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:

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at Ground Zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.