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IndyCar: Fast Saturday practice sees Hunter-Reay on top

Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday morning ahead of qualifying for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series finale.
Ryan Hunter-Reay put Andretti Autosport at the top of the timesheets following the 45-minute Saturday morning practice session ahead of this weekend's GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the season finale of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series.

Hunter-Reay's best lap came in his very first effort and clocked in at 1:16.8702s (111.695mph) on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course, already far outstripping the existing track qualifying record of 1:17.2393s (111.161mph) set by Penske's Will Power last year on his way to pole position and clinching the 2014 title.

CLICK: Full Saturday morning practice 2 times from Sonoma Raceway

In fact the top ten drivers were all under Power's qualifying record time. Coming in just 0.0287s behind Hunter-Reay in the session was Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal. Josef Newgarden (CFH Racing) was third fastest while championship points leader Juan Pablo Montoya was fourth, still within six hundredths of a second of Hunter-Reay's time.

Montoya - who has been out on front in the championship since winning the season opener at St Petersburg in March - currently has a 34 point lead over Rahal in the title race. As well as Newgarden, the other drivers still mathematically in with a chance of snatching the title away from Montoya are Ganassi's Scott Dixon (fifth fastest on Saturday), Penske's Helio Castroneves (sixth) and Will Power (ninth). Power is a three-time winner at Sonoma Raceway and has started from the pole four times in the past five years.

Other drivers beating the 2014 pole record were Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz (seventh) and Ganassi's Tony Kanaan (eighth), with the top ten rounded out by the remaining Penske driver Simon Pagenaud.

Drivers were helped to their flying lap times by new primary and alternate Firestone Racing tyres being used for the first time this weekend, which feature softer compounds to improve grip levels around the circuit.

Just missing out on both the top ten and pipping the 2014 qualifying record was Sebastian Saavedra, who was 11th fastest in the session as he returned to the race seat of the Ganassi #8 in place of Sage Karam with whom he has been sharing the car this season. Meanwhile Mikhail Aleshin had an impressive run to 13th place in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsport #77 after a year away from IndyCar.

There was a good showing for the Dale Coyne Racing cars, with Rodolfo Gonzalez ending up 21st on the timesheets just a tenth ahead of his team mate Tristan Vautier.

Returning to the IndyCar Series for the first time since Indianapolis, Oriol Servia was 24th fastest in the Andretti Autosport #25 that he is driving this week in tribute to his friend Justin Wilson, who was tragically killed after sustaining severe head trauma in a freak accident at Pocono last week.

The slowest of the 25 drivers taking part in the session was SPM's James Jakes, who was 1.7585s off Hunter-Reay's pace but still enjoying his time back at one of his favourite venues.

"Sonoma is a great place to end the season. It's one of my favourite tracks on the calendar," he said. "I really like the layout because it's very challenging and feels great when you can put a lap together. With so many different types of corners, it's always a challenge to find the perfect balance."

Thanks to cooler and more overcast conditions today, everyone ended up improving and going faster on Saturday morning than they had previously managed in the marathon three-and-a-half hour long session on the hot and sunny Friday afternoon.

See full Saturday morning practice 2 times from Sonoma Raceway

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Ryan Hunter-Reay apexes the Turn 9A chicane during practice for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Ryan Hunter-Reay sits in his Andretti Autosport Honda on pit lane prior to practice for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by: Shawn Gritzmacher for IndyCar Media)
Alexander Rossi - Andretti Autosport   [pic credit: Indycar Media/Joe Skibinski]
Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) celebrates winning the 2016 IndyCar title with victory at Sonoma   [pic credit: Chris Owens]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Will Power - Team Penske
Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) on his way to victory at Watkins Glen   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) on his way to pole at Watkins Glen   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Graham Rahal celebrates victory in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway   (image credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens)
Scott Dixon leads the Indycar field   [pic credit: Indycar media/Bret Kelley]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Ed Jones - Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Scott Dixon - Target Chip Ganassi Racing   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/JOE SKIBINSKI]
Josef Newgarden - Ed Carpenter Racing   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Shawn Gritzmacher]
Will Power - Penske  [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]

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