Sonoma: Bash’s Saturday thoughts

IndyCar commentary — By on August 27, 2011 10:17 pm

It was another cool, foggy morning that greeted us at Infineon Raceway today — and the fog lingered a bit, which helped keep temperatures down. The forecast called for 90 degrees, but just after the first qualifying group, it was 75 under perfect conditions.

Morning practice was very entertaining with a few drivers opting for alternate red-sidewalled Firestone tires and gaining nearly a second over their times on the primary compound. AFS/Sam Schmidt Motorsports/Kingdom Racing’s Martin Plowman flew in the 17 car, putting himself at the top of the chart with his red tires assisting. Fellow rookie James Jakes was fifth in the Dale Coyne Racing number 18, and Sebastian Saavedra was eighth in the number 34 Conquest Racing machine, all on the alternate reds. We knew the big guys would mix in when qualifying started, but it was fun to see a few unusual names high on the chart.

After practice, Randy Bernard had a press availability, finally weighing in on the Race Control controversy that brewed after the aborted restart at New Hampshire Motor Speedway two weekends ago. He stated absolute support for President of Competition/Chief Steward Brian Barnhart. He complimented Barnhart for stepping up and admitting the mistake instead of trying to hide it, and he added that people don’t understand what goes into the job Race Control does. To that end, Bernard announced that, starting at next week’s race in Baltimore, everyone with Verizon’s INDYCAR Mobile app will be able to watch a live video feed of Race Control at work. (Unfortunately for those without Verizon service, this feed will not be available elsewhere.) Bernard said that lots of teams have asked him not to fire Barnhart and that there will be a reevaluation of the rule book in the off-season to make sure it’s what everyone wants.

Bernard also mentioned that the deadline for the $5 million challenge at Las Vegas is August 30th. Kasey Kahne is very interested, but he only wants to race for Team Penske, and they have declined to participate as they are focused solely on the championship. Alex Zanardi wants to race as well, but he’ll only do it for Ganassi, and Chip’s team has also declined to participate as they are also focused solely on the championship. Bernard said Travis Pastrana was nearly set to go, with three sponsors calling to ask how they could be involved, when he broke his ankle in a racing accident and had to withdraw. The three drivers he named are the only three out of about two dozen interested parties that he feels could move the needle. Bernard said there may not be anyone taking advantage of the challenge, but that he still has ideas and they haven’t given up just yet.

Bernard commented on GoDaddy’s announcement that they will be staying with Andretti Autosport despite Danica Patrick going to NASCAR next season. Bernard said they knew a few months ago that Danica was leaving and that it was important to put a winner — a star — in the GoDaddy car to continue to take advantage of that company’s reach and willingness to spend, promote, and activate.

Terry Angstadt, president of INDYCAR’s commercial division, told us that a race in China next year is 90% a done deal. He said they hope to have a signed contract and deposit finalized by next Friday. The race would be in Qingdao — or Tsingtao, as it is better known in the west. (Yes, that Tsingtao, for all the beer fans out there. Qingdao is home to the famous brewer of China’s best known ale.) The city is also the headquarters of the Haier appliances company and is considered one of China’s most livable cities.

Qualifying for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma started just after 2:30 PM local time with Will Power, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Mike Conway, and E. J. Viso advancing out of round one in the first group.

In the second group, Ana Beatriz brought some excitement by challenging the big guys and doing a great job staying with them to advance. The top six in group two were Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Beatriz, James Hinchcliffe, Alex Tagliani, and Giorgio Pantano, who’s driving the #22 Dreyer and  Reinbold Racing machine for the injured Justin Wilson. Second-round action resulted in Power, Briscoe, Castroneves, Franchitti, Dixon, and Hinchcliffe advancing to the Firestone Fast 6. Hinch is having a terrific rookie season and is threatening to become a driver who shows up in the Fast 6 regularly.

And in the Fast 6, Team Penske showed their strength at this gorgeous facility and took the top three qualifying positions. Will Power snagged yet another Peak Performance Pole Award trophy (his sixth this year), and Helio will start on the outside of row one. Briscoe starts third with Franchitti next to him. Dixon and Hinchcliffe constitute row three.

Here are a few things to watch for tomorrow:

  • Franchitti vs Power — what will the championship standings look like at the end of the race?
  • Hinchcliffe — will he avoid rookie mistakes like the ones that cost him at Mid-Ohio and challenge for the podium?
  • Ana Beatriz — will she capitalize on her comfort and speed this weekend to move up from her 10th place starting position?
  • New(er) Faces — how will Pantano, Plowman, Pagenaud and Ho-Pin Tung race tomorrow?
  • Firestone Reds — will this year’s alternate tires make the race more exciting that usual?
Watch this space tomorrow for a wrap-up and answers to the questions above. Please also follow the day’s events at my Twitter account @SpeedFreakBash.
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