Changes to Sonoma course elevates the competition 

click to enlarge Dario Franchitti of Scotland driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda - GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO
  • Getty Images File Photo
  • Dario Franchitti of Scotland driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara Honda

This weekend may mark the eighth consecutive year that the raceway in Sonoma hosts the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma, but it will hardly be the same track of races past.

The 85-lap road-course race has undergone various modifications to turns 7, 9 and 11 to increase passing places for competing drivers.

And thus far, the drivers have approved.

“The good thing for us as drivers, I don’t think it spoiled the character of the track at all,” said Dario Franchitti, driver of the No. 10 car for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. “It’s still got that beautiful elevation change and the mixture of corners. I think it’s definitely a positive, and I look forward to racing there this weekend.”

But in addition to the course changing, so have the cars.

IndyCar for this year’s series adopted a new open-wheel car along with an engine manufacturer competition between Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus.

“I think that we’ve seen this year already that the 2012 cars been a little bit racier on road courses anyhow,” said Sausalito native J.R. Hildebrand, driver of the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car. “I think with the addition of some changes to the push-to-pass, you’ll see a fantastic race with the new layout.”

Franchitti, who currently sits eighth in the points standings, won Sonoma in 2009 and captured the checkered flag at the Indianapolis 500 in May. But despite his conquest at Indy and claiming four out of the past five series titles, the Scotsman realistically views his championship chances as slim.

“My goals now are to try and win those last three races, and to help my teammate Scott Dixon try to get the championship,” Franchitti said. “Because he’s definitely in the running.”

That will prove difficult. Will Power, who drives the No. 12 car for Team Penske, is currently the series points leader and has claimed the last two races at Sonoma.

Per his missed attempt at claiming a fifth title, Franchitti added, “It’s kind of an odd feeling. Because it’s been quite a good run we’ve been on.”

The practice and qualifying rounds will run today through Saturday, with the championship race on Sunday.

GoPro Indy GP of Sonoma

  • When: Today, 1:45 p.m.
  • Where: Raceway at Sonoma
  • Course: 2.31-mile road course featuring 12 turns
  • Laps: 85
  • Defending champ: Will Power
  • TV: NBC Sports Network (Today, 1 p.m.)
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