IndyCar heads to Sonoma where the talk is all about the title

Will Power takes the green flag and crosses the start line at the start of the 2012 race at Sonoma Raceway.

(c)2012, Michael L. Levitt

SONOMA, California – Past records indicate Team Penske should have a decided edge in Sunday’s Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma. The question will be, which driver at Team Penske is able to triumph and how that impacts the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series championship?

Three-time Sonoma IndyCar winner Will Power has a 39-point lead over teammate Helio Castroneves heading into the penultimate race on the schedule. Power is the only driver to go back-to-back at Sonoma with wins in 2010 and 2011. His victory in 2013 was his first of the season as the driver from Toowoomba, Australia would go on to win three races in the closing stretch.

Castroneves won at Sonoma in 2008 – just a few days after his primary car and team transporter caught fire on the long drive from Mooresville, North Carolina to the Bay Area of Northern California.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner was looking pretty good when he entered last week’s race at the Milwaukee Mile second in points, just four behind Power. But Power’s decisive victory, combined with Castroneves’ 11th place finish, left him 39 points out with only two races to go, although the final race of the season is a double-points 500-miler at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Castroneves realizes it won’t be easy but he certainly isn’t giving up on his bid to win the IndyCar championship for the first time in his career.

“We’re not giving up for sure,” Castroneves said. “It’s still two more races to go with the big one in Fontana. We had a good test in Sonoma so hopefully we have a good day at Sonoma on Sunday. There is still a lot of racing left. Thirty-nine points is not bad but we have to keep on working. There are still a lot of points in the game and we have to keep on pushing.

“Last Sunday at Milwaukee the car was consistent but unfortunately it was consistently slow. It was one of those days where we thought, ‘Man, can we go home and get ready for the next race?’

“Remember – it’s 150 points and we are 39 behind. We can still do it.”

The GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma has featured seven different winners since the series’ first visit to Sonoma Raceway: Tony Kanaan, 2005; Marco Andretti, 2006; Scott Dixon, 2007; Castroneves, 2008; Dario Franchitti, 2009; Will Power, 2010-11 and 2013 and Ryan Briscoe, 2012. Team Penske has won five of the last six races at the track and won the pole position five times.

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This will be the third race on the 12-turn, 2.385-mile layout. The Verizon IndyCar Series competed on a 12-turn, 2.303-mile layout from 2005-2011.

“The big thing with racing at Sonoma is the tire degradation throughout the course of a run,” Castroneves explained. “When the tires fall off it makes it much harder to find forward drive coming out of the corners. Sonoma is a very technical racetrack and how you exit the corners is critical for setting you up for the next corner, or even the next several corners.

“I was very happy with the Hitachi Chevrolet in the test at Sonoma a couple of weeks ago. I thought we were right there among the best cars. Hopefully we can find a little more speed and find ourselves in Victory Lane.”

There are six drivers who remain mathematically eligible for the 2014 championship. Simon Pagenaud is third, 92 points out; 2012 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay is fourth, 108 points back; Juan Pablo Montoya is fifth, 114 out and three-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon is sixth, 130 points back.

All other drivers are more than 150 points out – the amount of points left in the two races this season.

And Power shows no signs of letting off the accelerator.

“After the test at Sonoma a couple of weeks ago, it seems like we’ll have another fast one this weekend,” Power said. “ We’re going for wins, man. That’s what got us here and that’s what will keep us in the points lead.”

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