Photo: Sonoma Raceway

Sonoma’s IndyCar pre-race test day in the books

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Some 21 drivers – with nearly the entire full Verizon IndyCar Series field running – completed running at Sonoma Raceway today in advance of next weekend’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the 2016 season finale.

Of note, three Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers, Zach Veach, Santiago Urrutia and Andre Negrao, made their IndyCar test debuts. Veach’s was long-awaited with Ed Carpenter Racing while Urrutia and Negrao stepped up from their Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian Indy Lights cars into IndyCars.

We didn’t get the chance to talk to Veach today at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for this weekend’s Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires finale, but we did catch up briefly with Urrutia and Negrao, who were back in time for the track walk. A turbo issue stunted Urrutia’s day but the Uruguayan did tell NBC Sports he liked the brakes on the IndyCar, while Negrao told NBC Sports he banked 57 laps in a solid day’s work. Negrao drove James Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Urrutia Mikhail Aleshin’s No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

A full release from the track is below:

Twenty-one Verizon IndyCar® Series drivers completed a one-day test session at Sonoma Raceway on Thursday. This marked the teams’ final chance to prepare for the series season finale at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, Sept. 16-18.

The field included championship contenders and Team Penske teammates Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, as well as Nevada City native and 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi.

“Today is a great day to get ready for next weekend,” said series point leader Pagenaud. “We are going through a lot of testing and the last few bits of things we want to try. You want the car to be really stable at high speeds, but also turn a lot in the slow speed corners because of all the hairpins, and that’s not an easy thing to do with the Indy cars.”

Other drivers participating in the test session included Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato (AJ Foyt Racing); Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport); Max Chilton, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball (Chip Ganassi Racing Teams); Conor Daly and RC Enerson (Dale Coyne Racing); Spencer Pigot and Josef Newgarden (Ed Carpenter Racing); Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing); Mikhail Aleshin and James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports); and Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya (Team Penske). Three Indy Lights drivers also shared the test day in Verizon IndyCar® Series cars.

For the second consecutive year, the Verizon IndyCar® Series championship will be decided on Sonoma’s 12-turn, 2.38-mile road course. This will mark the 11th consecutive year the champion will be decided in the finale. Simon Pagenaud, who boasts four wins and seven pole positions this season, holds a 43-point lead over Team Penske teammate Will Power heading into the 85-lap double points title race. Pagenaud can clinch the championship with a finish of fourth or better in Sonoma.

“The race is always exciting. There’s always something going on with action-packed IndyCar racing, so we’re ready,” said Pagenaud. “I think it’s going to be a fun show. I think we’re going to bring a really good show for the finale and I’m super happy to be a part of it.”

Power, who has won in wine country three times, holds a track record five pole positions and is the qualifying record holder (1 min., 16.2597 seconds at 112.589 mph).

“We think about last year and we only won three races between all of us at Team Penske, and we’ve won nine this year, so that’s more than half the races which is very impressive, so the team has worked really well this year and we’ve won the championship, too,” said Power. “It will be an interesting weekend because you just don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s what’s great about the series. I will do my best and see where we end up.”

New study surveys drivers’ opinions on crashes, concussions, more

James Black/IndyCar
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Auto racing safety has continued to improve through the decades, but the sport remains inherently dangerous, according to a new survey.

At the close of 2018, a new organization called Racing Safety United emerged with the intention of reducing drivers’ risk of being harmed.

RSU is made up of more than 30 members including former NASCAR Cup Series competitor Jerry Nadeau, two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, NHRA team owner Don Schumacher and motorsports journalist Dick Berggren.

One of RSU’s first initiatives was to determine what current drivers thought of racing safety. The organization developed a 14-question survey and promoted it on select motorsports websites and forums. 

Participants were given the opportunity to disclose their identity or remain anonymous, and those who provided contact information were entered to win a $500 prize (for anonymous participants, the prize funds would be donated to a motorsports charity). 

More than 140 individuals participated in the survey over the course of 12 months. Below are the results of the survey:

Driver status

The vast majority of survey participants (60%) were amateur racers, while 26% of the participants were classified as Semi-Pro/Professional racers. The remaining 14% consisted of other individuals involved in the sport such as team owners and crew chiefs. 

When asked how frequently they race, 58% of driver respondents averaged 10 or more times per year on track, while 42% averaged 10 times or less.

The top five tracks respondents said they raced most often: Road Atlanta (21 votes), Watkins Glen (17 votes), Virginia International Raceway (16 votes), Mid-Ohio (16 votes), and Road America (13 votes).

Vehicular damage, injuries common

Over a third of respondents said they had been injured while racing, and almost two-thirds sasid they had suffered severe vehicle damage while racing

Driver error was cited as the top cause of vehicle damage (42 mentions), followed by concrete walls (26 mentions), mechanical failures (24 mentions), and other drivers (19 mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for better driver training/coaching, energy absorbing walls, and more technical inspections.

Almost a quarter of drivers said they had experienced racing-related concussions, and nearly half the respondents said one or multiple concussions would affect their decision to race in the future. 

Drivers primarily influenced by peers 

Roughly half the drivers said they would consider adopting new safety equipment if influenced by another driver (51 total mentions) and/or if recommended by a sanctioning body (47 total mentions). The study concluded those results indicated a need for drivers to become safety advocates and educate other drivers and for sanctioning bodies to mandate safety equipment. 

Drivers concerned with concrete walls

Approximately three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said they believed certain race tracks were more dangerous than others. Nearly half the drivers surveyed believe that concrete walls were the primary cause of damage to drivers and vehicles. 

Drivers willing to help

Just more than three-quarters of the drivers surveyed said that they would be willing to join a safety alliance to advocate for safer tracks. Two-thirds of drivers said that they also would be willing to contribute to a motorsports safety fund.

Click here for the full results of RSU’s survey

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