Photo: Sonoma Raceway

IndyCar: What Drivers Are Saying about Sunday’s season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma

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Here’s What Drivers Are Saying about this Sunday’s 2018 season-ending and Verizon IndyCar Series championship-deciding Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway:

INDYCAR GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA PRE-EVENT QUOTES:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s been a very up-and-down season, but we’re ready to do everything we can to make a run at the championship. Some races have gone our way and some have not, but we’re going to forget about all that and put a strong effort forward with the No. 1 Verizon Chevrolet. Sonoma is a really fun racetrack and I’m bummed we won’t be returning in 2019, but I’m excited that we will be racing at a few new places that the fans are really happy to see on the schedule. We’ve put forward a strong effort in 2018 and we’re ready to go out on a high note to end our season.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Headed to Sonoma this weekend and just realized that the season flew by. I remember St. Petersburg and Indy like it was yesterday, and now my first Verizon IndyCar Series season is almost over. It has been a great year! Sonoma is a place that I’ve never raced before but grew up playing video games there and thinking about racing in that place one day. It’s such a pretty city and a fun track to drive, it has lots of elevation changes which make things pretty interesting. After a great pace in Portland, the ABC Supply car No. 4 is going to give its all to finish the season on a high. I definitely can’t wait for it.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “With Portland and the rest of the season in the rear-view mirror, all of our focus is on the (season) finale weekend in Sonoma. With so many ups and downs this year, our goal is to finish the season strong and look ahead to a stronger 2019. The Arrow Electronics crew and the entire SPM team has worked so hard all year. I’m hopeful we can end our time in Sonoma on a high note.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Sonoma: the last race of the season and my third race this year. I think we will arrive at a different level compared to Portland. I know the Lucas Oil car a bit more. I know the team more, so for sure, that will help. It will be the last race at Sonoma for INDYCAR. It’s a really challenging track for all the teams, and for me personally, it’s one of the most challenging tracks because the track changes so much, but I’m really looking forward to it. The goal is to do the best, bring home a nice result for the team, (and) don’t make any mistakes. Again wishing a speedy recovery for Robbie (Wickens). We’re all thinking about him.”

