Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoras
Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoras

Scott Dixon No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet won the exciting GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma Verizon IndyCar Series Race at Sonoma Raceway Sunday afternoon. He led once, for the final three laps. It was his thirty-fifth career victory, making him fifth on the all-time list, tied with Bobby Unser. Dixon now has 523 points, putting him fifth overall going into the season’s finale race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana – a double points race.

Dixon said “All in all it’s fantastic, a huge weekend for us, with 4-500 Target people in Victory Lane for this. All but one of my 35 victories have been with Chip Ganassi’s team. It’s cool.”

Regarding Sunday morning’s early wake up call registering 6.1 on the Richter Scale, Dixon said “I slept through most of the earthquake in Sonoma. I heard some screams. At the track, Hinchcliffe said his hotel was destroyed. I guess he thought he was dying. Must have been pretty interesting for him.”

Photos of Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud courtesy of Will Burghart.

Scott Dixon - Winner Circle x IMG_0869

Simon Pagenaud x IMG_0673

The GoPro race was one of the craziest, most unpredictable race, further proving that IndyCar racing is very exciting. There were eight different leaders with ten lead changes. Points leader/Pole sitter/favorite to win Power led the most laps but fell on hard times, and then afoul of the stewards, to finish tenth.

Three cautions punctuated the 85-lap race, for 11 laps.

Ryan Hunter-Reay No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda came in second, 1.1359 seconds behind. He was disappointed, but “I know the championship is still on the line as I’m fourth in the standings going into next week’s race, with 534 points. It was a fun day but unfortunately came up a little short.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon & Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Will Burghardt
Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon & Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Will Burghardt

Finishing third was Simon Pagenaud No.77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda, and also now third in the standings with 545 points. “The whole race was interesting. We made the race really in the pits as we had such good, fantastic pit stops. At the end I had to save a lot of fuel. I’m delighted and going to Fontana with a chance at the title.”

Fourth was Takuma Sato No.14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Enterprises Honda. Sato led once for a lap.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Takuma Sato

Juan Pablo Montoya

Left to Right, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato and Juan Pablo Montoya. Photos by Jeff and Will Burghardt.

Juan Pablo Montoya No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet finished fifth after an up and down day. He led twice, for four laps, and is now is sixth in the overall standings, mathematically still in contention for the Drivers Championship.

Mikhail Aleshin No.7 SMP Racing Honda was the top Rookie, finishing seventh.

Will Power

Sebastien Bourdais

Justin Wilson's No.19 Honda

Left to Right Photos: Will Power, Sebastian Bourdais and Justin Wilson. Photos courtesy of Will Burghardt.

Pole sitter Will Power No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet led twice for 33 laps, the most, and turned the fastest lap leader time of 106.305 mph. But a crazy spin on cold tires cost him the lead and his chance for more points. He also had a crazy last turn on last lap, going for a gutsy move past Justin Wilson No.19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda and Sebastien Bourdais No.11 Hydroxy KVSH Racing Chevrolet. He split them, hitting Wilson and putting Bourdais into the Turn 12 wall. Power thought it would be an easy move, but in his excitement, didn’t see the waving yellow flag at Turn 12 for the stalling car of Mike Conway No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Power and Wilson crossed the line in P9 and P10, respectively, but the order was replaced due to the waving yellow. Power was then credited with P10, and Wilson P9, moving Bourdais up to P11.

Power said “The way IndyCar races go, I maintain the points lead and go into Fontana to see what I can do. It was such a jolt when the car stepped out on me. I went around so quickly, it was crazy. I was really tight and I couldn’t believe it. I was on blacks (primary tires.) I was doing premature celebratory doughnuts.”

Regarding his last lap move in Turn 12, Power said “I was going for points and they (Wilson and Bourdais) looked like easy move. It was interesting, three wide. I actually can’t believe it and that was a hairy corner. I saw the opportunity and I wanted the points. Now, it’s head down, that’s it. I am ready to get some sleep, been up since 3:30am. The sleep-deprived Power was rudely awakened at 3:20 am by the 6.1 earthquake centered in nearby American Canyon, and the Penske Team was ‘evicted’ from their hotel, so headed to the track at 4 am.

This weekend is the tenth race Power led this season, and continues his record of leading at least ten races in the past five seasons. On the other side of the slate, the TV broadcasters said Power has the most penalties this season – five, with three on course and two off-track.

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves No.3 Team Penske Chevrolet remains in second place for the Driver’s Championship, despite finishing eighteenth. He turned the fastest race lap of 106.942 mph on Lap 10. Photo courtesy of Jeff Burghardt.

Mike Conway

Disappointment was widespread. Mike Conway led twice for 21 laps, but his fuel ran out within sight of the Checkered Flag. He said “There was not much more I could do at the end of the race.” He finished P14, after going for third, and faltered right past the Starter.

Graham Rahal

Graham Rahal No.15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda had highs and lows, as he led almost to the checkered flag, when he ran out of fuel, to end up P20. He said “They told me the fuel number I needed to get, then Dad stopped giving me numbers and I thought I was OK, and then the (fuel) light came on.” And then, on his last pit stop for fuel, he got a speeding ticket, the only penalty of the race.

Right to Left Photos: Mike Conway, and Graham Rahal courtesy of Pablo Matamoros.

Other race leaders included Josef Newgarden No.67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, who started second, led once for two laps, and finished sixth; and Tony Kanaan No.10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet once for three laps, and finished thirteenth after starting eighth.

Scott Dixon

Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves, and Carlos Munoz

Photos Left to Right: Scott Dixon, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves & Carlos Munoz. Courtesy of Pablo Matamoros

A melee on the first lap in Turn One involved several cars including Scott Dixon and James Hinchcliffe, plus Helio Castroneves, and Sebastien Bourdais who rear-ended Ryan Briscoe. