The Unexpected Expected: IndyCar GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
After all the hype, the press conferences, the talk radio interviews, and the sponsorship promotions, it all comes down to one thing. Racing. One clean lap on the limit then on to another lap until the total equals the race distance. For all the talk and excitement, sometimes racing comes down to something so simple.
For the first time since it began hosting the IndyCar series twelve years ago, Sonoma Raceway would be the final round of the series and also (fortunately for us) determine the 2015 championship title winner. It would also be the first time the IndyCar Series would finish on a road course. The recipe was perfect for an epic finish, or a dismal failure. (again, fortunately for us) The show lived up to its billing as everything came together to treat the fans to an ending to the season they will forever remember. Even after a full week of scorching weather in Northern California, come race day, it was cool breezes, blue skies and double points up for grabs.
Six drivers (Juan Pablo Montoya, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and Josef Newgarden) came into the weekend with a mathematical shot at winning the title, but the focus, for the most part, had been on the top two, Montoya and Rahal. In the pits and the paddock the cars of Montoya and Rahal were constantly surrounded with fans many hoping patiently to catch a photo or get an autograph. After Saturday's qualifying session that saw Will Power take pole position with Montoya and Rahal grabbing 5th and 6th position, the math become a little unclear as to who had what to do to win the title. In a season with nine different race winners, the clichéd "anything is possible" was certainly an appropriate conclusion.
Montoya and Rahal got the attention and they deserved. Montoya had led on points all season, claimed the Indy 500 and became the only driver to ever win a race in F1, NASCAR and IndyCar (not to mention CART). A win for Graham Rahal could further cement the legacy of the Rahal name among the greats of racing. Not only that, but you couldn't ask for a better representation of the all-American driver out to win, but always remembering that you can't win without the team and the support of the fans. Rahal was often spotted early in the paddock chatting with his mechanics and in the pre-race grid ceremonies wiped down his own car.
It's safe to say that even with three championships prior to race start that no one viewed Scott Dixon as the threat he would turn out to be. Starting from 9th place on the grid and 47 points behind Montoya, his potential path to the championship was as convoluted as it was straight forward; move up from 9th to take the lead, lead the most laps (worth bonus points) and then win the race (with the promise of double points for a win). Dixon, known as a methodical racer, using consistency and tactics to gain the edge, would normally have seemed disadvantaged with the odds. During a caution period the entire field pitted on lap 36. With a fast stop from the Target Chip Ganassi team, Dixon emerged from the pits in first place. On lap 39 Montoya saw an opening on teammate Will Power. Power moved across the front of Montoya creating contact that damaged Montoya's wing requiring Montoya to pit putting him back in the middle of the pack, far from the points he needed to take the championship. Apparent, luck would arrive later as title rival Rahal would get pushed off track by Sebastian Bourdais, allowing Montoya to move up several spots. Unfortunately for Montoya, his demon charge to try to claim 5th place came up only a few car lengths short by the time the checkered flag came out. By that time, Dixon had long been in the lead, grabbing the scoreboard and the precious bonus points he needed to take the title.
Dixon the consistent driver stringing together the laps and would come home to claim the win and his 4th IndyCar title. It was the unexpected expected.
Fans and media alike both questioned the impact of double points on this final race with even Montoya questioning its legitimacy, "When you do this and you put double points on the last race, it doesn't matter what you've done all year." Montoya's win at the Indianapolis 500 was worth double points but even if the last race was worth normal points Dixon would still have claimed the title with his win.
With or without the bonus points this was a fantastic race, and the cherry on top of a spectacular season of open- wheeled racing, complete with towering highs and and heart rending lows. Not that we need any incentive, but the stuff of the 2015 season is the stuff that will keep us coming back to cover this event and will continue keep IndyCar at the front of our brains as we wait for the drop of the first green flag for the 2016 season.
Please take some time to look through our photo gallery featuring some of the cars, personalities and other general stuff from our weekend at Sonoma Raceway.