Photo Credit: IndyCar
Simon Pagenaud, who drivers a Chevrolet-powered car for Team Penske, took the checkered flag for his 5th victory of the season and 9th of his IndyCar career today at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California during the Verizon IndyCar Series championship finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. The win also made Pagenaud the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, giving him his first ever series title.
Pagenaud won the race by 3.2523 seconds over Graham Rahal, mimicking their 1-2 finish earlier this season back in April at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Rahal was the highest-finishing driver of a Honda-powered car. Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Alexander Rossi rounded out the top 5 finishing positions. Drivers of the Honda-powered cars made up 3 of those top 5 positions. You can see full race results at IndyCar.com.
The race turned into a fuel-saving race towards the end of the race, with pretty much every contender except for Helio Castroneves, who made an extra pit stop during the race, needing to save fuel. Castroneves ended up finishing in 7th place despite making that extra pit stop due to the fact that he was able to run faster laps than most of the other drivers because they were saving fuel and he was not.
Alexander Rossi would have finishing in 4th place had he not run out of fuel at the end of the race and been passed by Ryan Hunter-Reay. Rossi’s 5th place finish toady is the career highest of his IndyCar career and his highest finish outside of his Indianapolis 500 victory back in May.
The race featured a total of 5 lead changes among 3 different drivers. Race winner and polesitter Simon Pagenaud led the most laps with 76 laps led out of the 85 total laps raced around the 11-turn 2.385-mile natural terrain road course.
The race also featured just one caution flag periods for a duration of 3 laps. This caution flag came out on lap 38 of the race when the car of Will Power slowed down and came to a stop on track due to a gear box issue, effectively ending any chance he had at winning the race and the series championship. Spencer Pigot was also stopped and rescued during this caution period, but he was already off of the track with a mechanical failure. Power would end up continuing the race 8 laps down, while Pigot would not.
Since Pagenaud came into the race with a 43-point advantage over Will Power and Power was the only driver who could mathematically steal the championship from Pagenaud, the championship was essentially decided when Power had his mechanical issue towards the middle of the race. Pagenaud ended up winning the championship by a 127-point margin over Will Power, as Pagenaud had 659 points compared to Power’s 532. This 127-point margin is the largest in IndyCar history.
Pagenaud led the championship standings after every race except for the season opener at St. Petersburg this season. Juan Pablo Montoya was the championship leader after winning at St. Petersburg to open up this season. Montoya was coming off of a season during which he led the championship standings after all but the final race of last season, when Scott Dixon stole the title from him at Sonoma a year ago for his 4th series championship.
Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, and Graham Rahal rounded out the top 5 finishing positions in this season’s championship standings. With Power and Castroneves finishing in 2nd and 3rd place, respectively, in this season’s championship standings behind Pagenaud, this gives Team Penske a top 3 championship standings position sweep this season.
The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule can be seen HERE. The series will take a break of nearly 6 months before getting back to competitive on-track action at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 12th, 2017.