Sonoma: Bash’s Sunday thoughts

IndyCar commentary — By on August 28, 2011 8:36 pm

It was yet another typical day at Infineon Raceway.

For starters, the fog was thick as pea soup this morning and caused a delay for the INDYCAR morning warm-up. June through August is fog season here, so it was no surprise to see the hills all hidden from view. The medical helicopter was on site, but visibility was too poor for it to take off. The 9 AM practice was delayed until 10:15.

Again, as is typical, the sun came out during practice and what started as a cool day quickly warmed into perfection. The evenings and nights here can be foggy or clear, but they’re always very cool. It’s something to keep in mind if you ever visit this area in the summer: dress in layers and bring sunblock.

And in even more typical fashion, despite the bigger promotional push this year, this race was under-attended. In fact, it felt less crowded than last year. The main grandstand might have been half-full, and as I looked around the facility, the remaining stands were sparsely populated. The grandstands are above the north half of pit lane and near the garages, fan village, and food vendors, so there is often a decent crowd there. The problem with the grandstands is that, while you can see some pit stops, you don’t get to see much of the rest of the track from there. Usually the stands in turns 2-3 and turn 7 are more populated because those parts of the track are elevated and offer a nice view of most of the course. Those areas are my barometer for attendance here, and the sparse crowds there weren’t what I had hoped to see.

This is the final year of the contract for this race, and I know the sponsors want this one to be renewed. This is a very popular place for corporate events. And yes, it’s my other home track (Indy will always be my first home track), and I would hate to lose a race in this area. But I have no idea what the bottom line is for this event, and with new venues coming online, a race or two currently on the schedule might have to go. This could be one of them.

As for today’s race: typical. Not terribly exciting, not much passing, and a display of world domination by Will Power and Team Penske. They just race well here, even though they’re having a rough season overall (well, rough by their standards). Power won the pole and just disappeared once the green flag flew. There was one caution with just 10 laps to go (that is atypical, but maybe not a good thing!), and Power kept his lead at the restart to win the race and close the points gap to Dario Franchitti to 26. Power’s Penske teammates finished behind him on the podium, with Helio Castroneves second and Ryan Briscoe third. Dario Franchitti explained, “The Penske guys did a great job. From qualifying onward, their cars were really good on Firestone reds. I think we were as good on the blacks, but didn’t count because the reds were a bit faster.”

Behind Team Penske was Target Chip Ganassi Racing, with Dario fourth and Scott Dixon fifth. (Pressdog’s “Death Star” won this day.) But rounding out the top 10 were Sebastien Bourdais, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, EJ Viso and Ryan Hunter-Reay — a nice representation of other teams knocking on the door of the top five.

In yesterday’s thoughts, I posed a few questions. Here are some answers (in parentheses):

  • Franchitti vs Power — what will the championship standings look like at the end of the race? (Closer. This is a better story now.)
  • Hinchcliffe — will he avoid rookie mistakes like the ones that cost him at Mid-Ohio and challenge for the podium? (Yes. Seventh place is not too bad for the rookie Mayor of Hinchtown.)
  • Ana Beatriz — will she capitalize on her comfort and speed this weekend to move up from her 10th place starting position? (No. But she was 13th, and that’s not so bad.)
  • New(er) Faces — how will Pantano, Plowman, Pagenaud and Ho-Pin Tung race tomorrow? (Pantano had a great race, but he broke the much-maligned passing rule and served a penalty. He finished 17th. Martin Plowman was a very solid 12th, Simon Pagenaud was 15th, and Ho-Pin Tung caused the sole caution period when he hit the tires with 10 laps to go. He finished 27th.)
  • Firestone Reds — will this year’s alternate tires make the race more exciting that usual? (No. Sadly, Firestone didn’t bring the same tires this year. Here’s hoping if we return that Firestone can bring reds that are closer to last year’s compound.)
I’ll leave you with a few more questions. Feel free to share your opinion in the comments.
  • What did you think of today’s race?
  • Will the IZOD IndyCar Series return to Sonoma?
  • If it does return, what can be done to make the racing more exciting at this course?
  • How do you think the championship will play out for the rest of the season?
  • What do you think of Randy Bernard’s complete support for Brian Barnhart?
Thanks very much for following my coverage of the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma here at More Front Wing. It’s been a pleasure bringing all the news to you!
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