The Indianpost

INDYCAR: Sonoma Preview

Added to the IZOD IndyCar Series calendar in 2005, Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway—known as Sears Point before the German semiconductor company paid for the naming rights in 2000—has become synonymous with hard racing and high-risk passes for open-wheel cars.
It’s hard to ignore the near total dominance held by the Ganassi and Penske organizations at Sonoma, with their five cars finishing first through fifth last year. Andretti-Green Racing (now Andretti Autosport) earned the first two victories at the track (Tony Kanaan in 2005 and Marco Andretti in 2006), but since then, the past four events have changed hands between the top two teams.

Scott Dixon (2007), Helio Castroneves (2008), Dario Franchitti (2009) and Will Power (2010) have dominated the results in recent years, with the polesitter having gone on to win from 2008-2010.

If the recent test at Sonoma is anything to go by, the 2011 edition of the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma could produce more of the same after Power led Dixon and Franchitti atop the time sheets…

Other notes of interest include the choice of tires for the event. Drivers struggled for grip throughout the test, with many commenting how their tires felt too hard for the track surface. With times almost three seconds adrift from 2010—even after a full day’s running—most teams will continue to work on perfecting their setups once practice gets under way.

After a full day of testing, INDYCAR has reduced the amount of running on Friday, limiting drivers to a single 75-minute session. Teams will have just one 60-minute session Saturday morning before heading into qualifying later in the afternoon, placing those drivers who didn’t test at a distinct disadvantage.

Pantano came to America after spending the 2004 season in F1 with Eddie Jordan’s pay-to-play outfit, but his year was cut short when funding issues appeared with three rounds to go. Undeterred, Pantano took a step back and returned to GP2 from 2005 to 2008, winning the title in his final season in the category.

2009 was spent in the lesser known Superleague Formula, while Pantano fell off the map almost entirely in 2010 when he race in Auto GP, a series made up of first-generation A1GP machinery.

To the average racing fan, Pantano’s resume is underwhelming with a combined nine years of racing in the Int’l F3000/GP2/Superleague/AutoGP training series, 14 F1 races and two IndyCar starts to his credit.

But to the open-wheel anorak, Pantano has always been a hidden gem—a driver who just needed another break to prove he belongs in the sport’s upper echelon.

Signed by Dreyer & Reinbold Racing to pilot the No. 22 TranSystems car at Infineon and Baltimore, Pantano wasted little time in getting reacclimated to the track and the car during last week’s Sonoma test, ending up tied for the fourth-fastest time of the day.

“I think we did a good job,” Pantano told SPEED.com, “but there’s always room to improve. I had one day to test after not driving for six months a racing car. Now I’m more confident, and I believe we can do well in Sonoma.”

Asked what he thought of his chances against IndyCar’s best, Pantano was brimming with confidence when he said, “I believe we can be there at the top” at the end of Sunday’s 80-lap race.

Pantano says he was impressed by what he found within the DRR team on such short notice.

“I was surprised, to be honest, when I started and did a 30-lap run on used tires,” he explained. “Then I did a run on new tires, but I was surprised because my best lap time was from the [used] set. That’s when I said, ‘OK, we can be right there.’”

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