PATRICIO O’WARD (No. 8 Harding Group Chevrolet): “I honestly am really grateful for the opportunity that presented in front of me by Harding Racing, and I got to drive an Indy car a few days ago in Sonoma, and I also really loved, loved the car. It is fast. It is very grippy, and it’s basically like an Indy Lights car, just so much faster and so much more grip. I honestly couldn’t be more excited for my first Verizon IndyCar Series race. It’s going to be my debut, and I was really, really satisfied and happy with the testing, so I’m looking forward to the weekend.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Well, I think we were a bit lucky in Portland, and you have got to take those days. We’ve been on the other side of it before. Some situations we’ve lost championships like that, too. It sucks when you’re on the other side. Maybe it happens to us at Sonoma. We hope it doesn’t, but it has full potential. We’ll go there, we’ll try to have the fastest car we can prepare, qualify where we can and put our heads down. That’s what we can do. Everyone on the PNC Bank team has been focused and working hard and we’ll just keep pushing like we have been all season and see what happens.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I’m hoping to end the 2018 season on a high note, for sure. We’ve had some very good runs throughout the year, but I don’t think we’ve had any help in the luck department. There were several things that didn’t go our way like cut tires at various races, but we’re focused on getting a good result in Sonoma. Qualifying here on these types of road courses are always key. We need to unload fast and get the car balanced quickly. Hopefully, if we do that, things will fall into place for the NTT DATA car to run at the front where we need to be.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We’re headed to Sonoma knowing we need to fight for every point we can for a chance at the championship. We’ll need a lot of luck on our side, but it’s still something we can achieve. We’ve had a season that was a bit all over the place. We won a few races including the Indianapolis 500, which was incredible, but then we’ve had a number of DNFs. The No. 12 Verizon Chevy team has worked so hard this season, but we need to keep at it for a run at the championship. We want to do everything we can to really put on a really good show for the last race of the season and give it all we got.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Sonoma is such a cool place to drive. It’s fast, technical and full of elevation changes. When you put all that together, it makes for a pretty challenging track. I’ve enjoyed racing in Sonoma since INDYCAR started there in 2005. You know it always has a great crowd, great fans and an awesome atmosphere overall. It’s a track that will surely be missed by the paddock. It’s unbelievable how fast the season has gone and we’re looking forward to finishing it up on a high note to lead the No. 14 ABC Supply car into the offseason with a morale booster. We’ve all been working very hard to rebuild the team hopefully we’ll see the results soon.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 TOTAL Honda): “Sonoma has always been a tough track for me personally but I have had good results there. I probably have more top-10s there than almost anywhere else in my career. It’s an important race with double points on the line. It’s going to be important to have a really solid run there. We can move all the way up to sixth place (in the championship) but we can also move back quite a ways. We’re going to keep our eyes and minds focused forward and try to move up in points. Penske has been the standard there, so from a competitive standpoint, I think we will be OK but we need to find a little bit more to end the season strong. From the championship perspective, however it ends up, there will be a great champion. Someone that is obviously very deserving of the honor. Alexander Rossi has had an amazing year and so has Dixie (Scott Dixon) and (Will) Power. It really could be anybody’s championship at the end of this thing.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “The SealMaster Honda No. 18 has been good on the permanent road courses this year and we test at Sonoma on Thursday, so that will be a big help. Hopefully, we’ll come off the transporter with a good baseline, are competitive and just have to fine-tune the car. The season finale in Sonoma is worth double points, so we still have a chance to pick up a position or two and finish solidly in the top 10 in the championship. That is our goal. We just have to keep working hard and do the best we can.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “I obviously want to keep the momentum going at Sonoma. We had a good weekend at Gateway and then again at Portland, and hopefully we can have another good one at Sonoma to end the season. We tested there in February and it went really well. The No. 19 Paysafe car was strong but the conditions were very different from what it will be this week. It was a cold track back then and now it’s going to be a lot warmer. But again, we’re coming off of two strong race weekends, the car has been consistently fast, so I’m looking forward to this weekend. I’m recovering every week, I’m getting better every weekend that I’m back in the car, I’m getting stronger and faster, so I’m happy with that. We just have to keep it going.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “My first time in an Indy car was at Sonoma Raceway, so I am ready to go back to see my progress and what I can do after a year in the car. We were pretty strong at Sonoma in preseason testing and we’ve made good progress throughout the year, so I am looking forward to seeing the comparison.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “Going to Sonoma Raceway is always a little bittersweet because it’s such a great area and track, but it’s the last time we get to race this year, which is a shame. It’s a very difficult track to manage outright speed and tire degradation, so we will need to develop a plan very quickly once we start practice. We’ve had some really good races recently; hopefully, we can have one more and end the season on a high note for the Fuzzy’s Vodka team.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “I can’t believe it’s the last race of the season already. It’s been a tough season but we’re ready to finish it out strong. We won last year’s race at Sonoma, so myself and the No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet team feel good about the race. It’s unfortunately our last race at Sonoma and I’m definitely going to miss it. It’s a really great road course with a lot to do locally for race fans and people working in the series, so I know we’re all going to miss it but I’m looking forward to giving our last race there my all.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “It’s been such a whirlwind year for the Carlin team – from our first tests in the winter, to qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, a top-five finish and all of the ups and downs in between. Going into this season there were so many unknowns, but I knew Carlin had the right people with the right work ethic who would do everything possible to make every weekend a success. Sometimes success looked like a top-five finish and sometimes it was just evaluating and learning after a tough race. But as we go into the finale at Sonoma Raceway, I know this entire team has grown leaps and bounds since our first laps in St. Pete. I’m looking forward to finishing out the season on a strong note for the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet team.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group 1001 Honda): “It’s hard to believe we’re already at the last race of my rookie season in (the Verizon) IndyCar (Series). We’ve accomplished a lot this year, top-10s, a couple top-fives and just last weekend our first (Firestone) Fast Six (in qualifying). We’d definitely love to close the season out with a best finish in the Group 1001 car. I know we have the speed to keep the momentum up in Sonoma.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “It’s crazy to think that we are already at the end of the season. 2018 has been a great year for many reasons and I am excited to be able to close it out at my home track in front of an always large group of family and friends. We have had some really strong pace in the second half of the year, so we will be looking to execute the same thing this weekend, and hopefully, it will be enough to walk away with our first INDYCAR championship.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “It’s been a season of highs and lows and we’re heading into the season finale coming off our strong effort in Portland, where we nearly won. The DHL team will be looking to close out the year on top with a win and double points at Sonoma.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “Sonoma Raceway is a very challenging track in terms of engineering because there are many corners that could conflict with each other for best performance, so it is always tough to find a good compromise point. It’s very challenging for drivers, too, with high speeds and a few blind corners, which makes it a lot of fun, but you definitely need a good commitment. There is always high motivation for any race weekend but winning is such a special moment and the boys (crew) and engineers should really feel proud and positive. I certainly hope the win (at Portland on Sept. 2) provides extra motivation! It definitely gave us good momentum for the next race, for sure. An off weekend after a win is very good. I enjoyed the moment. It’s been a tough season for the team, but we always fought back strong and at the mid-season point we were very strong despite some unlucky moments. Sonoma is going to be a big weekend for everyone. We will focus on being at a high competitive level. If we could finish strong, then the overall standing should raise, too. I want to have a good race. The championship fight will be quite exciting to watch. I think all of the top three guys have a chance to win the championship and that shows how competitive INDYCAR was all year.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 39 Cly-Del Honda): “I’ve never been to Sonoma, so, fortunately, we have the test day on Thursday. The extra track time should be beneficial in helping me get up to speed before official practice starts on Friday. I’m feeling confident heading into the weekend. We ran really strong in Portland and I think we can do the same thing in Sonoma. I know the track layout is fast, it’s very technical and I’m grateful to have a teammate like Sebastien (Bourdais), who I’m sure will be a huge help once again, especially on the test day.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “I’m excited to get back to Sonoma this weekend – the track is really fun to drive. It’s very physical and hilly – great for the fans. Sonoma does a great job of giving fans multiple viewing points up high where they can see more than one corner. It’s hard to believe it’s already the last race of our first season at Carlin and I’m really hoping we can end the season with a good result for all of the Gallagher guests who will be in Sonoma on Sunday. It might not have always shown in our results, but this team has come so far and I’m proud to be a part of the Carlin family. Obviously, we were hoping for stronger results throughout the season for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet, but the data and experience we’ve gained throughout the team’s rookie season will be invaluable in making next season even stronger.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation SiriusXM MSR with SPM Honda): “Sonoma is a special place for me. I swept the (2014) weekend there in Indy Lights with both poles and both wins and Sonoma was also where I had my first Indy car test. I raced there last year but we didn’t have the result that we had hoped for. I am hoping that we can continue the momentum that the team has from our weekend in Portland and then the team’s sports car win at Laguna Seca this past weekend. We have been improving every race and I think we can keep this flow of momentum heading to Sonoma.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet):  “I’m super happy to get my start in (the Verizon) IndyCar (Series this) weekend for the Sonoma Grand Prix. (Team owner) Mike Harding and (team president) Brian Barnhart have been very supportive in this effort and I can’t think of a better place to get my start in (the) IndyCar (Series). There are too many people to thank for this opportunity, but I’m very thankful for Harding Racing.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “It’s very important to end our year strong with the double points. We haven’t been finishing where our pace deserves lately. We need to capitalize here, especially with it being the last Sonoma race. It would be cool to get a second win there.”

