Preview: 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – Sonoma

5 Mins read
Credit: Chris Jones / Courtesy of IndyCar

After sixteen races, it all comes down to this. The Verizon IndyCar Series heads to Sonoma Raceway in California this weekend for the season finale of the 2018 championship.

Scott Dixon enters the final race of the season as the championship leader, with Alexander Rossi his closest rival sitting twenty-nine points behind in the standings. Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden and Will Power are outside hopes for the title too, but both will have to count on major dramas for Dixon and Rossi to be in with a real chance.

Here is everything you need to know about the championship-deciding final race of 2018.

What happened in 2017 at Sonoma Raceway?

For the third consecutive year, Sonoma Raceway played host to a title-decider. Josef Newgarden entered the event as the championship leader, with Scott Dixon and 2016 champion Simon Pagenaud the closest threats to take the crown away from him.

Newgarden stole the advantage for the race in Saturday’s qualifying session, with the American leading yet another top-four lock-out for Team Penske. Will Power qualified second to join Newgarden on the front row of the grid, with Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves lining up on the second row in third and fourth respectively.

The eighty-five lap finale was uninterrupted by cautions, allowing for some different race strategies to play out. Ultimately, Simon Pagenaud would emerge as the race winner, with the Frenchman having opted to take an extra fourth pit-stop that allowed him to put the pedal to the metal all race long.

The victory would be Pagenaud’s second straight win at Sonoma, but it would not be enough to see him successfully defend his championship. Josef Newgarden would finish the race right on the gearbox of Pagenaud to take second place, with that being enough to secure Josef his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship win.

Will Power completed the podium to make it an all Penske celebration. Scott Dixon prevented the team from dominating the top four by finishing in fourth place, with Castroneves just behind in fifth place. Dixon would lose second in the standings to Pagenaud due to the Frenchman’s race win.

You can read the reports from last year’s qualifying and race at Sonoma by following the links below

What should I look out for this weekend?

The IndyCar champion will be crowned at Sonoma for a fourth year in succession this weekend; a fitting way to end the venue’s tenure on the IndyCar calendar, as it departs from the calendar for next season after being replaced by WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Due to the championship fight, the obvious ones to watch this weekend will be the four contenders for the crown. Scott Dixon enters the race with a twenty-nine point advantage of second-placed Alexander Rossi. Josef Newgarden and Will Power are in mathematical contention, but as the pair are eighty-seven points behind, they will need Dixon and Rossi to hit major issues to take the title.

Realistically, the championship is a two-horse race between Dixon and Rossi. Rossi looked to be the man to beat in the opening and closing stages of the season, but a poor middle of the year saw Dixon get out front in the standings.

Rossi slashed Dixon’s advantage during the last few races, with Dixon stabilising the points loss last time out at Portland to gain back a handful of points. However, this weekend is a double points race, meaning that despite his advantage, Dixon would have to finish in second place to maintain the championship if Rossi were to win the race.

Heading into Sonoma, the two could potentially be very evenly matched. Dixon, a five-time series champion, has been in a championship-deciding race numerous times in his career, whilst Rossi will be new to the scenario and the pressure associated with it.

However, arguably, Rossi has had the better speed in his car over the last few races; with the Californian having fallen behind Dixon last time out due to ill-timed caution periods. The title could get very tight indeed between the pair on Sunday, so be sure to keep an eye on the #9 and the #27 cars as the race goes on.

Power and Newgarden, based on the history books, are well placed to be in contention for at least the race win this weekend. Since Sonoma returned to IndyCar back in 2005, a Penske driver has won more than any other. Seven of the thirteen races were won by Penske, with Newgarden the only current Penske driver to have not scored a victory; despite coming close last year.

Of course, there are still many other cars on the race track that will be hoping to take a race victory in the shadow of the championship being decided.

The third Penske of Simon Pagenaud will be hoping to score his first win of 2018 at the last opportunity at a track where he has won at on his last two visits. A win for the Frenchman would be a fantastic end to what has been a torrid year, as Simon has only visited the podium on two occasions.

A number of other drivers will also be seeking redemption after a testing 2018 season. The likes of Sebastien BourdaisMarco Andretti and Graham Rahal are further down the standings than they will have hoped for, with all three hoping to end the year on a high as they hope to bounce back in 2019. All three always have the potential to take a victory; all three will be wanting to do so on Sunday.

Finally, keep an eye on some of the rookies in the season finale. It is the last chance for drivers such as Jordan KingPietro Fittipaldi, Santino Ferrucci and others to prove that they should be on the grid in 2019. However, there are two drivers who will be having their first chance to prove themselves.

Indy Lights drivers Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta will make the first starts in IndyCar this weekend with Harding Racing; with both hoping to secure a full or part-time ride for 2019 if possible. Both drivers have impressed in testing, now it’s time to see if they can be just as good when the pressure is on.

What is the schedule for the weekend?

Friday 14 September

14:00 ET / 19:00 GMT – Practice one
18:00 ET / 23:00 GMT – Practice two

Saturday 15 September

14:00 ET / 19:00 GMT – Practice three
18:00 ET / 23:00 GMT – Qualifying

Sunday 16 September

18:30 ET / 23:30 GMT – Race

Where can I watch the 2018 Grand Prix of Sonoma?

Tickets are still available for this weekend’s race. Head to Sonoma Raceway’s website for more information.

In the United Kingdom, television coverage is limited to just the races only. Race day coverage will start at 23:30 on BT Sport 1.

In the United States, television coverage for the race at Sonoma will be provided by NBCSN.

Further coverage of practice and qualifying will be provided for all via IndyCar’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

How can I keep up to date with all the race action?

If you cannot make it to Sonoma for this weekend’s race, you can keep up to date with all the action across the weekend right here at The Checkered Flag. We will have coverage of this weekend’s practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Be sure to also follow IndyCar on Twitter – @IndyCar – for live updates throughout the event.

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About author
Reporter from the East of England. Covering the NTT IndyCar Series for The Checkered Flag. Also an eSports racing driver on iRacing.
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