After a two hour Wild West showdown, Scott Dixon eventually emerged as the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion after taking the win in the GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway.
Pole sitter Will Power picked up from where he left off in qualifying yesterday as he jumped into an early lead over Josef Newgarden. The drama started early as the leaders made their first pitstops on lap 15. Newgarden came in right behind Power but was blocked by Power’s Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud as stopped right in front of Newgarden. Newgarden sped out through Pagenaud’s pit stall and only lost a small amount of time to Power.
Meanwhile, a few teams including Sebastian Saavedra and Marco Andretti, elected to roll the dice on strategy and stretch their fuel longer than the lead contenders before the lead cycled back around to Power on lap 25.
A yellow flag for Luca Filippi’s throttle failure on lap 33 brought the field down down pit road. At this point, Scott Dixon’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing pit crew saw that it was time to go to put their driver in position to take the championship and performed a trademark Ganassi pitstop to get the Kiwi to the front of the queue.
A number of drivers on an alternate strategy stayed out which put the drivers had been leading the race down the leaderboard. The race would get dramatic as Juan Montoya rear ended Power, damaging his front wing and bringing out a yellow while Tony Kanaan would take the lead.
Kanaan held the lead on the restart but the same strategy that put him in the lead took him out of it when he pitted on lap 51, which handed the lead over to Dixon.
With Montoya burried in the field, Dixon assumed the points lead and would need a clean final pitstop and no mistakes on the track. On lap 63, the crew did exactly that and was perfect while his closest rival Newgarden stalled on pit road, taking him out of contention.
With Dixon up front, Montoya’s efforts were beginning to shrink but drama involving his season long championship rival, Graham Rahal.
Rahal had been struggling to find the handle on his car for much of the day but found himself in seventh place, his hopes still alive.
His hopes came to an end when Sebastien Bourdais rear ended him at the end of the dragstrip and spun him out. With Rahal out if the picture and Bourdais assesed a penalty for avoidable contact, Montoya soon found himself in a tiebreaker scenario with Dixon.
He would still need to pass one more car to get the points lead: Ryan Briscoe.
Montoya’s black tires would seem to prove better than Briscoe’s red tires and he chopped a few tenths a lap off his lead while Dixon was smooth sailing up front.
Dixon crossed the line 6.1115 ahead of Ryan Hunter Reay and it was enough to take the championship as Montoya couldn’t get to Briscoe.
“Don’t know what to say,” said Dixon. “There are just so many people to thank. This season we had some good races and Long Beach was a first for me, which was a big milestone. And Indy was a massive disappointment just because I thought we had a car to beat until we had overheating issues.
“Once again, without Target and Chevy – Chevy has done a phenomenal job with this aero kit and the engine and the mileage and everything, which definitely helped us today. I still can’t believe it. It was such a long shot to get this done. And I guess we won it on count back, too for the most wins, we tied with JPM (Juan Pablo Montoya), so I’m sorry for them but it was fantastic for the team.”
Hunter-Reay claimed his second straight podium while Charlie Kimball capped of the season with his third podium of the year.
Tony Kanaan claimed fourth and Ryan Briscoe completed his fill in duties for James Hinchcliffe with a fifth place finish.
Montoya would have to settle for second in the championship, followed by teammate Power and Rahal, who entered the race second in points. Helio Castroneves made it three Penske cars in the top five. A strong end to the season lifted Ryan Hunter-Reay to sixth in the standings while Josef Newgarden’s pit miscue dropped him to seventh in points.