Sonoma Preview

Hearts will be heavy as the Verizon IndyCar Series heads west to Sonoma for the season finale. Drivers, teams and fans won’t have near the enthusiasm for the battle for the championship as they normally would. But by today’s first practice, the heartbreak will be temporarily set aside in order to focus on the business at hand.

One nice touch to honor Justin Wilson is the running of Wilson’s No.25 Andretti Autosport car, with Oriol Servia behind the wheel. I’ve always felt that Servia was one of the most underrated drivers in the paddock. I’m sure he would prefer to have this ride under better circumstances, but he’ll take it just the same. Another nice gesture is that Honda will contribute money to the fund set up for Justin Wilson’s children, for every lap that a Honda completes on Sunday. That certainly makes you pull for all the Honda teams to perform well this weekend.

In all honesty, I think it’s good that there is a race just a few days following Justin Wilson’s passing. When Dan Wheldon was lost, there was not another competitive lap turned for over five months. That was an agonizingly long time to go after such an accident before we saw cars on the track again. I’m not a driver, but I’m sure it was even more agonizing for the drivers.

My guess is that this will be somewhat therapeutic for everyone. I know I’m to the point that I’m ready to move on and focus on something besides the events of the past week. I’m not saying we need to forget about what happened, but life moves ahead and so should we.

As far as this race goes; it’s no secret that Sonoma Raceway is not my favorite track. As far as permanent natural terrain road courses, it may be my least favorite. I’ll qualify my next statement by saying I’ve never been to the track or the area. I’ve been to San Francisco, Yosemite and other parts of northern California – but I’ve never been to the wine country. But it’s always staggering to hear the announcers talk about how beautiful the track is, because on television – it comes across as nothing but a dust bowl that holds a narrow track that offers little passing.

A few years ago, IndyCar held a pre-season test at Sonoma in early March. Seeing photos and videos of the test, I hardly recognized the place. The same brown hills with dead grass that we’ll see this weekend, featured lush green grass. It looked more like Ireland than Sonoma. Since then, I’ve always wondered why IndyCar races there in August instead of spring.

Of course, this is one of the few tracks on the schedule that actually has some semblance of date equity – and it shows. This is one of the better attended races on the schedule. I’m going to assume that television does this venue an injustice. Those that I know that have been to Sonoma swears to me that the whole setting is gorgeous. I’ll take their word for it.

But television can’t mask the lack of passing at Sonoma. Track position is everything at this race. Saturday’s qualifying may be just as important as Sunday’s race. It’s a lot easier to stay up front by starting up front, than it is to work your way up. There are just so few places to pass.

Unless there is some quirky yellow like they had at Mid-Ohio that shuffles the field – it’s not s stretch to say that the qualifying order will be the running order for much of the day. Of course, there will be some mishaps and mechanical difficulties for some, but it’s quite likely that Saturday’s pole winner could very well be Sunday’s race winner. That would go against the rule of thumb for this season. Going into last weekend’s race at Pocono, the average starting spot for race winners was tenth.

The fact that track position can be so static at Sonoma is why I don’t like this race being the season finale. This is the first time in the history of IndyCar/IRL that the series has finished on a non-oval. Previous finales for this series have taken place at Texas, Fontana, Chicagoland and Homestead. Champ Car finished its series at Mexico City a few times in its short existence. CART finished the 2002 season at Mexico City. Prior to that, you have to go back to 1996 at Laguna Seca to find the last time CART finished its season on a non-oval.

You like to see the series finale to take place on a track where anything can happen. The unpredictability for settling a championship has a lot of appeal. There is very little that is unpredictable at Sonoma. Series officials have declared this a double-points race to add some drama, but to me – that seems very fake and contrived. I am not a fan of double-points races and never have been. As much of a fan as I am of the Indianapolis 500; I don’t like it paying twice as many points as almost all other races. I always liked the fact that no matter how big the Indianapolis 500 was on the schedule, it paid the same points as Milwaukee or any other race. My hope is that the powers-that-be will do away with the double-points at the end of this season.

