Hunter-Reay wins pole, points leader Dixon starting second at Sonoma finale
In doing so, Hunter-Reay also prevented championship leader Scott Dixon from earning an important bonus point awarded to the fast qualifier. Dixon still takes a 29-point lead over Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi into the race that offers double points. Team Penske teammates Will Power and Josef Newgarden also remain mathematically alive in the title chase, each 87 points behind Dixon, as the Verizon IndyCar Series champion will be decided at the last race of the season for the 13th straight year.
But qualifying belonged to Hunter-Reay, who picked up the seventh pole position of his Indy car career and first since Long Beach in April 2014.
“This (No.) 28 DHL Honda team did just such a good job putting a great car under me,” Hunter-Reay said. “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.
“I’m certainly doing my part (to help Rossi); I just took a point away from Dixon, so we’re doing everything we can do.”
Dixon, in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, will start second after a lap of 1:17.7599 (110.417 mph). Dixon is chasing a fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship that would leave him behind only A.J. Foyt (seven) for most season titles in Indy car history.
“I think we definitely had a shot to put the PNC Bank car on pole, but we’ll have to chalk that up to driver error,” Dixon said. “I had a lap going that would have gotten the pole, but I just made a mistake and it cost us.
“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 (Sunday) and we can finish the season strong.”
Rossi, Power and Newgarden will all be within arm’s reach of Dixon when the green flag drops on the 2.385-mile permanent road course hosting the season finale for the fourth straight year. Rossi will start sixth in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda (1:18.0019, 110.074 mph) after opting for Firestone black-sidewall primary tires in the Firestone Fast Six instead of the traditional choice for softer red-sidewall alternates.
“I don’t think we had the pace for Ryan, but we decided to try something different and see where it got us,” Rossi said.
“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.”
Reigning series champion Newgarden qualified third in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:17.7937, 110.369 mph). Teammate Power qualified a season-worst seventh in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:17.6495, 110.574 mph). It’s the only time this season that Power did not advance to the Firestone Fast Six on a road or street course.
“We unfortunately should have gone another lap (in Round 2),” said Power, the 2014 series champion. “We were trying to save our tires for the Fast Six, but it was just a bad call. Unbelievable when you think about our qualifying record this year, but that’s how it goes.”
The INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma pays 100 points to the winner, with 80 for second place and sliding down to 10 points for 25th position. Dixon clinches the championship by finishing ahead of Rossi and in no lower than 21st place.
Rossi could lay claim to his first title under numerous scenarios finishing ahead of Dixon, the simplest by winning the race and Dixon placing third or worse without collecting the two bonus points for leading the most laps. For Newgarden or Power to win the championship, they must win the race, have Dixon finish no better than 24th (and not lead the most laps) and Rossi finish no better than 10th.
Marco Andretti reached the Firestone Fast Six for the first time in 2018, qualifying fourth in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda. Andretti won the pole for the first race of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix in June under a single-session, group-qualifying format.
Patricio O’Ward, the recently crowned Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut, continued to impress by advancing to the Firestone Fast Six and qualifying fifth in the No. 8 Harding Group Chevrolet (1:17.9737, 110.114 mph). It is the best qualifying effort for Harding Racing in its first full-time season.
“I honestly don’t know what to think about it,” O’Ward, the 19-year-old Mexican, said when he realized the company he was in. “When I saw that I moved into the Fast Six, I thought, ‘Newgarden, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Andretti, Rossi – such big names, you’ve been looking at them for years and years and years.’
“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.”
Live coverage of the 85-lap race, including the post-race championship presentation, begins at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Sonoma practice finds championship contenders bunched together
With double the normal race points awarded in Sunday’s race – including 100 to the winner – the outcome is far from decided.
Newgarden, the reigning series champion, set the fast lap of the second practice at 1 minute, 17.8156 seconds (110.338 mph) in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. It ranked second on the combined speed chart for the two sessions on the 2.385-mile permanent road course.
“It was difficult this afternoon, to be honest,” said Newgarden, who was ill overnight and didn’t run a lap in the first practice due to fuel pressure issues with the car. “When I first went out, I wasn’t very happy (with) the first run, and then we made really good progress the second run.”
Power, the 2014 series champion, placed fourth in both practices and settled in at fourth on the combined timesheet. His best lap of 1:17.8818 (110.244 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet came in the morning session.
“It’s just a matter of who got a clean lap and who didn’t,” Power said. “You’ve literally got two (peak) laps on tires and then it’s done. If you didn’t get it done at that point, you’re never going to get it.”