Previous F1 competition doesn’t guarantee IndyCar success at COTA

Manor F1 Photo
Manor F1 Photo
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AUSTIN, Texas – Familiarity does not breed success, according to three NTT IndyCar Series drivers who have previous experience at Circuit of the Americas in the Formula One United States Grand Prix. Several other drivers, including IndyCar Series rookie Patricio O’Ward, competed in the LMPC IMSA race in 2017.

Although the course is the same – 20-turns and 3.41-miles – the cars are completely different. The highly-advanced, technologically-driven Formula One cars are advanced beyond the realm of anything allowed in the NTT IndyCar Series. It’s more about the driver in IndyCar, which uses an impressive, but simpler formula to help showcase driver skill more than technology in its races.

Money buys speed in Formula One, but an IndyCar team doesn’t need a $400 million budget to go racing. It can get by on $5 millions to $10 million a year and contend for plenty of race victories and championships.

Andretti Autosport star Alexander Rossi drove in five Formula One races with Manor in 2015. The above photo is from his only F1 contest at COTA that season. He was the first driver ever to turn laps at COTA shortly after it was constructed in 2012.

Rossi had his best F1 finish in the 2015 United States Grand Prix when he started 17thand finished 12th.

“When I’ve come here in the past, I came into the weekend fully knowing that there was no chance to ever really do anything from a results perspective,” Rossi said. “To could come here to a track that I’ve spent a lot of time at, not necessarily driven a whole lot, but spent a huge amount of time at. To come into this weekend’s race, competing on a level where we have as good a shot as any, to win the race would be pretty cool.

“There’s kind of an almost unfinished business box that we’d like to tick here in some way. I’m very excited to get the weekend started.”

Chilton raced the entire F1 season in 2013 and 2014 with Marussia. He started 21stand finished 21stin 2013. He started in the first 16 races during the 2014 F1 season but was out of a ride by the time F1 arrived at COTA that season.

Me and Alex probably had pretty similar experiences,” Chilton told NBC Sports.com “Obviously the more laps are better — but the car we were in, we weren’t doing much racing, so the sort of racing experience part isn’t going to help.

“It’s good to be back. I first came here in 2013 for the (United States) Grand Prix. I loved the track. I love the city. I really enjoyed the whole facility, the race track. It’s a pretty long track in an Indy car but it’s got lots of overtaking potential for us and hopefully we’ll put on a great show.

“It’s great to have an English band like Muse on Saturday night, as well.”

Marcus Ericsson of Sweden has the most experience at COTA of any driver in the field for Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic. He competed in 97 F1 contests from 2014-2018 before becoming an IndyCar rookie with Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports this season.

Ericsson was 15thin 2015, 14thin 2016, 15thin 2017 and 10thin last year’s USGP.

“I’ve been here quite a few times,” Ericsson said. “It’s one of the best tracks on F1 and I think it’s great we are going here with INDYCAR. It’s going to be a great weekend.

“The racing should be very good. It’s already good on F1 on this track and from what I’ve done in INDYCAR, it’s going to be a really good show from everyone and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Ericsson emphasized that the his F1 experience does not necessarily give him any type of advantage in an IndyCar.

“I think for me I was here a couple months ago in F1 doing the race in ’18. I had all my reference points and then I did the first run and realized that didn’t really work,” Ericsson explained to NBC Sports.com “So I don’t know that the experience — it’s good to know the track, but then the Indy cars are very different cars to the F1 (car) so you have to sort of drive it quite differently and in the end, I think it didn’t really help the maximum amount in my opinion.

“The problem is we had two days of testing already in IndyCar. If we had come here straightaway without any testing it would be an advantage of one hundredth approximate. But now, if you don’t get the track in two days, I don’t think you would be in IndyCar.

“I don’t think it’s a big advantage now going into the weekend.”

But every little bit helps and if all of those little “bits” of information are added up, previous experience can provide a benefit in the race.

“For sure there’s things I can bring from my experience there that helps in INDYCAR, but the Indy car to drive today is different than the Formula One cars with the power steering and everything,” Ericsson continued. “I think it’s two different cars and what I found here on the test; things that worked in the F1 car didn’t really work in the Indy car. I think both cars of very difficult to be fast in but in different ways.

“For sure my experience in F1, it’s helped me to get into INDYCAR.”

James Hinchcliffe, who has never driven in Formula One, or at COTA, believes he has the best experience of any driver in Austin this weekend.

“I know where the restaurants are, so that’s cool,” Hinchcliffe said.