After a few weeks of vacation, the IZOD IndyCar Series is back in action. A revamped Sonoma course will be the scene for the first of three races to determine this year’s champion. The stakes are high—and that goes for INDYCAR Fantast Leagues as well! As we move to crunch time, here’s another round of Locks, Drops, and Sleepers from our panelists to help you start that winning lineup:
Zachary Houghton, IndyCarAdvocate.com
Lock: Will Power
Chances are, you’ve almost maxed out the number of times you can choose Power this season. If you have another chance to use, this is your week. Power has won both the pole and the race here the last two seasons, and even with the track adjustments, passing will still likely be a hard-won effort on this track. Power has a high likelihood of starting up front, and staying there.
Drop: Oriol Servia
This seems like a strange track to note the well-respected Spanish driver as a potential drop, but Sonoma has been an up-and-down sort of place for Servia. In three attempts here, he’s finished Top 10 only once (P6, 2010). Outside of Toronto, Servia and company’s record on the twisties hasn’t been sterling this year. He probably won’t finish at the very back, but a mid-pack result seems more likely.
Sleeper: Sebastien Bourdais
Sonoma is one of the few places Seabass has been able to do any appreciable amount of testing this season, and it can be expected to pay off. He finished P6 here a year ago after qualifying in the Top 10, and he’s fresh off a strong Mid-Ohio performance. Bourdais seems to like this track, and it should fit his driving style quite well. If the Dragon crew can do right by him, he could easily land a Top 10, or perhaps find his way into a Top 5.
Steve Wittich, IndyCar Nation Contributor
Lock: Will Power
After a scary Turn 3 incident with Nelson Phillipe in 2009 the Toowoomba Tornado has been on a tear at Sears Point. Power’s qualifying prowess led to pole positions which in turn led to dominating wins in both 2010 and 2011. The Izod IndyCar series heads to a reconfigured Sonoma with a new car but I can’t foresee Penske’s wine country dominance turning sour anytime soon.
Drop: Graham Rahal
Graham has been solid but not spectacular in his previous four Sonoma races coming home with an average finish of 11th. That middling performance, G2’s qualification troubles, Sonoma’s reputation of being a hard place to pass, and Graham’s free agent announcement are too much to overcome this weekend.
Sleeper: Rubens Barrichello
I think the stars align in Northern California on Sunday and we will finally see the Rubinho breakout we have all been waiting for. Combine a hunch that KV will find a cure for their qualifying woes with multiple test days at a natural terrain road course and it isn’t hard to see Rubens with a season best result.
Chris Estrada, IndyRacingRevolution.com
Lock: Will Power
Power, the two-time defending champion at Sonoma, has flat-out ruled the place in recent times. After failing to start there in 2009 following a disturbing practice crash, he has led all but six laps (144 of 150) of Sonoma’s combined previous two IndyCar events, and he finds himself on top of the championship going into this weekend’s event. If he can come through with another tour de force in California’s wine country, he’ll be in very good position to finally capture the IndyCar title.
Drop: Marco Andretti
Ever since winning at Sonoma in 2006, good results have eluded the third-generation driver there. In his last five starts, Andretti has finished 16th, 14th, 14th, 12th, and 24th. 2012 has been a disappointing year for him, and while he came home in the top-10 at Mid-Ohio, you must assume he wants more in these last three races to build up steam for 2013.
Sleeper: Simon Pagenaud
The Frenchman’s due to win one in 2012, and his third-place showing at Mid-Ohio makes me think that he’d be well-suited to the equally technical environment at Sonoma. Last year, he ran there in a substitute role for HVM Racing, where he moved up seven spots (started 22nd, finished 15th) on a course that’s been notoriously tough to pass on in the past.