Heat Wave: TLP Goes to the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
It was hot. Not just warm, but scramble an egg on the pavement hot. The kind of heat where even the race fan is susceptible to falling out with dehydration. That’s just the fan perspective, as the drivers, engineers and even the cars themselves faced massive physical and mental stress in the hot conditions (...and a layer of Nomex...and one-piece racing suits...and helmets). It wasn’t just the weather that was hot, as the final race of the season brought the heat with a championship trophy awaiting the final points allocations.
The 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series wrapped up it's season this past weekend and The Loud Pedal was there to see it bringing you a substantial depiction in words and pictures. For the 11th consecutive year, the IndyCar title has been decided at the last race of the season and for the last two of those years Northern California’s own Sonoma Raceway has hosted the championship finale.
Though the crowd was electric and the paddock alive with anticipation, Simon Pagenaud, race winner, and newly crowned series champion, calmly executed his weekend plan to perfection with every movement precisely choreographed. Granted, he had the mathematical championship points advantage going into the weekend, he still had to dominate and he still had to keep his attention on the field as any of the competition would undoubtedly pounce and capitalize on any mistake, no matter how slight. What must have dismayed much of the competition, many of whom are his teammates, he made no errors. Not only that, but he seemed to be impervious to the internal or external pressures that surely had been weighing on him on the precipice of his first championship as an IndyCar driver.
When we sat down with Pagenaud last week, it was clear that his personal drive and intense preparation were the variables needed to win the IndyCar series title. How fitting it was that in our discussion about the time and effort that he puts into staying in physical and mental shape to withstand difficult conditions that he would win the championship and race on a 95 degree day (120F track temp!). Those conditions would test every driver’s skill in such heat. Pagenaud would put his stamp on the entire weekend that began with a blistering final qualifying lap that put him on pole position for Sunday’s race.
Years of racing experience across several disciplines culminated into the 2016 season with seven pole positions and five race wins. On Sunday, he was under the pressure cooker and blazed the track as he would lead the Sonoma Grand Prix for 76 of 85 laps, dominating from the start and never looking back. His only championship competition, Will Power had some misfortune with a clutch failure leaving Pagenaud with the championship in-hand and a clear track in front of him. He would clutch the win, the championship and a 127-point margin over Power, the largest margin since IndyCar revised its scoring system in 1996. It would also be another championship notch for the storied history of Team Penske.
PRL-Penske Racing League:
Team Penske celebrated 50 years in motorsports this year. The Captain, Roger Penske, has been winning in motorsports since 1958, scoring victories in every series the team has competed in with 23 championships, including 12 in Indy car. These monumental statistics would be more than enough to elevate Team Penske to greatness, but to this total of championships can be added 16 Indianapolis 500 victories.
Pagenaud would win his IndyCar title with Team Penske, but again that feat was not without an added bonus. Team Penske drivers would finish in the top three positions in the Championship points race (Pagenaud-655, Power-532, Castroneves-504).
Some things are as absolute as the sun rising in the East. The partnership between Chip Ganassi Racing and Target is one such constant, particularly in the realm of motorsports where partnerships, both personal and corporate, often seem to come and go. So consistent was this relationship that on a given Sunday, across multiple racing series, a Ganassi car was always and easily identified with the Target logo. It’s was a 27 year partnership spanning from 1990 to 2016, ending with Sunday’s race at Sonoma. It was a combination that won 11 championships and four Indianapolis 500s. The Target Ganassi partnership saw Alex Zanardi make “the pass” at Laguna Seca, Jimmy Vasser win his first title at the same race, Juan Pablo Montoyo win a title at the Indianapolis 500, and sign a 21 year old Scott Dixon in 2002. The stats are as impressive, very impressive.
21 drivers (Eddie Cheever, Arie Luyendyk, Robby Gordon, Michael Andretti, Bryan Herta, Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Montoya, Bruno Junqueira, Nicolas Minassian, Memo Gidley, Jeff Ward, Kenny Brack, Scott Dixon, Tomas Scheckter, Darren Manning, Ryan Briscoe, Jaques Lazier, Dan Wheldon, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan)
101 wins (2 in 1994, 7 in 1996, 6 in 1997, 10 in 1998, 8 in 1999, 5 in 2000, 1 in 2001, 4 in 2002, 3 in 2003, 1 in 2005, 4 in 2006, 6 in 2007, 8 in 2008, 10 in 2009, 6 in 2010, 6 in 2011, 3 in 2012, 4 in 2013, 3 in 2014, 3 in 2015, 2 in 2016)
11 championships (1996, Jimmy Vasser, 1997-1998, Alex Zanardi, 1999, Juan Pablo Montoya, 2003, 2008, 2013, 2015, Scott Dixon, 2009-2011, Dario Franchitti)
4 Indianapolis 500 wins (2000, Juan Pablo Montoya, 2008, Scott Dixon, 2010, 2012, Dario Franchitti)