Track: Sonoma Raceway
Race: GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
Date: Sept. 17, 2017
No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Simon Pagenaud
Finish: 1st (11th career victory)
Laps Completed: 85/85
Laps Led: 41
Final Points Position (deficit): 2nd (-13 pts.)
Recap: It was a near-perfect Sunday for Simon Pagenaud and the No. 1 DXC Technology Chevrolet team at Sonoma Raceway as they ran a virtually flawless race while winning the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma for the second straight year. The impressive performance nearly allowed Pagenaud to rally and catch his teammate in the series title chase but in the end Josef Newgarden ran strong as well and with a second-place finish he was able to hold off Pagenaud, who fell just short of defending his 2016 title. After earning a third-place starting spot in qualifying Saturday, Pagenaud fell back to the fourth position early on before the team made it key move of the race. Running behind his other Team Penske teammates who were also fighting for the title, Pagenaud came to pit lane on Lap 11, well in advance of the other race leaders. The early stop allowed Pagenaud and the DXC Technology team to employ an alternate strategy for the remainder of the 85-lap event and it played out perfectly with the race running caution free. The strategy also allowed Pagenaud to show off the speed of the No. 1 Chevy, running in open track when the rest of the leaders visited the pits as he posted blistering lap times all afternoon. Pagenaud and Newgarden, the polesitter, took turns leading the Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma throughout the race with each pacing the field for 41 laps on the day. The pivotal sequence came on Lap 64 when Pagenaud made his final stop of the race while running in the top position. With a fast stop from the DXC Technology crew, he emerged from pit lane just ahead of Newgarden who had stopped two laps earlier. Despite being on cold tires, Pagenaud was able to hold off his hard-charging teammate and claim his second win of the season and his second consecutive victory at Sonoma Raceway. The result left Pagenaud just 13 points behind Newgarden in the final series standings as he finished inside the top five in points for the fifth time in the last six seasons. It also completed a remarkably consistent 2017 season in which Pagenaud completed every single lap of competition in the 17-race schedule.
Quote: “I want to thank everybody on the DXC Technology Chevrolet team today. It was a phenomenal performance, I think, all weekend. I want to congratulate Josef (Newgarden), of course, and Team Penske. I think our team this weekend and the whole season showed how strong everybody is at Team Penske. Back-to-back champions. It’s phenomenal. Great testament to a great team spirit and I’m very happy for him. He deserves it. We did what we had to do. We tried. We won the race; it wasn’t enough. It’s a whole championship. You’ve got to be strong on every race and I guess Josef was a little stronger this year so we’ll come back. Thirteen points (behind). Next year we’ll come back and give him a hell of a competition again.”
No. 2 Hum by Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Josef Newgarden
Start: 1st (second career pole position)
Laps Completed: 85/85
Laps Led: 41
Final Points Position (won first career series championship): 1st (+13 pts.)
Recap: Josef Newgarden completed a dream first season with Team Penske on Sunday, finishing second in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to secure his first career Verizon IndyCar Series championship and the 15th all-time INDYCAR title for Team Penske. Entering the season’s final race weekend with a slim three-point advantage in the championship, Newgarden and the No. 2 Hum by Verizon Chevrolet team imposed their will over the three days at Sonoma producing top speeds in practice and Newgarden recorded his first Verizon P1 pole award of the season on Saturday. Early on Sunday, Newgarden continued to dominate as he led the first 17 laps with little pressure from behind. His teammate and 2016 Sonoma race winner and series champion Simon Pagenaud pitted off sequence early so after the first stops cycled through, Pagenaud claimed the race lead with Newgarden running second. The two Team Penske pilots traded the top spot throughout the rest of the race with each driver taking control of the lead when the other visited pit lane. Pagenaud made the last stop among the leaders and he was able to stay out in front in the closing laps, though Newgarden made a couple of attempts to pass his teammate coming off his final stop of the day. In the end, a strong second-place run gave Newgarden the points he needed to secure the championship and help produce an impressive 1-2-3 finish for Team Penske in a podium sweep of the finale. The performance capped a remarkable first season for Newgarden, who joined Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., and Gil de Ferran as the only drivers to win the title in their initial seasons racing for Team Penske. He also became the youngest driver (26) to capture the INDYCAR crown in 12 years and the first American champ since Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012. Newgarden also established single-season career highs in wins (four), podiums (nine), top fives (10), top 10s (13) and laps led (390).
