What Drivers Said after qualifying for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Sonoma


Here’s What Drivers Said after Saturday’s qualifying session for Sunday’s season-ending and championship-deciding Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s disappointing it (the lap time) wasn’t enough. I thought our Verizon car was really quick and I was excited for the Firestone Fast Six. I thought that was where we would shine, and then when you get there and finish third, you’re a bit disappointed. We’re just going to try to work on our race car now and do well there. If (running fast all race) is what we get to do, that will be fun. I don’t know what we’re going to do yet, just because I haven’t fully looked at the strategy yet, but yes, if we are on the go-quick-all-day game, that’s a good day to be in the race car.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It was a tough qualifying for the ABC Supply car No. 4, we just missed the pace today, the whole weekend, to be honest. We were trying a different setup for qualifying, but it didn’t work very well for us. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We’re going to debrief with the team, see what Tony (Kanaan) tested, see what he likes, what he doesn’t and focus on tomorrow’s race. We might have a shot to have a great race tomorrow. It’s the last one of the year, so we’ll try to finish on a high note.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “We needed to improve with the wind going this direction, unfortunately. Yesterday, it was a complete 180 from the way it’s blowing – we just don’t have the car sorted for that. With the Firestone reds (alternate tires) the way they are, it’s kind of one and done on the laps and I made a couple small mistakes. With the field being this competitive, you just can’t afford to do that. I feel bad for the Arrow Electronics guys, we should be starting further up than that. It’s definitely been a struggle this weekend. We’ll put our thinking caps on and see what we can do to make it better tomorrow.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “I’m a little disappointed with my qualifying run. I made a mistake that cost me a few positions. This track is a really important track position kind of track, but we’ll do our best tomorrow. Hopefully with our strategy, we’ll have a little more pace on our long runs in the Lucas Oil car. We’ll fight it out tomorrow.”

PATRICIO O’WARD (No. 8 Harding Group Chevrolet): “I think it’s pretty cool. I honestly don’t know what to think about it. 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. 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. Harding and Team Chevy have given me an awesome opportunity so far. The focus this weekend has been, obviously, to do a good job. My objective was always just to be in the top 10, so it was an objective succeeded.

