Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden have taken the fastest times in the first two practice sessions ahead of this weekend’s 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, the Grand Prix of Sonoma. Hunter-Reay led the way in the opening session of the day, with Newgarden taking over the top spot in session two after having sat out the first session with mechanical issues.
Ryan Hunter-Reay enters the weekend as the highest placed driver in the championship standings that is not in contention for the crown. Despite not being able to take his second title, Ryan got off to a great start by setting the fastest time in the first practice session.
Hunter-Reay’s best lap time was a 1:17.5752, a time just over two seconds off of the pole position time from 2017. The cars looked particularly tricky out on the undulating Sonoma Raceway course on a count of the significant reduction in aerodynamic grip compared to last year. Lap-times are expected to get closer to last year but expect the cars to be much more of a handful throughout the weekend.
Scott Dixon was the fastest of the quartet of drivers in the fight for the championship. He set the second-fastest time of session one, clocking in a lap time that was three-tenths of a second off of Hunter-Reay’s best. Fellow contender Will Power was third fastest, with Will’s Penske team-mate Simon Pagenaud just behind in fourth place; the last driver to dip under the 1:18 barrier in practice one.
Marco Andretti was the fifth fastest driver in the session, with Ed Jones just behind in sixth place as he embarks on his last chance to impress to try and ensure he stays on the IndyCar grid next year; following recent speculation that his seat at Chip Ganassi Racing could be given to someone else.
Graham Rahal took the seventh fastest time, just ahead of eighth-placed Alexander Rossi. Alexander is the closest rival to Dixon in the championship, with a twenty-nine point gap between the duo. Rossi may be further down the order compared to Dixon, but the last race weekend at Portland began similarly and Alexander ended up qualifying way ahead of Scott. The point is, everything is still to play for.
Zach Veach set the ninth fastest time to be the fastest rookie of the session. He was just ahead of the three Dale Coyne Racing drivers, with Sebastien Bourdais ninth fastest ahead of team-mate Pietro Fittipaldi and Santino Ferrucci.
Further down the order were Harding Racing, who have entered an IndyCar race weekend with two cars for the first time. It’s an all-new rookie line-up for the team, too, as they field Indy Lights graduates Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta. Colton finished his first official session in sixteenth place, with O’Ward further back in twenty-fourth.
Twenty-fifth and last place would go to reigning series champion and the last of the four championship contenders, Josef Newgarden. Josef did not complete a lap during the session due to a fuel pressure problem on his #1 Team Penske Chevrolet.
The session would be interrupted by one red flag period. James Hinchcliffe fell foul of the tricky Sonoma Raceway when he lost the rear of his #5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda at the top of the hill at turn two. Hinchcliffe spun through the sand and lightly touched the wall with his right-front corner. Thankfully he was able to drive back to the pits for repairs.
2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Sonoma – Practice one top twelve results:
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Full results of practice one are available by clicking the following link: http://www.imscdn.com/INDYCAR/Documents/5454/2018-09-14/indycar-results-p1.pdf
After sitting out the entire first practice session, Josef Newgarden knew he had to make the most of every lap he could run in the second session so that he could gather as much data as possible heading into Sunday’s crucial race. Despite battling a bout of food poisoning, Newgarden was able to fight through and take the fastest time of practice two.
Newgarden’s lap-time was not quite as fast as Hunter-Reay’s best lap in the first session, with Josef clocking in a 1:17.8136; a lap-time three tenths off of Ryan’s benchmark. The session was not a cake walk for Josef though, as he was one of many drivers to have an off-track excursion.
Scott Dixon took the second fastest time for the session in a row. The championship leader looks to have strong pace so far this weekend, with his closest rival Alexander Rossi looking like he has to play catch-up in tomorrow’s final practice and qualifying if he wants to stay in the hunt.
The top spot on the time-sheets temporarily belonged to a number of drivers over the course of the session. At one point, it was the newly crowned Indy Lights champion O’Ward who was on top in his #8 Harding Racing Chevrolet. The Mexican was dethroned within the final ten minutes of the session, but he still held on to take the third fastest time.
Will Power was the fourth fastest driver of the session just ahead of fifth-placed James Hinchcliffe; who bounced back well from his slight altercation with the barriers in the first session.
Alexander Rossi led the session for the opening few minutes, but the Andretti Autosport driver would fall down to sixth place by the time the chequered flag flew. The Californian and his #27 crew will be searching for improvements overnight to try and find some more speed.
Ed Jones was seventh fastest in the session for Chip Ganassi Racing. The Dubai-born British driver was the cause of the session’s sole red flag period after he spun his #10 Honda in the middle sector. Dale Coyne’s pair of rookies, Santino Ferrucci and Pietro Fittipaldi, were just behind, once again closely matched in eighth and ninth respectively.
The fastest man in session one, Ryan Hunter-Reay, was tenth fastest in second practice. One of his Andretti team-mates, Zach Veach, was just behind him in eleventh place. Veach was closely matched by fellow rookie Jordan King, who took twelfth place for Ed Carpenter Racing.
Further back, a number of the ‘big names’ slipped from their top ten positions in the first session. Marco Andretti, Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais ended the day in positions sixteen through eighteen. It was a tough session, too, for A.J. Foyt Enterprises driver Tony Kanaan, who finished way down in twenty-third place after having spun over the top of the hill on the exit of turn four.
The teams and drivers will be back on track at Sonoma Raceway tomorrow for final practice and the last qualifying session of the season. The four championship contenders will each be hoping to grab pole position to gain the initial advantage in the 2018 Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday.
2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Sonoma – Practice two top twelve results:
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Full results of practice two are available by clicking the following link: http://www.imscdn.com/INDYCAR/Documents/5455/2018-09-14/indycar-results-p2.pdf