Quote: “I’m so proud of these guys. I don’t even know what to say. It was all year. It took a lot to make this happen. Thank you to my teammates. They were giving me a lot of help today in making sure that we got this done. It’s a huge team effort at Team Penske. So, it’s cool to do this with Verizon. Verizon does so much for the IndyCar Series. They’ve given fans such great access over the years. I’m happy to have this car for the championship. It’s super fitting; and all the other partners we’ve had at Team Penske. It’s just been phenomenal working with Team Chevy. We’ve had so many great partners on this car. And to finally get it done is a dream come true. It’s too awesome. It was hard. I was using my natural instincts. I was trying to get (Simon) Pagenaud there because that’s what I normally do. I try to win the race whenever possible. They were telling me to be patient and not do something stupid. I tried to get him, but I also tried not to do anything dumb for the team. Like I said, this has been a team effort. So, I’m happy for Pagenaud. He had the pace to win today, for sure, he’s very deserving. This entire group makes this happen. I’m so thankful and happy with everything that Team Penske has done. Congrats to everyone at the factory. This is an amazing amount of work that goes into this.”
No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Helio Castroneves
Laps Completed: 85/85
Laps Led: 0
Final Points Position (deficit): 4th (-44)
Recap: If it weren’t for two remarkable performances by his Team Penske teammates, on Sunday and all season long, Helio Castroneves may have produced that elusive Verizon IndyCar Series championship in 2017. After another strong finish driving the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway, Castroneves closed his 20th season in impressively-consistent fashion – with his ninth top-five and 16th top-10 result of the year as he claimed fourth in the final series standings. Castroneves started strong Sunday passing teammate Simon Pagenaud for third place at the wave of the green flag and running inside the top three until making his first stop of the race on Lap 16. He continued to run in either third or fourth position through the middle part of the race, relying on his experience and a fast No. 3 Hitachi crew on pit lane to remain among the race leaders. With Pagenaud and one of his other fast teammates, Josef Newgarden, battling for the race lead and the championship, Castroneves continued to fight for a top finish. He ended up bringing the Hitachi Chevy home in fifth place for his sixth career top-five result at Sonoma Raceway. The winner at Iowa Speedway this year, Castroneves proved again throughout the season that he was a force in the title chase and he has now finished among the top four in points five times in the last six seasons.
Quote: “I’m always going to focus on the positive thing. I’m not going to focus on Texas when we had a problem, or other races that I missed strategy or made mistakes. You’ve got to think about, again, it was another season that we pushed as hard as we could and another top four. And again, sometimes it’s funny because you see the statistics, finished second — I finished second four times. But it was more times — the P4 (in the final standings) is not what it represents because we were in a battle a lot more years than that. And that’s what I look at. I look because each year that’s what kept me motivated to come back and push hard, and that for me was hard. Sometimes it’s — well, I try, but to get (a championship) — it’s easy to follow from that position, but to keep up like I’ve been doing all these years, I think it’s the hardest thing to do. But it doesn’t just happen. It comes with a great team. It comes with great dedication from your guys, great trust, and obviously, myself to keep motivated, finding ways to keep pushing and having teammates like I have today, no question, helped me to become a better driver. The Hitachi Chevrolet team was great all season and I can’t thank them enough for their hard work and dedication.”
No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet – Will Power
Laps Completed: 85/85
Laps Led: 0
Final Points Position (deficit): 5th (-80 pts.)
Recap: Will Power and the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet finished third in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway, completing a podium sweep for Team Penske. Power started the race from the second position and he immediately began to try and chase down championship leader and teammate Josef Newgarden for the top spot in the running order. Power and the Verizon team followed Newgarden’s pit strategy throughout the afternoon, while fellow Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud elected for a different strategy. A three-time winner at Sonoma Raceway, Power ran inside the top four throughout the entire race, shadowing Newgarden and holding off teammate Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon. Power had to turn laps that allowed him to save enough fuel to make it on a three-stop strategy. With the race running caution-free, Pagenaud’s alternate strategy ended up working out as he claimed the race victory while Power was able to follow eventual 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Newgarden to a third-place finish. Sunday’s result marked Power’s seventh podium finish this season as he also posted three race victories and a series-leading six pole positions. The 2014 Verizon indyCar Series champion ended up finishing fifth in the final series standings marking the eighth consecutive season he’s finished ranked among the top five.
Quote: “It was pretty obvious a couple races ago that we were in trouble after Gateway, so yeah, I mean, it’s great for the team. Obviously, you want to be the one that wins it, but it’s very tough these days, and you’ve got to have a very solid year to get it done, and when I look at this year, no one made mistakes. You see the top six there, top six or seven are the top six or seven almost every race. We had some ups and downs with the No. 12 Verizon Chevy team, but it was a good year. We won some races and some poles. We’ll give it another go next year.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!