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.”

An IndyCar iRacing Challenge at Talladega? Drivers have discussed it

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If Dale Earnhardt Jr. is interested in an IndyCar iRacing event on an oval, he might like the latest idea being kicked around by NTT Series drivers.

“I personally would want to run at Talladega, but I don’t think that’s an option,” Arrow McLaren SP driver rookie Oliver Askew told NBCSports.com in a Friday interview about his simulation work for the second round of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “IndyCar drivers have a group chat with iRacing, and someone had the idea of running at Talladega, and I thought it was brilliant.”

It actually would be a throwback of sorts as a USAC-sanctioned race with Indy cars at Talladega nearly happened 40 years ago.

The IndyCar iRacing Challenge will be running its second consecutive road course Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN or streaming here).

Of the four remaining races in the six-race series, there’s a chance that three of them could be ovals: A Drivers’ Choice track April 11; a “Random Draw” April 18 and a non-IndyCar “Dream” track May 2 (the April 25 race will be at Circuit of the Americas).

ENTRY LIST: Who will be racing at Barber

SPOTTER GUIDE: All 29 of this weekend’s paint schemes

IndyCar drivers are voting on next week’s track, and the options include high-speed ovals such as Texas Motor Speedway and Michigan Speedway.

A multicar crash at Talladega last October. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Talladega apparently isn’t on the list for next week, but surely it could be considered for a future race if it meant having Earnhardt in the field. The 15-time NASCAR Most Popular Driver is a six-time winner at Talladega, and the NASCAR on NBC analyst’s family is synonymous with the 2.66-mile oval where his late seven-time champion father won a record 10 times.

“I hope he can make that happen,” Askew said of racing against Earnhardt. “I hope IndyCar can grant his wish on that.”

The addition of Earnhardt would fit well with an IndyCar iRacing Challenge that already features champions from NASCAR (Jimmie Johnson) and Supercars (Scott McLaughlin).

Will Power would like to see more of that.

“I think that would be great if we can get big-name drivers from other series,” Power said. “Getting a couple guys from Europe would be cool.”