The team would relish a repeat of last year's performance this weekend at the picturesque Northern California road circuit. In the midst of a tight IndyCar Series championship chase that is coming down to the wire with only four races remaining, both Briscoe and Castroneves need a strong weekend to bolster their title hopes. For Will Power, this weekend's event marks another opportunity to showcase his skills as he competes in his second-to-last event of his limited schedule with Penske Racing this season.
Briscoe enters this weekend just three points out of the championship lead, as he sits second behind defending champion Scott Dixon. Briscoe claimed his first-ever pole in the IndyCar Series at Sonoma in 2005 and he qualified second last year before leading 19 laps and producing his runner-up finish in the No. 6 Team Penske Dallara/Honda.
The native of Sydney, Australia has won the pole at each of the previous permanent road course events this season - Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio - and he produced second-place results at both of them. His history and the strong performance of Team Penske this season give him confidence heading into the weekend.
"Sonoma was the site of my first career IndyCar Series pole, so Infineon Raceway will always be special to me," said Briscoe. "The track is very physically and mentally demanding in that the steering gets really heavy around the circuit, the corners are very taxing and there are a lot of ups-and-downs with blind turns. Even though it's one of the most challenging tracks we go to, I can't wait to get back there because it really is a fun course to drive.
I've earned poles at both permanent road courses this season, and finished second twice. Hopefully this weekend, we'll be able to move up just one finishing spot. The championship battle is coming down to the wire, so we have to make sure we maintain our focus from here on out."
For Castroneves, dreams of a championship are not ready to fade this season, though he knows he has a challenge ahead of him. Trailing Dixon by 101 points in fourth place, Castroneves is keenly aware that Sonoma is the place where his dramatic push for the championship began last season. He won from the pole at Infineon Raceway and captured another victory and a second-place finish to push the battle for the series crown down to the final lap of the season. The popular Brazilian racer has also won at three of the final four events remaining on the series calendar, so he believes he will still be a force to be reckoned with, beginning with this weekend's race.
"Infineon Raceway is one of the most technical tracks we run on all year," said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Team Penske Dallara/Honda. "It's fast with big hills and big turns, so it makes running well there very difficult. We've finished in the top-five the past three years, including a win last season and hopefully we'll be just as competitive this year.
We're coming off of a tough race in Mid-Ohio, but we're still in the points battle. We have a lot of work ahead of us in the next four races if we want to compete for the championship, but we certainly proved last year that you can never count us out. A solid weekend in Sonoma will bring us one step closer in our battle for the 2009 championship."
After producing his first IndyCar Series win in his last road course event at Edmonton, Power also expects to be competing for the victory this weekend. Unlike Briscoe and Castroneves, Power did not test last week at Infineon Raceway, but he will rely on his Penske Racing teammates advice and feedback and he has proven all season long that he's one of the strongest competitors in the series, especially on road circuits.
"I am really looking forward to getting back behind the wheel this weekend," said Power, who will once again pilot the No. 12 Penske Truck Rental Dallara/Honda for the team. "Infineon Raceway is a very challenging track and I know that the Team Penske cars were both very strong there last season and they did well at the test. We don't have a lot of track time this weekend but we will make the most of what we have and I know that the team will give me a great car and we'll have the opportunity to have a strong result."
Several new elements to this year's race at Sonoma should also make for some challenging strategy for each Penske Racing team. The race has been shortened from 80 to 75 laps, creating larger fuel mileage windows and the opportunity for more wide-open racing. The Firestone alternate "red" tires will also come into play and the recently-introduced "push-to-pass" overtaking feature will also be new to the event this season, now giving competitors 15 bursts of extra horsepower for 15 seconds at their disposal with the push of a button inside the cockpit.
The two-day weekend schedule at Infineon Raceway gets underway with practice on Saturday morning and qualifying set to begin at 5:30 p.m. ET. After a 30-minute warm-up session on Sunday, the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma will begin shortly before 6 p.m. ET with live coverage on Versus.