SONOMA, California – The Verizon IndyCar Series championship fight drew closer than ever atop the timesheet for the final INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma practice Saturday morning ahead of qualifying later in the day.
Scott Dixon, the four-time series champion who leads the standings headed to Sunday’s season finale, led the 45-minute practice session. But the three other drivers still alive in the title chase – Alexander Rossi, Will Power and Josef Newgarden – all finished practice in the top five.
INDYCAR GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Practice 3 I Combined practice results I Round 1 qualifying groups
Dixon’s lap of 1 minute, 17.9697 seconds (110.120 mph) in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda set the standard on Sonoma Raceway’s 2.385-mile permanent road course leading into Verizon P1 Award qualifying at 6 p.m. ET (live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com; same-day telecast at 8 p.m. on NBCSN).
“The PNC Bank car rolled off strong,” said Dixon, a three-time winner and one-time pole sitter at Sonoma. “We’re just trying a few different spring packages there for this afternoon. It seems like between morning and afternoon the wind switches, the track temp goes way up, so we’re trying to have a little more tools, I guess.”
The Verizon P1 Award pole winner earns one bonus point, which could prove pivotal for those pursuing Dixon. Rossi, second in the standings and 29 points behind Dixon, ranked fifth in the morning practice in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda for Andretti Autosport (1:18.1256, 109.900 mph). Team Penske teammates Power and Newgarden – each 87 points from the lead – finished the practice second and fifth, respectively.
Power ran a lap of 1:17.9793 (110.106 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet while Newgarden was clocked at 1:18.1269 (109.898 mph) in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
While his demeanor has remained that of his “Ice Man” nickname, Dixon admitted to jitters that all the contenders are dealing with as the championship weekend unfolds.
“I think everybody’s nervous, man,” the 44-time Indy car race winner said. “This is extreme competition and all of us want to win. That’s what is so cool about sport in general but especially in the Verizon IndyCar Series right now. The competition is just so tight.”
Dixon has won Verizon IndyCar Series titles in 2003, ’08, ’13 and ’15 – wrapping up the latter of those with a win at the Sonoma finale. Power won the championship in 2014 and Newgarden last year. Of the four contenders, Rossi is the only driver without a series title to his credit to date.
The only incident of the final practice came late when Carlos Munoz spun in the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda and stopped on track. Sebastien Bourdais completed just four laps before clutch issues parked his No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda, forcing the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan into scramble mode to repair the car in time for qualifying.
Sunday’s 85-lap race will be the 15th for Indy cars at Sonoma, but the last for the foreseeable future. The track is not on the 2019 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.
Live race coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.