomorrow I am going to have to play the odds game. I am going to run it to 700 or 800 feet and hope (Courtney) gets in trouble. I need to race smart.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski