SAN FRANCISCO -- The Verizon IndyCar Series’ path to the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma is marked by the Golden Gate Bridge.
Making that clear Aug. 27, four competition Indy cars, including three that will compete in the championship-deciding race Aug. 30, rolled in formation across the iconic 4,200-foot suspension bridge. Traffic and tourists stopped as the dramatic procession made its way to Vista Point, on its north side.
Marco Andretti led the way in the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda in honor of Justin Wilson, who succumbed Aug. 24 to a head injury sustained in a race a day earlier. Championship contenders Graham Rahal, Will Power and Josef Newgarden drove behind him in their race cars with James Hinchcliffe, who drove the INDYCAR Racing Experience two-seater with the Astor Cup, the series' championship trophy, in the back seat.
Cruising over the bridge in the car Wilson drive last weekend with the California afternoon sun beating down was a bittersweet experience for Andretti.
“It was an honor to drive Justin’s car. It was emotional for sure,” he said. “It’s hard to put into words what you’re feeling. It’s tough. We’re trying to stay as focused on the next race because we know Justin would want us to do that. At the same time, it’s a tremendous loss.”
Behind Andretti and the Indy cars followed two Holmatro Safety Team Trucks, the vehicles used by doctors, nurses, paramedics and firefighters who care for INDYCAR drivers at race events. White flags, imprinted with an image of Wilson’s helmet and affixed in the back of the trucks, flapped in the wind.
But race car drivers will be race car drivers. Despite a 45 mph speed limit, they couldn’t help but hit the gas pedal a bit, so the safety trucks trailed behind.
“What a wicked experience to actually drive an IndyCar across the Golden Gate Bridge. That is amazing – and honoring Justin Wilson at the same time, with his No. 25 leading,” said Power, the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion who drives the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
Newgarden was ecstatic.
“It was the coolest thing I think we’ve ever done with IndyCars outside of on-track stuff. It was just an absolute blast to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge,” he said. “We still have heavy hearts after last weekend, you know. Justin would have wanted us to do something like this and continue doing what we love.”
The Golden Gate Bridge joy ride was just that for Newgarden, who will drive the No. 67 GoPro CFH Racing Chevrolet this weekend. Still, it required concentration, he said.
“You got to look around but, man, you had to stay focused,” Newgarden said. “IndyCars can get away from you on the quick and I didn’t want it to get away from me on the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ve still got 750 horsepower underneath you.”
It also marked Hinchcliffe’s first time driving an IndyCar since his season-ending injury sustained May 18 in a crash during Indianapolis 500 practice. During his recovery he has grown a bushy beard, saying he will shave after he drives an IndyCar again. The cruise left him wondering if it was time.
“I didn’t shave after the accident and it kind of grew into this thing, literally and figuratively, and so I said I wasn’t going to shave until I got back into a race car,” he said. “Technically, I put on my suit, my boots, my helmet, my gloves and I got in a car and drove it. So, I don’t know if this is a gray area. We might have to get the lawyers involved.”
Instead, he decided to take a Twitter pole, which continues at the time of this post.
From his @hinchtown account, Hinchcliffe Tweeted: “Reply #save or #shave. When I wake up, whichever has more … wins. VOTE NOW!”
Want to know what happens? Hinchcliffe will be at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma all weekend.