Photo: IndyCar

IndyCar title contenders to start up front at Sonoma

Leave a comment

A concern for all the Verizon IndyCar Series championship contenders was that qualifying could see any of them slip down the starting grid due to any one of a number of different issues. However, that ultimately proved not to be the case.

The top five in championship standings all advanced to the Firestone Fast Six for Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Below are quick reports on where the championship contenders will start.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN – POLE

Josef Newgarden’s second career came at an opportune time, as he increases his points lead over Scott Dixon to four and gives him a nice shot of momentum heading into Sunday’s race as he looks to secure his first career IndyCar championship.

On the surface, the momentum comes at a critical time for Newgarden, who looks to counter an error at Watkins Glen that saw him hit the pit exit wall after his final pit stop. However, this was something he downplayed.

“It helps for the start of the race, I think. You got to think it helps. But how many IndyCar races have you seen where being on the pole wasn’t the right thing for the race with the way yellows fall or whatever it is?” Newgarden quipped in the post-qualifying press conference.

Ultimately, Newgarden is hoping for a clean, smooth race on Sunday. “I hope it’s straightforward (on Sunday). That would make our job a lot easier. We just have to focus on making a fast race car that lasts. But you never know,” he added.

SCOTT DIXON – SIXTH

Scott Dixon will start Sunday’s race in sixth. Photo: IndyCar

Scott Dixon qualified the worst of the all the main title contenders, ending up sixth at the end. Dixon explained afterward that, while his No. 9 NTT Data Honda felt solid, it just lacked sufficient speed, especially through the corners, to make a run at the pole.

“As a team, I think this is always one of our most difficult circuits that we come to,” Dixon explained. “This morning, we made some good gains, but the conditions this afternoon, we just didn’t have the grip. It was kind of strange. The balance felt good. The car was kind of decent to drive, but just couldn’t carry the speed through the corners.”

Granted, Dixon is not surprised to be outqualified by the Team Penske Chevrolets, given the aero advantage they possess. “The other manufacturer’s aero kit is going to be strong at this track. We know the deficits that we have. But we can still as a team overcome those, whether it’s strategy or a car on the long run that’s hopefully going to be good,” he added.

All told, Dixon remains confident, even noting that he won this race in 2015 after starting ninth, a feat that saw him clinch that year’s championship. “Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there,” he asserted. “I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race. Definitely you’d want to be a little further up. But that’s the way it goes.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES – FOURTH

Helio Castroneves qualified the worst of all four Penske cars. Photo: IndyCar

Castroneves qualified fourth, the worst of the Penske cars. He revealed that setup problems at two specific corners ultimately doomed his chances of fighting for the pole.

“Unfortunately, I was having some issues in Turn 2 and Turn 6, so I was losing quite a lot of time,” he detailed. “We made some changes for the last one, the last qualifying. Unfortunately, this place is so much of a commitment, I had only one lap. I made that lap, in fact. The second one I was actually even a little bit faster, about 2/10ths faster, but still not quick enough for those guys. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make the corner.”

Still, Castroneves believes he has a car that can fight for the race win, which could put him in position to secure his first IndyCar title. “The Hitachi Chevy was actually really good. The entire Team Penske did a phenomenal job. Today was Josef’s day. I’m happy for him today, but prefer have the win actually than the pole position,” he added.

SIMON PAGENAUD – THIRD

Simon Pagenaud made a gutsy run at the pole, but came up a little short. Photo: IndyCar

Simon Pagenaud made no bones about it: he was going for the pole and threw everything he had at it during qualifying. “I went all in, as hard as I could. Made a little bit of a mistake in turn six, asking for too much. But that’s how you get pole positions. Today it just wasn’t my way,” he discussed in the post-qualifying press conference.

In the end, Pagenaud starts third, a result he feels happy with, and noted that tire wear is expected to be a significant factor on Sunday’s race, and that anything could happen.

“Quite satisfied. I mean, overall it’s awesome for Team Penske, 1-2-3-4 once again here. A testament to the team doing such a good job. Nothing’s lost. Tomorrow is a long race. Lots of tire wear. I’m hoping for a really strong showing,” he added.

WILL POWER – SECOND

Will Power fell three hundredths of a second short in his effort for the pole. Photo: IndyCar

Will Power’s championship hopes suffered a little on Saturday. At 69 points off the lead (counting the point Newgarden gets for securing the pole), his best chance was to maximize his point total this weekend, which of course starts with securing the bonus point for the pole.

Power made a valiant run at Newgarden, but his lap of 1:15.5556 fell three hundredths of a second short of Newgarden’s 1:15.5205.

Despite missing out on that valuable championship point, Power knows he is still in the hunt, and that bad days for his title rivals would open the door for him.

“It’s absolutely possible,” he said of his title chances. “I mean, you know, if Scott and Josef have a bad day, I mean, I can be right there. Yeah, see how it all plays out.”

Of note: Alexander Rossi, who is also still mathematically eligible, will start eighth.

Follow @KyleMLavigne

F1: Lewis Hamilton roars back from starting 14th to win German GP, regain points lead

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Heading into Sunday’s German Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton wasn’t given much of a chance after qualifying so poorly (14th) one day earlier.

But in one of the most significant rallies of the 2018 Formula One season, Hamilton roared back to not only win at Hockenheim, but also regain the lead in the F1 drivers championship standings at the halfway point of the season.

Ditto for Mercedes in the Constructors Championship.

“It was so tough out there,” Hamilton told Sky Sports/ESPN. “Conditions were perfect for business time. When it rained, I knew I’d have a good position, but you never know what’s going to happen behind the safety car.”

Despite rainy conditions for part of the race, not to mention wet overall conditions that caused a number of drivers to spin, Hamilton won the 66th race of his F1 career (44th with Mercedes AMG Petronas) in a time of 1:32.29.845 and took home 25 points for his fourth win of 2018.

It’s the furthest back a driver has come from back in the pack to win since Fernando Alonso started 15th and won the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008.

The win comes just a couple days after Hamilton re-signed with Mercedes AMG through the 2020 season, leading him to pay an immediate return on investment, so to speak.

“It’s obviously very, very difficult (to win) from that position and highly unlikely, but you’ve always got to believe,” Hamilton said. “I said a long, long prayer before the race started.

“When we did the parade lap, I could see how much support we had and I just wanted to stay collected and stay calm. The team did such a great job today, the car was fantastic, I’m so grateful.

“I would never have thought you could do something like that today, but I kept pushing and kept believing and it happened, so I really manifested my dreams today. Thanks to God.”

It was also the 125th F1 podium finish of Hamilton’s career.

To make the win even sweeter, Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, finished second, the first time in German GP history that homeland team Mercedes has finished 1-2.

It’s Bottas’ fifth podium of the season, all being runner-up finishes.

Kimi Raikkonen finished third, 6.5 seconds behind Hamilton, followed my Max Verstappen and Nico Hulkenberg. For Raikkonen, it was his 28th podium since his last win.

Sixth through 10th were Romain Grosjean, Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon, Marcus Ericsson and Brendon Hartley.

Kevin Magnussen finished 11th, followed by Carlos Sainz, Stoffel Vandoorne, Pierre Gasly, Charles Leclerc and Fernando Alonso was the last running car, finishing 16th.

Failing to finish (17th through 20th) were Lance Stroll, pole sitter Sebastian Vettel (who made a mistake and crashed), Sergey Sirotkin and Daniel Ricciardo.

Follow @JerryBonkowski