A qualifying boost at Sonoma could fuel Andretti driver title chances

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At 65 and 76 points back, respectively, in the IZOD IndyCar Series 2013 points standings, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti will need a mix of ill fortune on Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon plus wins or podiums of their own to close down the gap in the remaining five races.

Their chances would be helped, massively, by a big-time qualifying run at Sonoma next weekend.

For all of Andretti Autosport’s accolades over the years, Sonoma Raceway has been something of a bogey track for the team. And especially compared to rivals Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, mere fractions of seconds have made the job on Sunday all the more difficult for Andretti’s quartet.

The team has not made a Firestone Fast Six at Sonoma since 2009, when Andretti and Hideki Mutoh qualified fourth and fifth. That year, the then-Andretti Green Racing placed all five of its race entries into the top 11 on the grid. Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway have come close the last two years, but just missed.

Here’s a breakdown of their grid positions at Sonoma since 2009:

  • 2012: 7 (Hunter-Reay), 10 (James Hinchcliffe), 12 (Andretti), 23 (Sebastian Saavedra)
  • 2011: 7 (Mike Conway), 14 (Andretti), 19 (Hunter-Reay), 25 (Danica Patrick)
  • 2010: 8 (Hunter-Reay), 9 (Tony Kanaan), 18 (Andretti), 23 (Patrick)
  • 2009: 4 (Andretti), 5 (Mutoh), 7 (Kanaan), 8 (Franck Montagny), 11 (Patrick)

Unsurprisingly, that’s made it difficult for any in the Andretti contingent to post a result at a track notorious for its lack of passing opportunities. No Andretti driver has claimed a top-five result at Sonoma in the last three years, and Mutoh’s fifth place in 2009 was the last top-five finish for the team there.

The improved team chemistry between this year’s quartet of Hunter-Reay, Andretti, James Hinchcliffe (who has one Fast Six appearance at Sonoma, in 2011) and E.J. Viso with engineers Ray Gosselin, Blair Perschbacher, Craig Hampson and Michael Cannon has paid dividends with excellent qualifying efforts for most of this year. As another confidence booster, Hunter-Reay set the unofficial fastest time in Tuesday’s open test.

Next week, they need to continue that Saturday performance to give themselves a fighting chance.

Malcolm Stewart sidelined by knee surgery for ‘extended duration’

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The knee injury that kept Malcolm Stewart from mounting up for Anaheim 2 will require surgery and he will be sidelined for “an extended duration” of the Monster Energy Supercross season, according to the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna team.

“I just wanted to give you guys an update,” Stewart said on Instagram. “It’s not the news you guys want to hear, but I took a spill last week and hurt my knee pretty bad to the point that we’re going to have to get surgery done.

“I’m definitely bummed out about it; I felt we were riding pretty good and were just now starting to get the ball rolling, but it is what it is.”

Stewart’s season started with high expectations until accidents in the first two rounds left him 15th in the standings.

He ended 2022 on a high note, finishing a career high third in the Supercross standings. He then missed the start of the Pro Motocross season with another knee injury.

The 2023 season appeared to live up to his expectations. Despite back-to-back accidents, Stewart contended for podiums at both Anaheim 1 and San Diego. He won his heat at San Diego.

“It was very tough to receive the news that Malcolm will need to undergo knee surgery,” Nathan Ramsey, Team Manager for the Husqvarna team said in a press release. “He has worked so hard to be in a position to win races this year and I truly believe he was ready.

“The Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing program will support him in every way that we can through his recovery and we can’t wait to get him back on track and back at the races.”

Stewart joins 250 rider Jalek Swoll on the sidelines after he broke an arm in a practice session. Swoll will be relieved by Talon Hawkins beginning this week at Houston, Texas.

A replacement rider has not been announced for Stewart, which means the focus shifts to his 450 teammate Christian Craig, who currently sits 12th in the standings with three top-15s in the opening rounds.