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Sonoma weekend, Thursday and Friday notes

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SONOMA, Calif. – There have been a lot of things happening at Sonoma Raceway this weekend for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

So, here’s some bullet points of what they are:

  • Wednesday’s pre-weekend event was held at Ram’s Gate Winery with the top five championship contenders.
  • As it stands, is GoPro’s last year as title sponsor of the race. It took over as title sponsor prior to the 2012 race. GoPro has activated here over the years with a number of interesting course videos.
  • Honda had its final media availability of the year at its hospitality tent today, with Honda Performance Development President Art St. Cyr providing updates on Honda’s engines for 2018 as well as its two Acura sports car programs – the NSX GT3 program which moves to a customer program in 2018, and the new ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) program, which comes online next year. St. Cyr confirmed three Acura NSX GT3s have been sold. Further information about what else Honda brought to light from this availability, beyond its existing teams and car count, will be posted in the coming days.
  • There are lots of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veterans here this weekend making the rounds. Zachary Claman DeMelo makes his debut, while Kyle Kaiser, Zach Veach, Santiago Urrutia, Matheus Leist and RC Enerson are all making themselves visible doing a mix of media, meetings or driving. Veach and Enerson have been on two-seater duty.
  • Kaiser was busy today in a number of roles, thanks to tireless efforts from Andersen Promotions PR ace Diane Swintal. Between getting interviewed by Katie Hargitt during NBCSN’s second IndyCar practice session, and additionally by NBCSN’s Anders Krohn for an upcoming episode of the digital Paddock Pass show, talking to both local and national media in the media center, completing an IndyCar Nation Q&A with USF2000 champion Oliver Askew, hosted by Trackside Online’s Steve Wittich, and challenging yours truly to a type-off in the media center, Kaiser was plenty busy without actually being in a car. It remains to be seen when the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion makes his IndyCar test debut.
  • Askew and fellow Rising Star Racing driver Neil Alberico were both able to visit Facebook HQ earlier this week, thanks to Klipsch.
  • Meanwhile IndyCar PR rep Arni Sribhen coined, in tribute to Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network pit reporter and the “voice of the Mazda Road to Indy” Rob Howden, “Back-to-Back Zachs” in the media center this afternoon on his birthday. That line is a play-on-words of one of Howden’s favorite sayings, “Back-to-Back Jacks” when a driver wins two races, and almost close to Howden’s trademark “Book it!” line for passes. Anyway, the “Zach” line occurred as Claman DeMelo and Veach completed back-to-back press conferences this afternoon.
  • Claman DeMelo, who confirmed his second part of his last name doesn’t have a space between the De and Melo, told a very interesting story about why he races with No. 13, which this week is the No. 13 Paysafe Honda. “My grandmother got freed from the Holocaust on Friday the 13th and the numbers on her arm all added up to 13, so it’s always been a lucky number for me my whole life, so I’ve always worn it all throughout karting and all the series I’ve raced.”
  • Claman DeMelo didn’t rule out a return to Indy Lights for a third year, but is targeting a step-up to IndyCar. “I think IndyCar is my main goal at the moment. I’m not opposed to doing another year of Indy Lights. If that’s what I need to do, I’ll definitely do it. I think winning the championship would be nice for me, nice for my résumé and just showing that I can win the championship and I do deserve to be in IndyCar, but IndyCar is still my goal, but if I have to do another year of lights, I’m definitely not opposed to it.”
  • For Veach, today was a culmination of months of waiting since signing with Andretti Autosport for his full-time IndyCar bow. What wasn’t necessarily expected was the sponsor, Group One Thousand One, announced alongside. Group One Thousand One is formerly known as Delaware Life Holdings, is a newly-rebranded insurance holding company in the United States, with current combined assets under management of approximately $37 billion. Group One Thousand One includes Delaware Life Insurance Company and its subsidiaries and affiliates, including Delaware Life Insurance Company of New York.
  • Dan Towriss, CEO, Group One Thousand One, confirmed Guggenheim Life and Annuity Company is a separate company from Group One Thousand One, although is a similar Indianapolis-based financial company. Guggenheim was the presenting sponsor of Veach’s Indy Women in Tech Championship Chevrolet for A.J. Foyt Enterprises at this year’s Indianapolis 500. “I have multiple companies I run. So these are separate deals; it’s a separate organization,” he explained. Veach and Towriss had met prior to their Indianapolis 500 program being announced at Long Beach this year.
  • Towriss described his and Veach’s working relationship: “So we met Zach earlier this year and we formed a relationship and really just quickly identified in Zach a lot of shared values that are important to us, and as that relationship grew and the opportunity came to be involved with Michael and with Andretti Autosport, we just saw a match there for us that was perfect. We loved the way Zach will represent our brand, and we think, again, those shared values will be key to that.”
  • Good news, Johnny O’Connell led practice for Pirelli World Challenge. Bad news, he may be needing to go to a backup car after an accident in practice. Per PWC: “Unfortunately, O’Connell’s Cadillac made contact with the turn six wall in the afternoon practice and the Cadillac Racing team is currently assessing the damage for Saturday’s Qualifying round and Round 18 50-minute race.
  • “It doesn’t happen often but everyone falls off and I’m disappointed in myself (for the crash),” said O’Connell, a 20-race winner in PWC GT competition.  “I just understeered into turn six and hit a bump.  The next thing I know I was in the air and face first into the wall. Very grateful that Cadillac Racing builds one heck of a strong car. That was a huge one.  I haven’t had a huge one like that since my IndyCar days (in the 1990s).”

There’s more to write, but it’s already about 9:30 p.m. ET. So, more later.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.