So before we all settle into what is now likely to be a rocky offseason, there is still the business at hand of running one more race and crowning a champion. As far as the race goes, I won’t go out on a limb at all. Will Power has won three of the past five races at Sonoma. One of those he did not win, he finished second. To say Power knows the quick way around Sonoma is a major understatement. Power will win the race, but not the championship. I think Juan Montoya will go against his nature and race very conservatively – and it’ll cost him. I think he will falter in the race, have a poor finish, while Rahal will be bitten for the second week in a row. Your 2015 Verizon IndyCar champion will be…Scott Dixon.

George Phillips

20 Responses to “Sonoma Preview”

  1. I agree about getting back on track, 2011 was an agonizing off season. Glad the 25 is back out there, some said put Stefan Wilson in the car but I think that would have been a bit much for him so good call on Servia.

    One thing I do want to note, just being honest, I have seen the JW shirts that are being sold, some of them have the #badass on it. I think that was a poor choice. I do understand the story behind it, but I….. I am not going to buy that for my kids or wear that anywhere that I want to represent Indycar. To be honest, it’s very NASCAR to me and (I like NASCAR also) I don’t like Indycar to be viewed that way. Many won’t agree but I think it’s in poor taste even with the back story of it.

    • Updating my comment, I see the shirts are offered in a youth as well as an adult, the youth is “clean”. So fair enough but I still think it is a little NASCAR looking for someone who doesn’t know the whole story behind it.

  2. My only comment is,
    If Honda intends to make a donation to the Wilson family, Honda should simply make a donation and it should not be contingent on the number of laps completed…

  3. Oh, and I think #BADASS is great…

  4. I’ll be absolutely thrilled if it is Dixon, and while I also think Montoya will continue to be conservative, I have a feeling Rahal will win the championship by a slim margin.

  5. Re: Ready to move on…

    Yes. We are. We need to.

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that any of us want to say “Ok, mourning time’s over, let’s get back to normal”. No, not that at all. Rather, I think many fans do realize that life goes on, and folks like Dan, Justin, Greg Moore from so long ago, would be appalled if fans stopped enjoying the sport they themselves loved. Mourning is important and necessary, but if it puts an extended stop to living and experiencing life, it becomes harmful. We have to live, even if it means experiencing sadness in motion while we carry on in our day to day lives.

    We all have to live. And that’s why Justin, Dan, Greg, and so many others – Jules and Ayrton in F1, Dale in NASCAR, reaching all the way back to a guy named Sam Dickson at IMS in 1911 – raced. To them, that *was* living. As someone else on the ‘net said, not a single driver out there has a death wish. They have a **life wish**, and racing cars is how they fulfilled it. Life can be a drab existence if you don’t have anything to enjoy, and racing is what they enjoyed. So much so they went through all the hassles and troubles of becoming a professional practitioner of the sport. It’s what they were good at. As well as what they enjoyed doing. Denying racing to them would’ve been a cruelty. Allowing it was a joy and fulfillment of their existence.

    We do need to move on, not because we’re supposed to put aside sadness or memories or consign terrible events to the past just so we can smile again. We need to move on because life itself moves on, and being stuck in one state is not being alive. That doesn’t reduce the amount of pain, sadness, or grief any of us feel over the tragedy of Justin’s death – my God, it hurts just to think about what his children are thinking right now, and it still hurts to think of what Dan’s kids have been going through. But it does keep the rest of us alive in more than just a state of mindless breathing and heart beating. What better payback exists to the drivers who gave us so much on the track than to carry on the very sport they enjoyed while they were living?

    Enjoying racing is a tribute to these late drivers existence. That’s why we should move on. It’s thanking them for what they did when they were alive.

  6. It bothers me not a whit (old British) that Sonoma is brown in August, hard to pass at, predictable, has double points, or that the Justin Wilson commerative shirts say “Badass”. It’s one more race and I am grateful for that on this day. Let’s go racin’ . Hopefully the drivers will take care of each other.

    Racing in the rain would be good.

  7. Double points is contrived, don’t care for it. This year I’m actually okay with ending on a road course. Also think they need to somehow boost the rewards for the Championship, it’s always been (for me anyway) eclipsed by the 500 and shouldn’t be.

