Simon Pagenaud used an alternative strategy to take victory in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway, but Josef Newgarden’s second place ensured the American became the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion.
Utilising a four-stop strategy that allowed him to push from start to finish, Pagenaud came out on top on Sunday, but with Newgarden finishing just behind him, he came up short in the championship by thirteen points.
All four Team Penske drivers came into the race with a chance of the title, as did Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, but the Kiwi, as well as Will Power and Helio Castroneves were never in the position to take the title, with only Pagenaud taking the option of a four-stop strategy of the quintet.
It was the Frenchman’s second consecutive victory at Sonoma following his domination there twelve months ago, but this time it did not give him the title, with Newgarden pacing himself superbly from start to finish to finish second and claim his first IndyCar title and the first for an American driver since Ryan Hunter-Reay back in 2012.
A caution free race enabled the two pit strategies to play out, with Pagenaud emerging from the pits following his final stop on lap sixty-four just ahead of Newgarden, while Power, the championship outsider heading into the weekend, completed the podium, with the top three covered by just 1.6139 seconds at the end of the 85-lap finale.
Dixon was forced to settle for fourth, and coupled with Pagenaud’s victory, slipped to third in the final standings, while Castroneves rounded out the top five in what could be his final race as a full-time IndyCar driver for Penske.
Graham Rahal finished just behind Castroneves in sixth for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ahead of Andretti Autosport duo Marco Andretti and Hunter-Reay, while Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing and Conor Daly of AJ Foyt Racing completed the top ten.
Chip Ganassi Racing duo Charlie Kimball and Max Chilton were the final drivers to finish on the lead lap, with Ed Carpenter Racing pair Spencer Pigot and JR Hildebrand falling a lap down with just a handful of laps remaining as the leading trio of Pagenaud, Newgarden and Power closed them down.
Carlos Muñoz ended fifteenth for AJ Foyt Racing, while Tony Kanaan, likely racing for Chip Ganassi Racing for the last time, was sixteenth after suffering an early puncture and falling a lap behind, although he did finish ahead of debutant Zachery Claman DeMelo of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Jack Harvey of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
2017 Rookie of the Year Ed Jones was amongst the retirements as the Dale Coyne Racing suffered mechanical woe, as did Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe, while Andretti Autosport duo Takuma Sato and Alexander Rossi suffered engine issues, although the later did get back on track towards the end of the race.
But the day belonged to Newgarden, who in his one-hundredth IndyCar start secured Penske’s fifteenth Drivers’ championship, and with him still being young, energetic and improving as a driver, it could be the first of many championships that come his way. Only time will tell, and time is certainly on his side!
Sonoma Raceway Race Result
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