IndyCar: Dixon cites driver error for missing the pole, Rossi laments tire gamble in qualifying

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Qualifying for Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma was always going to be critical, with a championship point on the line and all four championship contenders – Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden – desperately wanting it for themselves, or at least hoping their title rivals didn’t secure it.

As the seconds ticked down, it appeared a certainty that Dixon would secure the pole and the point that goes along with it, which would have increased his lead over Rossi to 30 points, and 88 over Power and Newgarden.

And even though he made a mistake on his final run – he had to shortcut the Turn 9/9a chicane after braking loose on entry – he remained in P1 due to his lap from earlier in the Firestone Fast Six, and he still looked good to take the pole.

That is, until Ryan Hunter-Reay, the last man on track, came through to snatch it away.

Dixon was his usual gracious self afterward, admitting his mistake and offering congratulations to Hunter-Reay.

“I think we definitely had a shot to put the PNC Bank car on pole today, but we’ll have to chalk that up to driver error,” Dixon explained. “I had a lap going that would have gotten the pole, but I just made a mistake and it cost us. Congrats to Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti (Autosport) on the pole, though. We’ve had a fast car all weekend here at Sonoma and we’ve stayed at the pointy end of the field since we unloaded. Hopefully, that will continue in the race tomorrow and we can finish the season strong.”

Alexander Rossi, meanwhile, lamented a qualifying gamble that saw him only use the Firestone primary blacks in the Firestone Fast Six while everyone else used the alternate reds.

Rossi explained that he and the No. 27 Napa Auto Parts Andretti Autosport team wanted to stay aggressive, as has been their habit in the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, but that it simply backfired.

Alexander Rossi gambled on using the Firestone primary blacks in the Fast Six, but it ultimately backfired. Photo: IndyCar

“I don’t think going out on the blacks (Firestone primary tires) was the right call, but we’re trying to stay aggressive and trying to capitalize in areas where we think we can,” Rossi lamented. “In the end of the day, I don’t think we had the pace for Ryan (Hunter-Reay), but we decided to try something different and see where it got us. This race is 85 laps. It’s pretty difficult to just do one lap around here, let alone 85, so we’ll make sure we build a good race car.”

Still, Rossi is not bothered by starting behind Dixon in Sunday’s race – Dixon qualified second, while Rossi will start sixth.

“I don’t see us starting behind Dixon as that big of an issue, we just need to make sure we build a good race car and make sure we do the best job that we can and extract the most out of the No. 27,” he asserted.

Power and O’Ward Surprise During Qualifying, but for Very Different Reasons

Perhaps the two biggest surprises from Saturday qualifying were Will Power and Patricio O’Ward. However, they were for vastly different reasons.

For Power, who has won at Sonoma Raceway three times, expectations were that he would battle for the pole. Indeed, he advanced out of Round 1 with relative ease, but things did not go according to plan after that.

In Round 2, Power tried to advance to the Fast Six by doing a one-lap run at the end. However, things did not go according to plan and he just missed the Fast Six as a result.

Power admitted afterward that he and the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet team simply made a mistake.

Will Power failed to make the Fast Six after trying a one-lap run late in Round 2. Photo: IndyCar

“It wasn’t the right call to do one lap in that session. We did two laps on the first set (of tires) and we were trying to do it in just one lap in the second session and the guys called me in. And, of course, we should have done two laps because the guys went faster behind me,” Power explained. “It’s really no one’s fault because I was pushing to just do it in one lap, as well. It just wasn’t a good lap. It’s unfortunate. We will look ahead to the race and see what we can do from seventh.”

O’Ward, meanwhile, created a very different kind of surprise.

The 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion, making his IndyCar debut with Harding Racing, impressed everyone on Friday by going third quickest in Practice 2. And he continued to shine during qualifying, advancing not only out of Round 1 but then making the Fast Six, all in his very first start.

An elated O’Ward, who will start fifth, was beside himself to be alongside some of the biggest names in IndyCar in advancing to the Fast Six.

Patricio O’Ward and Harding Racing had a lot to smile about after qualifying fifth. Photo: IndyCar

“When I saw that I moved into the Firestone Fast Six, I saw (Josef) Newgarden, (Scott) Dixon, (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, (Marco) Andretti, (Alexander) Rossi – such big names – you’ve been looking at them for years and years and years, since I was a kid. Scott has been racing for a long time. I think even before I started my open-wheel career, Josef was already in INDYCAR. Basically, everybody here was already in INDYCAR. It’s just something unique,” O’Ward expressed.

O’Ward, who also gave Harding Racing its first appearance in the Firestone Fast Six, added that, while he definitely took everyone by surprise with his performance, he coached himself into believing it was possible.

“It’s something that you have to start believing that you can be like them, that you can beat them, that you can give them a run for their money. It’s a new feeling. I really don’t know what to think about it. I couldn’t be more stoked for the team. I’m really happy I got to give them their first Firestone Fast Six.”

Power will start seventh for Sunday’s race, while O’Ward will take the green flag from fifth.

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Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds