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Practice day at the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma did little to suggest a favorite among the four remaining contenders for the 2018 IndyCar Series championship.

After two practices Friday in preparation for the season finale at Sonoma Raceway, points leader Scott Dixon was third on the combined-session timesheet. He was sandwiched by Team Penske teammates Josef Newgarden and Will Power, each 87 points behind the four-time champion and holding glimmering hopes for the title. Alexander Rossi, 29 points out of the lead, came within a half-second of the other contenders.

With double the normal race points awarded in Sunday's race - including 100 to the winner - the outcome is far from decided.

Newgarden, the reigning series champion, set the fast lap of the second practice at 1 minute, 17.8156 seconds (110.338 mph) in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. It ranked second on the combined speed chart for the two sessions on the 2.385-mile permanent road course.

"It was difficult this afternoon, to be honest," said Newgarden, who was ill overnight and didn't run a lap in the first practice due to fuel pressure issues with the car. "When I first went out, I wasn't very happy (with) the first run, and then we made really good progress the second run."

Power, the 2014 series champion, placed fourth in both practices and settled in at fourth on the combined timesheet. His best lap of 1:17.8818 (110.244 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet came in the morning session.

"It's just a matter of who got a clean lap and who didn't," Power said. "You've literally got two (peak) laps on tires and then it's done. If you didn't get it done at that point, you're never going to get it."

Rossi felt his Andretti Autosport crew made progress with the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda from the first practice, when he was eighth, to the second, when he ran sixth. At 11th on the combined chart, he wasn't discouraged.

"This place changes so quickly, and so often that what you have one day doesn't necessarily transfer completely to the next day," Rossi said. "We definitely have some work to do overnight and need to put our heads together. It's not the first time we've had a bad Friday, so I have a lot of confidence in the (No.) 27 NAPA team."

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rossi's teammate, posted the best lap of the day in the opening practice. Hunter-Reay toured the Sonoma circuit in 1:17.5742 (110.681 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Honda.

"It was a good start to the day; we were P1 this morning and overall," Hunter-Reay said. "We went to some pretty aggressive changes this afternoon, knowing that Practice 2 was our last opportunity to do it before qualifying.

"We made some changes, got aggressive with it and it was the wrong way, so we'll make some changes and head back to where we were in Practice 1 and hopefully get the DHL car back to its good form."

Patricio O'Ward, the newly crowned Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut this weekend, was a surprising third in the afternoon practice. The 19-year-old turned a best lap of 1:18.0073 (110.067 mph) in the No. 8 Harding Group Chevrolet.

"It was a pretty good day and I'm very satisfied with how we ended. The first practice felt like a shot out of a cannon because there were so many (more) cars out there than what I was used to, and I didn't get any clean running.

"I'm happy I got some clean running in Practice 2. We were working hard on getting the car right for qualifying, so we were on the (Firestone alternate) red tires for most of practice. It feels really good, so now we're going to work on the (primary) black tires to get ready for the race setup. As of now, I'm very satisfied with today."



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FIA safety delegate Laurent Mekies has confirmed the governing body is following and working with IndyCar on the development of the windshield cockpit protection which was tested this week.

While the FIA has already gone ahead with the implementation of the controversial Halo device, which will be seen in Formula 1, F2 this year and Formula E from 2019, the American single-seater series has been developing the windshield for a potential introduction some point this year.

That prospect took a good step forward too after Scott Dixon completed a successful test using the windshield in daytime, dusk and nighttime conditions at the ISM Raceway last week.

"Everything looks very good, I’m very happy," the driver reported back afterwards. 

“When you look through something like that, it does change," Dixon acknowledged, with Sebastian Vettel suffering dizziness during a one-lap run with a similar design called the Shield last year.

"Your brain and eyes just need to catch up with it. The longer I ran, I got more adapted to it.”

With the Halo generating so much backlash compared to a somewhat positive response to the look of the windshield, F1 fans are now hoping it could signal an alternative for the future.

