Dixon & Castroneves Lead Sonoma Practice

Helio Castroneves will have to overcome a 25 point deficit to become the 2013 IndyCar champion. (IndyCar Photo)
Helio Castroneves was second fastest in IZOD IndyCar Series practice at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway on Friday. (IndyCar Photo)
Helio Castroneves was second fastest in IZOD IndyCar Series practice at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway on Friday. (IndyCar Photo)

SONOMA, Calif. – With five races to go in the battle for the IZOD IndyCar Series championship and Scott Dixon just 31 points behind leader Helio Castroneves it would be easy to pit these two in a head-to-head fight for the title.

Not so fast, says Castroneves. There are still plenty of races and several more drivers within striking distance of the top spot in the standings.

“I disagree,” Castroneves said after Friday’s practice session for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. “I wish it were just two of us but with five races to go it’s still wide open. Ryan Hunter-Reay is one of them and Marco Andretti is out there as well as Simon Pagenaud and Dario Franchitti. I wish it were just the two of us but at this point we are doing the right job; putting ourselves in the right positions and focus on that direction.”

Defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Hunter-Reay is 65 out of the lead followed by Marco Andretti, 76 points back. Pagenaud is fifth, 103 out followed by Franchitti (111 back). James Hinchcliffe and Charlie Kimball are both 128 points out with Justin Wilson 133 out of first and Tony Kanaan 140 back to round out the top 10.

“Year after year we see the championship come down to the wire,” Dixon said. “I think Hunter-Reay is in a great spot and there are some others with an outside chance as well. Anything can happen and for us it’s important to focus on our job and carry on as normal.”

Dixon was the fastest driver in Friday’s practice session at the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course in the picturesque California Wine Country with a fast lap at 1:18.3145 for a speed of 109.635 miles per hour in a Dallara/Honda. Castroneves was second at 1:18.6694 (109.140 mph) in a Dallara/Chevrolet.

The full field participated in an open test session here on Wednesday before Friday’s two practice sessions. Dixon noted having difficulty in matching a setup for the tire that is being used this weekend.

“Firestone always has a great product but maybe the tires don’t match this track as well,” Dixon said. “It’s definitely making it interesting. In the first session we normally take two or three laps to get it together and I didn’t get it together at all. Dario Franchitti is one to watch as well. We were able to piece it together better in the second session. It’s about getting your laps together and making the most out of it. As the race goes on it’s going to make it a very interesting race. At Barber it was hard to know about the tire because the track was ground. This is a lot lower grip circuit and speaking for my car after three or four laps you feel the car fall off quite a bit.”

Because the 12-turn, 2.385-mile road course can be so treacherous in a race it’s important to start up front because the championship can be won or lost by another driver’s mistake.

“Tires are so critical but it’s not all about tires; it’s the downforce as well,” Castroneves said. “Our cars produce a lot of downforce but turbulent air when you are behind someone. Because of these scenarios you can’t set up for that. The good news is the push to pass helps that a little bit. It’s always very important to start in the front especially at a place with a lot of runoff area. It could be a factor starting up front.”

Dixon believes this course lends itself because of the 180-degree turns that create some opportunities to pass but also come with a lot of risk.