Sunday, August 30, 2015

Morning Warm-Up: Sonoma 2015

The sun is setting on the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season
Will Power will lead the field to the green flag for the sixth time this year as he picked up his fifth career pole position at Sonoma and looks to retain the Astor Cup as IndyCar champion. The Australian shattered the previous track record, which he set in 2012, with a lap of 76.2597 seconds, almost a second faster than the record. Power leads all drivers with three victories at Sonoma. Penske has won five of 11 Sonoma races. Josef Newgarden will start on the outside of row one and next to Will Power for the second consecutive Sonoma race. Newgarden missed pole position by 0.1367 seconds. Newgarden has to win at Sonoma to have any hopes of claiming the Astor Cup.

Ryan Hunter-Reay will start a season-best third as he was just over a quarter of a second off Power's pole winning lap time. Hunter-Reay is not eligible for the championship but he could end this season with the most victories as he is tied with five drivers who have two victories this season. He was also fastest in the pre-qualifying practice on Saturday. Starting fourth will be Simon Pagenaud, who is looking to end this season with his first victory for Team Penske. The Frenchman has two podiums this year with both being thirds, which came at Belle Isle 2 and Mid-Ohio. Pagenaud has improved his finishing position in every one of his Sonoma starts. He has finished 15th, seventh, fifth and third in his four starts at the track. No Sonoma winner has ever started fourth.

The top two drivers in the championship, Juan Pablo Montoya and Graham Rahal will start on row three. Montoya starts fifth, which is the furthest back a Sonoma winner has come from in the previous 11 races at the track. Scott Dixon won from fifth in 2007. Rahal made the Firestone Fast Six for the first time since Motegi 2011. Last year, Montoya drove from 19th to fifth at Sonoma. Rahal's best Sonoma finish came in 2012, he finished fifth that day. Montoya will be champion, regardless of where everyone else finishes if he finishes third with at least one bonus point.

Charlie Kimball was the top Ganassi qualifier in seventh. It is the first time this season Kimabll was the top Ganassi qualifier. Kimball average finish at Sonoma is 22nd with his best finish being 20th in 2013. Marco Andretti starts eighth. He has finished in the top ten in the last two Sonoma races but he has not led a lap at the track since 2007 when he led two laps before being taken out of the race by his then-Andretti Green teammate Dario Franchitti. Car #9 will start ninth as Scott Dixon failed to make it to the second round of IndyCar qualifying on Saturday. Dixon has finished in the top ten in six of ten Sonoma starts. Sebastián Saavedra rounds out the top ten. This is the Colombian's fifth start of 2015. He is looking for his fifth career top ten finish, as he will be making his 61st IndyCar career start on Sunday.

Tony Kanaan will start 11th behind his two Ganassi teammates. Kanaan won at Sonoma in 2005. It is one of just two road/street course victories for Kanaan. He won at Belle Isle in 2007. This year's Belle Isle 1 winner Carlos Muñoz will start 12th. It was the second time Muñoz made it to the second round of qualifying this year. He previous made it at Long Beach. Luca Filippi is making his Sonoma debut and he will start 13th. The Italian finished second at Toronto, giving CFH their first ever 1-2 finish and he has four top tens this year driving for the Chevrolet team. Mikhail Aleshin makes his IndyCar return at Sonoma and will start 14th. He started 12th last year at Sonoma and finished seventh.

Hélio Castroneves had started every one of his Sonoma starts within the first three rows. He will start 15th this year at the Northern California road course. He is the worst starting championship contender, as he, like Newgarden, also needs to win this race to have a shot at winning the title. Sébastien Bourdais joins the Brazilian on row eight. Like Hunter-Reay, Bourdais is not a championship eligible driver but he could end this season with the most victories as he won at Belle Isle 2 and Milwaukee. Like Castroneves, this is Bourdais' worst career start at Sonoma.

Former Sonoma winner Ryan Briscoe qualified 17th. The Australian has averaged a finish of 12.85 in the seven races he has run as substitute for James Hinchcliffe. Briscoe has finished 17th in his last two Sonoma starts. Takuma Sato will start next to Briscoe in 18th. Sato finished fourth last year at Sonoma, his only top ten finish and his only lead lap finish at the track. Oriol Servià starts 19th driving the #25 Andretti Autosport Honda in place of Justin Wilson. Servià best Sonoma finish was sixth in 2009. Stefano Coletti rounds out the top twenty as the Monegasque driver was the top rookie qualifier. Coletti has one top ten finish this year. He finished eighth in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Gabby Chaves enters Sonoma as the top rookie in the championship. He is 72 points clear of Coletti in the race for the Rookie of the Year honors. Chaves will start 21st. He led 31 laps at Pocono last week, which were his first career laps led in IndyCar. Chaves is looking to become the fourth Colombian to win IndyCar Rookie of the Year, joining Roberto Guerrero, Montoya and Muñoz to earn that honor. James Jakes will start 22nd. Jakes has never finished on the lead lap at Sonoma with his best finish being 12th in 2012. Dale Coyne Racing sweeps row 12 with Tristan Vautier starting 23rd and Rodolfo González starting 24th. Jack Hawksworth rounds out the grid in 25th after having a mechanical failure in qualifying.

NBCSN's coverage of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma will begin at 4:00 p.m. ET with green flag scheduled for 5:07 p.m. ET.