    Would like to see Newgarden win with the GoPro sponsorship and see GoPro stick with him for the future. Would like to see Servia do well for obvious reasons. Scott Dixon is one of the all-time great drivers and has a smokin’ hot wife and Rahal is (finally) having a great season. Just hoping for a safe and competitive race for all concerned. My prediction: Newgarten for the win and Montoya to take the Championship.

  8. I am glad we have another race to help move forward. Too bad it’s at Sonoma, which one could argue is objectively the worst track in Indycar. I’d rather the boston street course end the season. I’m glad for double points because it keeps Rahal in this. I’m not sure how he pulls it off, but nothing would be more satisfying than a Rahal title. I’m not sure he’ll ever have another chance like this. JPM would be an okay champion but it’s a bit boring having 1 guy lead the points all year. Dixon is too dull…. hopefully Will Power and Newgarden pass him in points. Obviously IF Newgarden were to win the title that would be even better than Rahal, BUT his path the the title basically means JPM/Rahal/Dixon/Power/Helio all DNF. So not likely, or really even possible.

  9. billytheskink Says:

    I’m rooting for Rahal of course, but Montoya will need to have problems to open the door for him and Dixon. I’d love to see that, but just don’t expect it.

    I’m not opposed to it, obviously, but it is going to be odd to race the week after Justin’s passing. The large gaps of time between the losses of Wheldon and Moore allowed me time to understand that I wasn’t going to see them race again, but the fact that Wilson won’t be on the track on Sunday has not quite sunk in for me yet. Prayers for Justin’s family.

  10. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    If the larger rumor mill is to be believed, Bahstin will be the season finale next year, so no worries about than in ’16. No more wine (or whine) country, just some rough old streets, a double train track jump, some awesome seafood and an eastern TV time slot.

  11. …and while we watch the finale for this season, I challenge each reader on remembering Justin Wilson’s children. There is a fund set up…..Wilson Children’s Fund, c/o Indycar, 4551 w. 16th st, Indianapolis, IN 46222.
    Many of you have written great tributes on how we love our racing heroes. If you really want to pay respect to Justin, maybe a little contribution will go a long way and help 2 small children left without their Dad.

    • I will certainly do that. I just bought a shirt. I will be following the eBay auction that Graham Rahal is organizing.

  12. Britindyfan80 Says:

    Hearts will be heavy … but before the American/international media and “us” beat ourselves up remember life is a gift from God and/or science … it sucks but we all will die. Go on Wikipedia and search deaths of entertainers during an performance or association football players (soccer) during a game… … you won’t believe how long the list is… international games as well ( Marc-viven-foe ) nearly a death during a Spurs- Bolton fa cup game a few years ago… specialist doctor in the crowd help save his life… n h l goalie nearly died by neck being slashed by an ice skate blade a few years ago sports reflect life … and indeed death … hell elvis died on the loo! I’m a big f1 fan too but I’m sick to death off f1 fans knocking Indy/oval racing over “death” numbers between 94 (senna) and now (bianchi) nobody remembers 2000/2001 when 2 marshals died in the space of 5 events the 2nd of which at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix when a villeneuves b.a.r tire hit his head in the wall space to wave a race flag is the definition of an trillion to one odds that proved to me that safety unfortunately cannot save all but only increase the odds of the worst to happen.

  13. RIP Justin Wilson. It’s so sad this world is now short of one person who has pulled off some remarkable achievements during his lifetime.

    For his crew and his team, it’s probably for the best that they must run the #25 car again this weekend: that distraction surely helps in dealing with the grief.

    All the best to his family and friends.

    What does the motorsport world learn from this crash?
    It would make sense these cars had lighter nosecones. After a car spins into the wall, the way in which following traffic negotiates debris needs to change. How about an additional spotter on an oval who looks at the direction of the heavy parts?

    A supermodified car style rollcage with a front rollbar might or might not have helped as protection against the flying nosecone because it came down from so high above. The late Justin Wilson might not even have seen it at all.

    I feel IndyCar needs to reconsider their plan of breaking speed records because faster cars means faster debris, too, in case a car hits the wall. Derrick Walker’s successor will have a lot of work to do.

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