By Josh Farmer, IndyCar Reporter
SONOMA, Calif. – Simon Pagenaud capped off a perfect weekend as he takes his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship along with a dominating win in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Pagenaud used his pole position qualifying effort to his advantage and took command of the race early with teammate Helio Castroneves tailing him while Will Power steadily moved into third place.
Power managed to move into second place following the first round of pitstops and started to slowly pick up some time on Pagenaud during the second stint. Just as things seemed to be improving for Power, everything fell apart on lap 36 when the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet suddenly lost power in Turn 8. The yellow flag flew a lap later when Spencer Pigot’s No. 20 Samsung Chevrolet stopped on track.
The Aussie limped back to the pits and the crew diagnosed the issue as a clutch control unit failure. The team swapped out the faulty part and Power returned to the track eight laps down.
Meanwhile, Pagenaud put on a clinic up front as he went on to build up a lead in excess of eight seconds. The Frenchman briefly relinquished his lead to Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves on lap 63-68 as Castroneves was on an alternate strategy.
Once Castroneves pitted, Pagenaud picked up the lead with Graham Rahal suddenly hot on his heels and picking up time. The lead see-sawed back and forth with Pagenaud holding the upper hand all the way to the end to capture his fifth win of the season and lock up the season championship.
“It’s unbelievable, I think I will realize it more tomorrow,” said Pagenaud. “What a race! There is so much emotion right now, to be honest, I don’t know if you can see it. I can’t find the words. My whole career has been about this, about today and getting to this point and to this level. When you can perform 100 percent under pressure like this is amazing. It’s such a good thing. It’s me winning but it’s the whole team, the 22 team and Team Penske.”
Rahal held on for second place as he was never able to mount a charge on Pagenaud.
“Good day, good way to end it,” Rahal said. “I wanted to get Pagenaud , but when I’d get behind him, I’d get massively loose. I thought at one point it was best I salvage a second place rather than do something stupid.”
Juan Pablo Montoya ended the season on a high note with a third place finish.
Ryan Hunter-Reay carried the flag for Andretti Autosport with a fourth place finish while teammate Alexander Rossi captured his first top five finish since his Indianapolis 500 win despite running out of fuel on the last corner of the last lap and fell back to fifth. The fifth place finish also gives Rossi rookie of the year honors.
The best battle on track at the end was for sixth and seventh between Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves. It wasn’t just a battle for position as the two were also fighting for third in the championship. Newgarden managed to out-push-to pass The Brazillian to hang on to the spot, but came up three points short of third in the championship.