Rossi felt his Andretti Autosport crew made progress with the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda from the first practice, when he was eighth, to the second, when he ran sixth. At 11th on the combined chart, he wasn’t discouraged.
“This place changes so quickly, and so often that what you have one day doesn’t necessarily transfer completely to the next day,” Rossi said. “We definitely have some work to do overnight and need to put our heads together. It’s not the first time we’ve had a bad Friday, so I have a lot of confidence in the (No.) 27 NAPA team.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rossi’s teammate, posted the best lap of the day in the opening practice. Hunter-Reay toured the Sonoma circuit in 1:17.5742 (110.681 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Honda.
“It was a good start to the day; we were P1 this morning and overall,” Hunter-Reay said. “We went to some pretty aggressive changes this afternoon, knowing that Practice 2 was our last opportunity to do it before qualifying.
“We made some changes, got aggressive with it and it was the wrong way, so we’ll make some changes and head back to where we were in Practice 1 and hopefully get the DHL car back to its good form.”
Patricio O’Ward, the newly crowned Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut this weekend, was a surprising third in the afternoon practice. The 19-year-old turned a best lap of 1:18.0073 (110.067 mph) in the No. 8 Harding Group Chevrolet.
“It was a pretty good day and I’m very satisfied with how we ended. The first practice felt like a shot out of a cannon because there were so many (more) cars out there than what I was used to, and I didn’t get any clean running.
“I’m happy I got some clean running in Practice 2. We were working hard on getting the car right for qualifying, so we were on the (Firestone alternate) red tires for most of practice. It feels really good, so now we’re going to work on the (primary) black tires to get ready for the race setup. As of now, I’m very satisfied with today.”
A final practice is set for 2 p.m. ET Saturday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Verizon P1 Award qualifying starts at 6 p.m. Saturday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, with a same-day telecast at 8 p.m. on NBCSN.
The Verizon IndyCar Series champion will be decided in the season finale for the 13th straight year on Sunday. Live race coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
Power nabs Verizon P1 Award at Iowa for 52nd career pole position
IOWA CORN 300: Qualifying results
Driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power earned his second straight Verizon P1 Award at Iowa Speedway and third career pole position at the 0.894-mile oval with an average speed of 182.391 mph.
“It wasn’t easy, but the car was great,” said Power, whose 34 race wins are tied for eighth on the all-time chart. “You really have to drive it. It was quite difficult over all the bumps, but we tested here (last week) and unloaded well (this weekend). Yeah, it’s the start of a good weekend. I’ve had a couple of bad ones and I want a really good weekend this weekend.”
Power has finished 18th and 23rd in the two most recent races this season, sliding from first to fifth in the championship standings. He hopes to turn things around in Sunday’s race and earn his first win at the track, though no pole sitter has won in the same year at Iowa in 11 previous Indy car races.
“I love this place,” added Power, who has qualified in the top three in 10 of the 11 Verizon IndyCar Series races this season and started in the top 10 in 21 straight races dating to last season. “It’s a real tough little bullring oval and, man, I’ve been trying to win this (race) for so long. So, obviously, starting the race in a good spot.”
Team Penske, which has won four straight poles at Iowa and seven overall, dominated qualifying by taking three of the top four spots. Josef Newgarden, the 2016 Iowa winner when he drove for Ed Carpenter Racing, qualified second in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet at 181.160 mph. Simon Pagenaud will start fourth after qualifying at 180.313 mph in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.
Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay prevented Team Penske from sweeping the top three spots in qualifying. Hunter-Reay qualified an Iowa-best third in the No. 28 DHL Honda at 180.681 mph.
“We just missed it a little bit, but good job by the team,” Hunter-Reay said. “The (No.) 28 car was decent. We got a little bit light overall. I couldn’t commit to full throttle leaving the corner, just a bit too much understeer.
“It’s unfortunate to not be on pole, but when we miss it and we are still starting P3, it’s not too bad. Tomorrow is where all the points are paid, and I think we can get the DHL team a fourth Iowa Corn 300 win.”
Andretti Autosport has won seven Iowa races with five different drivers. Hunter-Reay has three of those victories, coming in 2012, ’14 and ’15.
Scott Dixon, the championship leader after 10 races with a 45-point lead over Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi, qualified sixth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (179.526 mph).
A final 60-minute practice is scheduled for 6:45 p.m. ET and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
Live coverage of Sunday’s Iowa Corn 300, the 11th of 17 races on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, begins at 2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network that includes XM 209 and Sirius 217.
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