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “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. 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.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think we’ve had pace in the NTT DATA car all weekend to be in the top eight or so. And potentially, if things went our way, we could have been in the Firestone Fast Six. It’s just super frustrating. We had a car that was fast enough to progress and get through qualifying.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “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. It’s really no one’s fault because I was pushing to just do it in one lap, as well. It wasn’t just a good lap. It’s unfortunate. We will look ahead to the race and see what we can do from seventh.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It was the lap of my life. It’s a shame you do such a good lap with what you’ve got and you start where we are. I’m not saying I’m happy where we’re starting, but I’m happy that we found something that we can work on for tomorrow and during the offseason to make this car better. But, I’m also happy that I really put a good lap together, that is satisfying for me (personally). It’s nice when I can make the difference. That’s why we’re a team, if the car’s not there, I can make the car go there. It was my best lap of the weekend and one of my best qualifying (laps) ever. Not the (best) result, but putting a perfect lap together. That’s a shame because sometimes it doesn’t mean that the perfect lap that you put together will be the fastest lap on the racetrack, but it’s the fastest lap of your limits and what you had in your hands. We’ll keep fighting. I don’t give up, that’s not in my vocabulary. I’m not giving up.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 TOTAL Honda): “I think we found some good improvements between Rounds 1 and 2 that helped the Total Honda. We still have a little bit of work to do. Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day. Without a morning warmup, I think there will be a lot of drivers and teams scratching their heads wondering what to do. We certainly didn’t have three-plus-tenths (of a second) to advance, but to be ninth was decent. I expect both tires (Firestone alternate reds and Firestone primary blacks) to fall off a lot, so we’ll see. I don’t know which one will be preferred. Actually, I thought the reds were going to be, but then in qualifying from lap to lap, you can feel the rear tire degradation a little bit whereas the blacks don’t seem as bad.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “On the blacks (Firestone primary tires), the SealMaster Honda No. 18 is pretty solid in comparison to everybody else. On the red (Firestone alternate) tires, we simply don’t have it. The gap to the guys in front is big. We also got caught in traffic. There were just too many things wrong for us to make it today. We’ll take a look at the data and see what we can come with for tomorrow.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “We had a test on Thursday and practice yesterday and our No. 19 Paysafe car was competitive on both days. The conditions are always changing here at Sonoma Raceway, especially the wind, it changes direction a lot. Coming into qualifying, we had a lot of tail wind, mostly in the heavy braking zones, which made it tricky for everyone. The track temperature was also a lot hotter than the morning, so we knew it was going to be tough. That said, I think we put in a decent qualifying effort, qualifying seventh in our group, so we’ll be starting 13th tomorrow. Our goal was to make it to Round 2 and we were very close in doing so, but it just wasn’t our day today. We’re always making progress and now we need to focus on tomorrow, and hopefully, we can come out of it with another solid top-10 finish.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It was quite tricky really. We seemed quite strong, but starting our run on reds (Firestone alternate tires), we had a problem somewhere. We’re just plugging into the car, trying to work out exactly what happened. We had to come into the pits, so I didn’t get to set a lap time on reds. I think we were going to be close to the cutoff time. It’s annoying when you can be inside the top 10, but you end up last. Tomorrow, it’s going to be a long race. I think it will be quite physical; the circuit seems quite demanding. It’s going to change a lot as the race goes on. Running both Firestone compounds, the black (Firestone primary tires) and reds, will be a balancing act on how you set up the car and how you drive. There are going to be a lot of variables.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “We were trying to change the balance from this morning to get the car more where needed it to be, but we didn’t quite hit the nail on the head, unfortunately. We haven’t done more than a handful of laps each outing, so the race will be a bit of an unknown. Hopefully, we can keep the tires underneath us and have a good, consistent car. It will be a tough starting position for the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, but it’s a long race. We’ve got a great team here and we’ll try our best to make our way up tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “We’ve made great progress this weekend and today, for sure. I’ve found my smile again. I haven’t been that happy on road courses all year long and we’ve made mega progress. I’m really happy with the car in general. Now, it’s just that last bit of time that is on the table. Now it is all about the little details to get just a little bit more and that is very satisfying. We are very strong in race pace as well, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow. There is going to be a lot of tire degradation and it’s going to be an interesting race.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “We really struggled with grip there on the Firestone alternate (tires), so we’ll evaluate that. Tomorrow is going to be a very different beast the way the track grip and tire degradation is, so 85 laps and trying to make the fuel mileage work for the whole race is going to be quite interesting. The engineers will figure out what we need for the car tomorrow and we’ll go racing.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group 1001 Honda): “I’m a little disappointed to be starting 10th. I think we definitely had a car to be starting a little further up. I didn’t get the clean lap we needed. That’s why Sonoma is so tough – you get one lap to really do it and that’s about it. I just made a small mistake going through Turn 2 on the fast lap and that’s what solidified our fate. But, I know we have a good car and we’ll keep pushing and move forward tomorrow. I think this season has really helped me understand how the whole process works a little better – getting timing, making sure you have the right gap and have the car set up properly for the reds (Firestone alternate tires). I think we were just a little too aggressive for the reds today. Comparing where we were in St. Pete to Portland and here, I’m really happy with the progress we’ve made this season.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “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. 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. I don’t see us starting behind (Scott) Dixon 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. It will be difficult without the warmup tomorrow. It’s a little bit of a guessing game, but my engineer, Jeremy (Milless), missed his daughter’s birthday for this, so happy birthday! We’ll make sure we make the right decisions to have a fast race car. We have really good teammates around us and in front of us, so we’ll lean on them to help build a fast car for tomorrow.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “It was a shootout out there right to the last minute with trying to figure out which tires to go with, but the Firestone reds (alternate tires) were just awesome in the Firestone Fast Six. This No. 28 DHL Honda team did just such a good job putting a great car under me. It’s nice to finally get that pole at Sonoma because we’ve been knocking on the door for it for years, so definitely a good team effort.” (On helping his teammate’s championship efforts): “I’m certainly doing my part, as I just took away a point from (Scott Dixon), so we are doing everything we can do. Big group effort from all four Andretti Autosport cars. We just put our heads together and made a fast race car today. And yes, we would be in title contention today if we didn’t have five DNFs, but all in all, though, a pretty positive season. We’ve been in contention everywhere we go, so hats off to these guys putting a great car under me and I was able to put a lap together when it counted.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “Qualifying provided a mixture of feelings. In Round 1, the car reacted how we expected, but when we put the red (Firestone alternate) tires on, the car was not quite there. In Round 2, we struggled with the balance. It was very close, but I just didn’t get good grip out of the tire. I wish we had a higher starting position, but I think tomorrow we will be strong for the race and hope we can gain back some positions.”

SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 39 Cly-Del Honda): “We had a top-six car for qualifying. I was working a really good lap at the end, but the wind caught me a little off guard and I locked the rears and lost the car going into the last turn and it cost us a shot at (Round 2). There’s not much else to say. I want to say thanks to the crew and the team for providing me an awesome car. We will just have to pass a lot more cars than we were hoping to tomorrow. I think our Cly-Del Manufacturing car will be good in the race. It’s going to be about being smart and moving up the field, keeping our head down and making up spots and hopefully a few yellows (flags) go our way.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “That was a really frustrating session because we felt like we’d made a step forward. I hit traffic on my first run which compromised our warmup lap, which meant I didn’t have the tire temperature I needed. On my second run, the car felt better, but it just didn’t quite come together. This really isn’t a reflection of where we should have been today.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation SiriusXM MSR with SPM Honda): “That qualifying run was probably representative of where we were in practice. The competition is so high when you get to this level. At this track, you really have to produce when everything is good because when it’s not good it just makes it that extra bit harder. The guys are working really hard and continue to engineer the car well for me. We just haven’t quite stumbled upon that combination just yet. As always, we are working as hard to put our AutoNation / SiriusXM car up front. We have a lot of guests here, so we want to put on a great race for them.”

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “I just finished up my first Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying session. I was kind of a nervous wreck beforehand.  Once I got in the car and got situated, I felt a lot more comfortable and just tried to progress each and every session. I had a fairly clean lap and didn’t make any mistakes, so I am happy with my lap on the reds (Firestone alternate tires), just missing a little bit. A tenth would have got us in the Firestone Fast Six, (or) fast 12. It’s just so close in Indy car racing, and if you make that slight little mistake, you are not going to do well. I think our pace on old tires has been good, so I can’t wait to get into the race and see how we do.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “I think this U.S. Concrete team did a really good job with staying with the track. We learned a really tough lesson on (Firestone alternate red tires) yesterday; we were 16th. We were able to get within a tenth-and-a-half, but that’s not good enough. When (Scott) Dixon sent it off (during the Firestone Fast Six), I thought that was my shot at pole because he would’ve lost his laps, but that wasn’t in the cards. Luckily Ryan (Hunter-Reay) stole the point from (Dixon).”

IndyCar drivers say Thermal Club could host race after successful opening day to test

IndyCar Thermal race
Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images

THERMAL, Calif. – The “motorsports country club” passed the first test (figuratively and literally) with NTT IndyCar Series drivers pleased enough to proclaim The Thermal Club as race-eligible after its debut.

Though there were a few minor incidents on the 17-turn, 3.067-mile permanent road course east of Palm Springs in Southern California’s Coachella Valley, there was no significant damage for the 27 full-time cars that turned 1,119 laps Thursday.

Perhaps more importantly, drivers seemed to enjoy the ride around the track, which is unlike anything on the current circuit.