"Of course we have seen it," FIA's Mekies confirmed to Racer. "As far as safety is concerned we work closely with all other motorsport stakeholders.

"It's very good that IndyCar is putting some energy in trying to develop solutions and maybe it can complement the work we're doing one day."

As for whether he thought the windshield was something that could be integrated to F1, he added: "I think it's quite clear today what the advantages and the downsides are of the solutions.

"You choose what you try to protect against and after that, you have to accept if something more than that happens it won't help, or not as much as is needed.

"You might remember that we had ourselves scanned different protection levels," he pointed out. "The Shield we tried at Silverstone last year had a slightly reduced protection level. It's a matter of finding a good compromise."

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Fernando Alonso has given the clearest indication yet that a full-time IndyCar move is on the horizon in 2019 after completing a first road course test this week.

The Spaniard, who announced his departure from Formula 1 at the end of this year last month, drove the latest Andretti Autosport chassis at Barber Motorsport Park with a full range of conditions from very wet through to bone dry.

"Yeah, it was a good day, a fun day," Alonso commented afterwards. "I love to test new cars and to test the IndyCar on a road course is something special.

"I’ve been lucky enough to test it in wet conditions, in intermediate conditions and in dry conditions, so overall I had a good feeling on every type of track.

"The weather was good for us today, a little bit of wind in the afternoon but overall a positive day."

In addition to completing the tradition motorsport 'Triple Crown' of the Monaco GP, Le Mans 24 Hours and Indianapolis 500, with the latter the last remaining piece to that puzzle, some believe Alonso now wants to target a new Triple Crown of becoming champion in F1, WEC and IndyCar.

To do that in the American series will mean mastering the art of oval racing, which he did for the first time last year at Indy, and the 37-year-old was asked which kind of track he enjoyed the most.

"Probably my instinct will tell me road course because it’s what I’ve been used to doing all my life, but the Indy 500 was an amazing experience, so 50/50," he claimed.

"I think I love the way the car feels on a road course, but I love the way you compete on ovals, timing the tows, traffic and all the overtaking manoeuvres I think are a little bit easy on the ovals, so in terms of track action, I loved the Indy 500."

Keeping his cards close to his chest, however, Alonso insisted the Barber test was more about the experience than any kind of 2019 preparation.

"I had some options to test the car on a road course after the Indy 500. We didn’t find the time, but this year it’s definitely happened now and I’m happy for this," he said.

"I love being behind a steering wheel, and definitely a new car, a new experience, learning a lot of things from the team, the engineers, everyone, so a happy day."

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McLaren Executive Director Zak Brown has confirmed the British team will not be entering the Indianapolis 500 next year, after the much-applauded effort with Fernando Alonso in 2017.

The Spaniard took advantage of the lack of competitiveness with Honda in Formula 1 to attempt another leg of motorsport's Triple Crown, bringing huge interest along with him, however, his effort would end in disappointment with an engine failure while running well up the order.

He has ruled out another attempt next year to focus on F1, as a new Renault engine partnership at McLaren brings with it hopes for a championship bid, therefore, unable to recreate the kind of buzz this year's entry did, Brown has said the British team will not be returning to the Brickyard

"It's off the table," he confirmed to Racer. "We could have gone to Indy next year as just another Indy 500 entry but that's not McLaren. If we can't do it right and be a big part of the show, then we don't want to do it."

That's not to say McLaren is finished with Indianapolis or IndyCar in general, with Brown revealing consultations are underway into future racing plans.

"Given that the Indianapolis 500 is a big percentage of IndyCar's overall awareness, does that give you enough to accomplish what you want to do, or do you want to do a full season? That's all part of the review process," he explained.

"I'd rather the next time we go – whether that be Indy 500 only or IndyCar – it not be a one-off. So if we take the decision it's Indy only, I would like it to be Indy only for the next 10 years.

"This year was a one-off, crazy idea that turned into a great opportunity."