Sonoma Raceway’s permanent road course in mountainous northern California has proven year in and year out to be one of the trickiest circuits on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule. Both of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s (SFHR) drivers agree that the 12-turn, 2.385-mile road course is tough to master.
SFHR’s full-time driver Josef Newgarden will start Sunday’s race from the 17th position, turning a lap of 1 minute, 19.0094 seconds (108.671 mph). Newgarden’s teammate Lucas Luhr will start his first ever IndyCar race from 25th place, turning a fast lap of 1 minute, 19.9805 seconds (107.351 mph).
Newgarden, who raced his fastest lap of the weekend during qualifications, believes there is still more room for improvement.
“We started the day a little off from where we wanted to be, but it really came together well in the second half of qualifying,” he said. “It was actually a little surprising to me and I really just didn’t use the (Firestone) red tires enough. Normally that’s not the case, and normally I feel pretty good about the run that I do but I feel like I just did not hang it out enough, and we actually had more to use.
“I don’t think we were a (Firestone) Fast 6 car but I really think we could have transferred into the top 12 and had a better starting place for tomorrow. We really were not far off that benchmark though. It gives me a lot of courage for tomorrow. I think we can really run a solid race and have great points. I’m really proud of everyone and I’m looking forward to maximizing what we can tomorrow.”
Luhr, who has driven just 70 laps since Friday’s first practice, is also looking forward to Sunday’s 85-lap race.
“I think we made overall improvements and got at least a little bit closer, but we are still not there,” Luhr said. “It’s difficult and it’s the first time for me qualifying and then experiencing the (Firestone) red tires so I had no idea how much more grip there was and how much I could use and I really only got one shot at it. Now that we have the practices and everything out of the way I am just looking forward to the race and getting into race mode.”
The high elevation changes on the hilly road course create challenges that both drivers are learning to handle.
“The low grip itself and the wind changing conditions are tough,” Luhr said. “One second it’s one direction, one second it’s another direction, but at the end of the day everybody is feeling the same thing and you just have to find a way of dealing with it.”
“Passing is also going to be tough here,” Newgarden added. “It’s very difficult to pass but judging by what we did at Barber Motorsports Park earlier in the year, where it’s also really hard to pass (started 22nd and finished 9th), I have complete confidence in our ability to get to the front. I’m looking forward to having a clean day and hopefully scoring good points.”
The green flag will drop for the Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 25. Live coverage will begin at 4 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network. For the latest trackside updates from the No. 97 SFHR/RW Motorsports car and the No. 67 SFHR Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, follow @SFHRindy and @RWMotorsports on Twitter.