Redwood High School grad J.R. Hildebrand wants desperately to avoid a repeat of last season's Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. Unfortunately, for him, things aren't lining up that way.
"Qualifying is always important, but especially here," the 23-year-old IndyCar Series rookie said. "Last year here, we were solid all weekend, except for qualifying."
The Sausalito native was solid during Saturday's practice with one of the day's top times, taking advantage of mild temperatures and good tires. He turned in a lap of 1 minute, 19.1243 seconds behind the wheel of the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car, fourth-best for the late morning session.
The mercury climbed steadily during the afternoon and Hildebrand slowed slightly during Fluid Film Pole Day qualifying on the 12-turn, 2.303-mile road course. He failed to make the Fast 6 field and the final cut for the pole. Hildebrand qualified 20th overall (1:19.4654, 104.332).
"I won my first go-kart race at Infineon and won my first race in a car there as well, so it's a special track for myself and my family," Hildebrand said.
Team Penske dominated qualifying, led by Will Power.
Power, who recorded his sixth pole of the year and second consecutive at Infineon Raceway, clocked in at 1:18.601. He was followed by Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves (1:19.091) and Ryan Briscoe (1:19.111).
It was the first time Team Penske secured the top three spots in qualifying since 2010.
"We were just smart with our tires in the first two rounds of qualifying and we knew we had to lay one down to be on the pole so we did that," said Power, the defending champion in Sonoma. "It's nice to get the Verizon car on pole again."
Castroneves was equally pleased.
"It's great to be in the front row again," said Castroneves, who took the checkers at Infineon Raceway in 2008. "Penske at 1-2-3 is a very good thing and shows we're working and getting better."
IZOD IndyCar Series points leader Dario Franchitti, who entered the weekend with a 47-point lead over Power, was fourth in qualifying (Target, 1:19.146) with Scott Dixon (Target, 1:19.389) rounding out the top five.
Patrick Long (Porsche) posted the win in the SCCA World Challenge feature race, beating second-place Johnny O'Connell (Cadillac) by more than five seconds in the GT class. Mike Skeen (Chevrolet) was third.
"Luckily there was a lot of green flag racing. We haven't had a lot of that this year," said Long, who entered the race No. 1 in points. "That's where this Porsche is at its best. Johnny O'Connell could have pushed me NASCAR-style but that's not the way he races."
Other winners in the SCCA World Challenge race were Peter Cunningham (GTS) and Lawson Aschenbach (Honda).
San Rafael's Patrick O'Neill took the victory in the Formula Car Challenge main event on Saturday. Michael Guasch was a distant second, more than 21 seconds behind O'Neill, with Lloyd Read of Pleasanton third.
"I wanted to basically get a good start and build a comfortable lead," said O'Neill, who entered the race sixth in points. "I just had to focus on hitting my marks and then watch out for lap traffic."
Racing resumes on Sunday at Infineon Raceway with the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma set to take the green flag at 1:45 p.m. Other main events include Formula Car Challenge Race #2 (11 a.m.); Historic Grand Prix (11:45 a.m.); and SCCA World Challenge Race #2 (following Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma). Tickets are available at the gate; visitwww.infineonraceway.com/indycar for more information.
SONOMA - Qualifying Saturday for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma IZOD IndyCar Series event on the 2.303-mile Infineon Raceway road course, with starting position, car number in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, time and speed in parentheses:
1. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.6017 (105.479)
2. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.0916 (104.825)
3. (6) Ryan Briscoe, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.1112 (104.799)
4. (10) Dario Franchitti, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.1464 (104.753)
5. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.3892 (104.432)
6. (06) James Hinchcliffe, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.4546 (104.346)
7. (27) Mike Conway, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.9388 (105.028)
8. (19) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Honda, 01:18.9717 (104.984)
9. (59) EJ Viso, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.0724 (104.851)
10. (24) Ana Beatriz, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.1100 (104.801)
11. (22) Giorgio Pantano, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.2408 (104.628)
12. (77) Alex Tagliani, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.8032 (103.891)
13. (38) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.3311 (104.509)
14. (26) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.3717 (104.455)
15. (17) Martin Plowman, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.3792 (104.445)
16. (5) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.3836 (104.440)
17. (18) James Jakes, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.4744 (104.320)
18. (2) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.3955 (104.424)
19. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.6402 (104.103)
20. (4) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.4654 (104.332)
21. (82) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.7270 (103.990)
22. (78) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.5635 (104.204)
23. (34) Sebastian Saavedra, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.7517 (103.958)
24. (88) Ho-Pin Tung, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.5894 (104.170)
25. (7) Danica Patrick, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.7854 (103.914)
26. (83) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Honda, 01:19.8349 (103.849)
27. (67) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Honda, 01:20.6269 (102.829)
28. (14) Vitor Meira, Dallara-Honda, 01:20.1209 (103.479)
Indy® Grand Prix of Sonoma Weekend
WHAT: Big O Tires Racing Season Presents: Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma
WHEN: Aug. 26-28
CIRCUIT: 12-turn road course
2010 POLE WINNER: Will Power (Team Penske)
2010 WINNER: Will Power (Team Penske)
NOTABLE: The weekend will also include Fluid Film Pole Day, as well as the Historic Grand Prix, Star Mazda Series, World Challenge and Formula Car Challenge, making for an action-packed weekend.
TICKETS: $10-$65 single day/$65-$85 weekend; parking is FREE and kids 12 and under are FREE (Friday and Saturday). Garage passes are available for purchase.