Sonoma Qualifying Wrap-Up

The pole has been decided for the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Sonoma Raceway. Although championship contenders Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon both made the Fast Six, neither of them snagged the pole and the bonus point that goes with it.

At the very end, Ryan Hunter-Reay ran a quick lap and bumped Scott Dixon out of the top position that he seemed certain to get. In the post-qualifying press conference, Hunter-Reay stressed the importance of keeping that point away from Dixon as it relates to the championship battle that will be settled tomorrow as Hunter-Reay’s teammate Rossi needed all the help he could get today.

While Dixon appeared headed for the pole until Hunter-Reay took it away from him, Rossi was struggling for speed in the Fast Six. Rossi was second quick, then third. When the checkered flag fell, Rossi was sixth and had already climbed out of the car.

Rossi was running on the Firestone blacks at the end. Perhaps he was sacrificing a slightly better starting position for an extra set of Firestone red alternates for the race.

But I’m not so sure. Rossi has been slightly off pace all weekend – at least compared to Dixon. Maybe they resorted to this strategy because they know they can’t match Dixon solely speed during the race. Rossi was saying all of the right things during the press conference to exude confidence for tomorrow’s race, but his body language said differently. Rossi has seemed frustrated all through the weekend. There’s probably a reason.

As for the other contenders that are still mathematically alive – Josef Newgarden will start third, behind Hunter-Reay and Dixon. Will Power didn’t even make the Fast Six and will start seventh.

It was a good day for Andretti Autosport. Besides Hunter-Reay on the pole and Rossi starting sixth, Marco Andretti will start fourth and Zach Veach will roll off in tenth.

But the biggest surprise of the day was rookie Pato O’Ward. Yesterday he turned the third quickest lap in the afternoon session. While everyone here was happy for him, it was assumed it must have been some type of fluke. After all, when it comes to qualifying, he can’t possibly mix it up with the big boys, can he? The answer is apparently – Yes! O’Ward made it into the Fast Six and qualified fifth – in his first-ever IndyCar race with a fledgling Harding Racing team that has struggled most of the year.

It should be an interesting race tomorrow. Hunter-Reay wants to win and end the season on a high note. Dixon wants his fifth championship, while Rossi has struggled this weekend in search of his first. Newgarden and Power want to salvage their seasons and get the highest finish possible and just see what happens in front of them. Patricio O’Ward wants to continue his dream weekend, while Marco Andretti is in a good position on one of the two tracks where he has a victory. Other drivers are simply trying to make a good mark for their seasons, either for their current team or another one.

The race gets underway tomorrow at 3:30 PDT/6:30 EDT on NBCSN. By tomorrow night, we will have a new champion. The only question remaining is; who will it be? Tune in tomorrow and find out.

George Phillips

One Response to “Sonoma Qualifying Wrap-Up”

  1. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    Don’t forget Harding is using Andretti dampers which they haven’t had all year. I’m not saying that that is the reason that O’Ward was good but it helps.

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