Sonoma Raceway played host to the finale of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series with Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power along with Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon going for the titles.
Josef Newgarden with strategist Tim Cindric played it safe finishing in second place behind teammate Pagenaud to lock up the 2017 IndyCar title in his first season with Team Penske.
Team Penske locked out the front 2 rows with Newgarden leading the field to green. As per usual Sonoma’s uphill first turn gave us a spectacular show. Contact between multiple drivers saw an end to the likes of James Hinchcliffe and damage for an exiting Tony Kanaan from Ganassi Racing and rookie racer for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Zachary Claman Demelo.
Added to the early carnage was Takuma Sato on lap 5 with a puncture. Sato’s teammate Alexander Rossi ran into electrical issues during the first round of pitstops. The problem would end Rossi’s bid for a win to end the season.
Pagenaud would be the top running driver to try the 4-stop strategy pitting on lap 12 with his Team Penske teammates and the majority of the field going for the 3-stop. The 3-stop runners would come in 5 laps later on lap 17 starting with Newgarden.
Title contenders Dixon and Castroneves battled mid-race with Castroneves locking up trying to get past the 4-time champion.
Newgarden continued leading until lap 64 when Pagenaud pit gaining a massive advantage and passing his teammate due to not having to save his tires. Pagenaud would not slip up even with Newgarden right on the back of his gearbox at times.
Pagenaud would go on to win the race by 1.1 seconds over Newgarden with Will Power in third. The win wouldn’t be enough to take the title from Newgarden. Helio Castroneves would come in the fifth spot missing out on the title in his potential last full-time season in IndyCar.
Scott Dixon ended up in the fourth spot ending his season third place in the championship. Dixon was, however, the highest finishing Honda in the series and the only one in with a realistic shot at the title coming into Sonoma.
“It seemed like the 3 just covered us,” Dixon said. “Whenever we pitted short, they pitted with us and he was just a massive roadblock. Once we got a clear track, we were able to hunt them down. But all day, as soon as we got in traffic, the car got really loose. Huge credit to everyone on the NTT Data crew. It was a strong season. Obviously not where we want to finish in the championship, but congrats to Penske and Josef on a job well done.”
Andretti Autosport teammates Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay along with Graham Rahal battle the entire race for 6-8th place positions. Marco Andretti would get his best result since Toronto finishing in seventh place. Hunter-Reay would end up right behind his teammate with Rahal ahead of the two in sixth.
Sebastien Bourdais and Conor Daly rounded out the top 10 positions a positive result for the end of their seasons.
The 2017 IndyCar title is the first for 26-year-old Josef Newgarden, “It was all year and it took a lot to make it happen. Thank you to my teammates. They were giving me a lot of help to make sure we got this done. It’s a huge team effort at Team Penske. To finally get it done is a dream come true.”
Newgarden’s team owner and motorsport legend Roger Penske said “I’ve had so many great drivers, and as I said, I don’t have a favorite, I can’t compare (Newgarden) to anyone exactly. He’s an American, which is special in this sport because many of the other drivers have come from overseas and different parts of the world. To see Josef kind of take this route and be at the top right now is pretty exciting.”
2017 marks the end for the manufacturer aero-kits with a new universal aero-kit already revealed for 2018. It should make for better racing and a new challenge for all of the teams come next season.
image credit – www.indycar.com – Shawn Gritzmacher