“I would love to race here,” said Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, who posted the 10th-quickest time (1 minute, 39.9077 seconds) in the No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he will race on street and road courses after coming from the F2 Series. “I think it’s awesome. Would have to do a lot of neck training prior to the race because it’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway.

PRACTICE SPEEDS: First session l Second session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“I think it’s cool. Very flowing, banked corners, banked high-speed corners. In terms of racing, it could be potentially not a lot of overtaking. You’d have to commit hard (in) maybe Turn 1. It wouldn’t be the easiest place to overtake. As a whole facility and circuit, it’s very enjoyable.”

Juncos Hollinger Racing No. 77 Chevrolet driver Callum Ilott, another F2 veteran who is entering his second year in IndyCar, was seventh fastest. Ilott said Thermal would “set a standard really of what we want to be doing with this series.

“It’s really, really high level, high tech,” said Ilott, whose rookie teammate Agustin Canapino went off course twice but incurred no major trouble. “As a circuit, yeah, it’s got a little bit different corners. I think the overtaking — we’ll find a way, we’re IndyCar — someone always sends it down the inside. I think if we can extend the straight and get some overtaking between Turn 6 and 7. It’s definitely a great circuit to drive and good fun and a bit different to the normal winter training we get in Florida. So I like the circuit.

“I think if we could, it would be good to race here once.”

Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta, who turned the fastest lap (1:39.3721) in his No. 26, also was optimistic despite the passing challenges.

“I think it really comes down to tire deg, what people are showing with that,” Herta said. “It will be tough to pass, right? A lot of the good braking zones, you’re coming off of high-speed corners, so it will be hard to follow.

“But you never know. I would say some of the tracks we go to would be terrible for racing, and IndyCar still puts on a great show. You never know until it’s tested and proven right or wrong.”

The possibility of adding an IndyCar race at The Thermal Club has been floated, but there would be some challenges. It likely would be a made-for-TV event given it’s a private club (and filled with multimillion-dollar homes filled with vintage cars). The test is closed to the public and open only to members and VIPs.

There also are some areas that would need to be improved, namely the galvanized steel Armco barriers that ring the track and generally are considered antiquated in motorsports.

“I think the Armco might propose a little bit of an issue,” Ilott said. “Again, it depends on what angle you’re hitting them obviously. It’s a pretty straightforward process to make it a bit safer and a bit more cushiony. I’m not in charge of that stuff. I just drive and try not to hit those things.

“I think it’s a straightforward process. To be fair, everyone has had a little moment today, spun and carried on. That’s a good start. Obviously there are anomalies, these things happen. So far, so good.”

Said Herta: For sure. It probably needs a little bit of work. They’ve already done a lot for us to come here already. It seems like if they do want to have a race here, they’re willing to put the work in and money in to upgrade the facility to make it a little bit safer for us.”

Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was second fastest (1:39.3767), followed by Alex Palou (1:39.3970) and Romain Grosjean (1:39.4826). Will Power was the top Chevrolet driver in fifth (1:39.5690).

Though Andretti had two of the top four times, Herta downplayed the significance other than getting reacclimated to his team.

“Just a lot of knocking the rust off,” he said. “It’s quite a long offseason without being in the car. I don’t know how much we’re really going to learn from running here. It’s really good to get the team back into it, get all the boys working again. Yeah, just get everybody back into the flow of it.

“It could be a huge shake-up when we go to St. Pete and who’s up front and who’s at the back. It is too early to tell. It’s nice just to be back in the car and get lap times down, get everybody working again.

“The track surface is very strange, very different to anything I’ve really felt in IndyCar. It’s seven first-gear corners. We don’t really have that many anywhere we go on a street course. It is quite a bit slower than our natural terrain courses. But I don’t want to be in here and dig it the whole time. It’s a fun track to drive, especially the back section. It keeps you on your toes. It doesn’t really replicate anything else that we go (race).”

The test will continue with another six-hour session Friday.