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.”

Here are the starting times for 2020 NTT IndyCar Series action on NBC and NBCSN

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Another important tidbit for NTT IndyCar Series fans is out as INDYCAR and NBC announced starting times for the 2020 season. The full television schedule is also included.

There are different starting times at four races in 2020 from 2019. Those include the March 15 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge at Circuit of the Americas on April 26, a later starting time for the Saturday night race at Iowa Speedway on July 18 on NBCSN

INDYCAR released the green flag times today for the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season that features starting time shifts at four races – St. Petersburg, Circuit of The Americas, Iowa and Mid-Ohio – and the anticipated evening return to Richmond Raceway.

Those four returning races represent the only significant green flag start time changes from a year ago in the 17-race 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule, beginning with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg scheduled for Sunday, March 15.

The August 16 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio will be moved to an earlier starting time and will be broadcast on NBC. Previously, the race was scheduled for 4:05 p.m., but has been changed to a 12:45 p.m. Eastern Time green flag.

INDYCAR’s return to Richmond Raceway on Saturday, June 27 will begin at 8:15 p.m. ET. That is the only new event on the schedule.

Detailed broadcast information for the entire season will be announced at a later date.

Here are the notable changes to the starting times on the schedule:

The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which began at 1:40 p.m. ET this past season, will now have a 3:30 p.m. green flag. The race on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., will be celebrating its 10thanniversary as the series’ season opener and be televised on NBC Sports Network.

The AutoNation INDYCAR Challenge at Circuit of The Americas on Sunday, April 26, will have a similar shift, moving from a 1:43 p.m. ET green flag this past season to 4:10 p.m. (3:10 p.m. local) in 2020. The permanent road course in Austin, Texas, will play host to the fourth race of the season and be broadcast on NBCSN.

The Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway, set for Saturday, July 18, on NBCSN, will be better accommodated for an evening race under the lights with the green flag moving from 7:15 p.m. ET to 9 p.m. (8 p.m. local).

“The return of a night race for INDYCAR at Iowa Speedway is exciting news for our race fans, sponsors, and the entire region,” Iowa Speedway President David Hyatt said. “The cars look great under the lights, and the competition should be even more fierce given what should be cooler conditions. Our track provides some of the best racing you’ll see anywhere, which will be good for attendance. This will be a can’t-miss weekend for all race fans.”

The return to a true night race at Iowa was the result of fans requesting it. The race will begin at 8:00 p.m. CT on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. And for fans and drivers, it is nostalgic, hearkening back to the first race many of them experienced … a night race on a short track.

The series hasn’t held a race that began after dusk at Iowa Speedway since 2015, and drivers and fans are welcoming it. Not only does it look more vibrant — and create sparks as cars bottom out — it also makes for better racing. Tires grip better when the track is cooler. Fans also avoid sweltering conditions during summer afternoons.

The Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Sunday, Aug. 16, will be the only race among the four that moves to an earlier start time. The race, which had a 4:05 p.m. ET start this past season, will shift to a 12:45 p.m. green flag in 2020 and be televised on NBC.

The NTT IndyCar Series heads to Richmond Raceway – the only new addition on the 2020 schedule – for the 11th race of the season on Saturday, June 27. The field will take the green flag at 8:15 ET for the start of the first Indy car race at the .75-mile oval since 2009. The race will be broadcast on NBCSN.