The Verizon Indy Car Series came to Sonoma Raceway this past weekend on a somber and sad note as driver Justin Wilson passed away Monday, Aug. 24 due to injuries sustained in an incident at Pocono raceway on Aug. 23. Many drivers and teams were sporting T-shirts and stickers for their fellow competitor and friend. Several drivers offered many of their fondest memories of Wilson, who was 37 at the time of his death.
Back on the track, the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma is the season finale of the 2015 Verizon Indy Car Series and features double points. With the double points six drivers had a mathematical chance to win the title. Juan Pablo Montoya in his Verizon Chevrolet held the points lead coming into the event but could only muster 5th place on the starting grid. Graham Rahal in the Steak n Shake Honda sat second in the points 34 points behind Montoya and qualified 6th. Scott Dixon in his Target Chevrolet came in 47 points behind and started 9th. The 2014 series champion Will Power and his Verizon Chevrolet was 71 points back and started on the pole. Helio Castroneves in the Hitachi Chevrolet was 77 points out of the lead and started 15th. Josef Newgarden 6th in the points with his Hartman Oil Chevrolet rolled out number 2.
The six championship contenders had a drama filled day as many of them had on-track problems throughout the 85-lap event. Dixon and Rahal made contact on the opening lap in turn 3. Luckily for both drivers no damage but a close call for both of their title hopes. Castroneves was forced to play a different strategy than the rest of the field and pitted on lap 3 for tires, fuel and a new front wing. On lap 9 Dixon made his first pit stop of the day and one lap later Power and Newgarden made theirs. Up until the stop Power had led the first 13 laps. Rahal made his way to pit road for tires and fuel on lap 14 and Montoya followed on lap 15. Lap 19 saw Castroneves back on pit road for more tires and top off the fuel. After the cycle of stops, Power and Newgarden were again at the head of the pack. The Yellow flag flew for the first time on lap 33 as Luca Filippi stopped on the race track with throttle problems. All championship contenders pitted except for Castroneves under the caution.
On lap 39 Power and Montoya made contact in turn 5 and Power spun out and Montoya suffered front wing damage. Both cars pitted under the caution along with Castroneves. Just before the green flag flew for the restart Power and Montoya both pitted again to top off their fuel. Dixon took over the lead on lap 51 and led until he made his next pit stop on lap 62. Rahal also pitted on lap 62. Montoya came in a lap later for tires and fuel trying desperately to keep good enough track position to win the title. On lap 64 James Jakes brought out the third caution when he lost control and crashed into the turn 9 tire barrier. Jakes was uninjured in the incident. Dixon regained the lead just prior to the caution coming out. On lap 77 Rahal was spun out by Sebastian Bourdais in turn 7 which ended any hopes for a chance at the title.
With five laps to go Montoya desperately tried to catch the fifth place car of Ryan Briscoe. One position could mean the difference in the title race. Dixon went on to lead 34 laps total on the way to his third victory of 2015. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second, Charlie Kimball third, Tony Kanaan fourth, Ryan Briscoe fifth, and Juan Pablo Montoya sixth.
With Dixon winning and Montoya finishing 6th the points were tied. Dixon won the tie breaker as this was his third win of the year and Montoya only had two. This is Dixon’s fourth series championship in 15 years. This is also Chip Ganassi’s 100th victory as a team owner and 11th championship.
The Championship standings #1 Scott Dixon, #2 Juan Pablo Montoya, #3 Will Power, #4 Graham Rahal, #5 Helio Castroneves, and #6 Josef Newgarden.