SONOMA, Calif. – Ryan Hunter-Reay’s lament at Sonona:  “This is definitely a Penske track. Last year it was one-two-three,” the IZOD IndyCar Series championship contender said.

It was a Team Penske 1-2 – Will Power and Ryan Briscoe – topping the time chart in the initial practice session for the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma on the 2.31-mile, 12-turn road course. From Hunter-Reay’s viewpoint – second in the series championship standings to Power by five points with three races remaining – 2 and 12 is wrong combination.

Click it: Practice 1 results || Round 1 qualifying groups

“For the past four or five years, this has been a notoriously difficult for the Andretti squad,” said Hunter-Reay, who was 19th of the 27 cars. “It is tough. Right now we definitely have to close the gap. They are the team to beat.”

The three rounds of qualifications on Brasil IT+ Pole Day commence at 5:30 p.m. (ET). A one-hour practice session starts at 1:50 p.m., which affords Hunter-Reay and his Andretti Autosport teammates to close the lap time gap and advance to the Firestone Fast Six.

“This is definitely one of the most competitive IndyCar seasons I have seen in a long time -- either one that I have been a part of or not,” said Hunter-Reay, driving the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda car. “I think this championship is going to come down to Fontana. It’s going to be fought between three or four guys at least. I think realistically the top five have a shot at winning it.

“Every race is going to be pivotal. We came into Mid-Ohio, the last race, leading by 20 points, and now we are trailing by five. It can swing quickly.”

The advantage has swung to Power, who’s won the past two races at Sonoma from the pole. He posted a lap of 1 minute, 18.6887 seconds with 1:40 left in the 75-minute session to claim P1. Briscoe, who briefly held the top spot, supplanted Simon Pagenaud with 20 seconds left with a lap of 1:18.8782 in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske car. Pagenaud, seeking to wrap up the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award, was 0.2341 of a second off Power’s pace in the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car.

“It’s coming down to the nitty-gritty now (for the championship) so it’s important to get everything right,” Power said. “It will be very important to start up front in the race if you want to finish on the podium.”

Dario Franchitti and Rubens Barrichello also were in the top five. Marco Andretti in ninth was the highest of the Andretti Autosport car. The top 13 cars were separated by 1 second on the recently modified course.