Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After a two-week break, the IZOD IndyCar Series resumes its schedule at the Sonoma, Calif. road course. Three races remain this season, and just 28 points separate the top-four drivers.
There have been recent modifications to the 2.31-mile Sonoma course, with changes made to turns seven, nine and eleven. Most IndyCar teams participated in a one-day test session there last week to familiarize themselves with the revised layout.
Team Penske drivers Will Power and Helio Castroneves were the fastest among the Chevrolet-powered cars, while Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti led the way among the cars utilizing Honda engines.
"I think the track is definitely going to promote more passing in turn seven," Power said. "The passing zone in seven is the best one, but if they changed turn eleven to modify the exit curbs a bit, it could be good as well. But good changes for sure."
Power comes to Northern California with only a five-point lead over Ryan Hunter-Reay from Andretti Autosport. Power reclaimed the top spot in the standings after his second-place finish at Mid-Ohio earlier this month. Hunter-Reay gave up the points lead after finishing 24th there. He suffered engine failure in the closing laps.
Castroneves is 26 points behind Power, while Dixon is 28 behind after his win at Mid-Ohio. Dixon had been 61 points out of the lead prior to his victory.
"It's insanely competitive," Power said. "You haven't seen anyone consistently win poles or win races. No one dominates this series. It just proves how tough it is and tight it is. You have to work on all the finer points of your driving just to be competitive."
Power has started on the pole and won at Sonoma the past two years. In 2011, Power led a 1-2-3 sweep of the podium for Penske. Castroneves finished second, while Ryan Briscoe placed third.
"I'm glad we got to practice on the new track," Castroneves said. "I believe the changes will be a benefit for the drivers and make it even more exciting for the fans. I can't wait to get back on the track this weekend, and hopefully we can repeat the good luck from before to get into victory lane."
Castroneves won there in 2008.
Hunter-Reay has finished no better than eighth in his five races at Sonoma.
"Our Sonoma test was a productive one, and we've found a direction, but we still have a lot of work to do over the race weekend if we are going to contend for a win," he said.
Dixon won at Sonoma in 2007 and then placed outside the top-10 the next two years there before finishing 2nd in 2010 and 5th last season.
"Sonoma has kind of been a bit of a thorn in my side. I don't know. We've had success there. We've won there. We've been on the podium many a times. But we struggled a little bit in qualifying."
After Sonoma, IndyCar will compete in Baltimore on Sept. 2 and then wrap up the season in Fontana, Calif. on Sept. 15.
Twenty-seven teams are on the entry list for the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Series: IZOD IndyCar. Date: Sunday, August 26. Race: GoPro Indy Grand Prix at Sonoma. Site: Sonoma road course. Track: 2.31-mile, 12-turn road course. Start Time: 4:30 p.m. (ET). Laps: 85. Miles: 196.35. 2011 Winner: Will Power. Television: NBC Sports Network. Radio: IMS Radio Network/SIRIUS XM Satellite.
08/23 01:36:57 ET