Friday, August 26, 2011

Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma Preview

After a week that saw the New Hampshire results upheld, Will Power be fined $30k (or community service) for his Double Birds, Danica Patrick announce her long-expected move to NASCAR, and yours truly laid low with the worst allergy/sinus/possible plague scenario I’ve known in a good while, we happily, blessedly, cheerfully prepare to follow this weekend’s Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to listen to some IMS Radio, watch some VERSUS TV coverage, and hopefully watch Robin Miller sprint during another Grid Walk.

Let’s hit a few key items to pay attention to this race weekend:

The Birdman of IndyCar: If you’re discussing Infineon, you have to start with Will Power. He’s the defending race winner here, but this is also where he broke his back in 2009. It’s been either the highest highs or lowest lows for him here. If he wants to keep gaining on Dario Franchitti for that series championship, he can’t afford a letdown.

Of course, we’ll also have to see what sort of attention Power’s double-bird tirade at New Hampshire gets this weekend. The Driver Who Spawned An Internet Meme will likely get some questions about it, though he’s been relatively conciliatory in recent interviews on the topic.

Hometown Hero: JR Hildebrand is from Sausalito, California, and Infineon Raceway is his home track. He’s won here in Lights, and this might be his best remaining chance outside of the ovals to try and put the screws to James Hinchcliffe in the Rookie of the Year battle.

How Does Newman/Haas Respond?: With Ryan Hunter-Reay’s New Hampshire victory upheld after the appeal this week, it will be interesting to see how Newman/Haas Racing comes back from the denial of their case that Oriol Servia was the rightful winner. This team handled themselves with dignity through the process, and now we get to see if karma respects that. Is any team (with the exception of possibly KV Racing) as close to getting over the hump and getting that win than Newman/Haas? If so, it doesn’t feel like it.

A New Winner?: We’re getting closer and closer to the end of the season, and as mentioned above, KV Racing and Newman/Haas still haven’t found that win. Keep in mind Tony Kanaan’s had a lot of good performances at this track (winner in ’05, has 4 Top 10s as well), but teammates Takuma Sato and EJ Viso will have to up their game from previous outings at this track.

New(ish) Faces: It’s a full field this week, and among those entries are Ho-Pin Tung and Martin Plowman. Tung was impressive at Indianapolis up until his qualification run crash, so it’ll be great to see what he can do for Dragon Racing this weekend in the #88 car. Meanwhile, Martin Plowman returns for his second race with AFS. His run at Mid-Ohio saw him start well behind where he wanted to, but he kept it clean and made some moves up the field. It’s always good to remember with some of the part-time deals that they’re not just racing for this year, but for next.

Hunter-Reay’s Mojo: Over the last four races, no driver has gained more points than RHR. With his New Hampshire win confirmed this week, he now sets his sights on a track where he’s only finished in the Top 10 once. We’ll have to see if he can keep his hot streak going, or if Sonoma sees him dropping back to earth a bit.

Bourdais Surging: Speaking of mojo, Sèbastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing have looked much better the last few races. You have to think this is far more along the lines of what the 4-time CCWS champ was thinking when he signed on with Coyne. We’ll see if Sebas can keep the good finishes coming.

Penske Pressure: As the races go by without a win from the other two Penske drivers, it looks more and more likely that Will Power will be the only Penske driver to record a win this season, a concept that was nigh-inconceivable a few months ago. Infineon offers a nice chance, though: Briscoe has always run well here, and Helio won from the pole here in ’08.

Best Looking Car: Tough call, but I really love the Marco Andretti  #26 Snapple car. I’m glad we get to see it again:

It's Snap-Tastic!
 Pole Prediction: I gotta go with the Toowoomba Terror, Mr. Will Power.

Winner Prediction: I sort of hope it’s Will Power, just for the interview. But for my dark horse, I’m going with Mike Conway, risky as that’s been to do lately. I think he’s got at least one more very good finish in him this year.

If You Missed It: Check out my Q&A with Charlie Kimball over at INDYCAR Nation. As always, registration is free! Oh, and make sure you check out Paul Dabley's article--great, great stuff!

Also, my oldest daughter turns 7 this weekend! She’s my IndyCar buddy, so hopefully I can line up some IndyCar birthday wishes for her. Have a great weekend, cherish what you have, and enjoy the race!

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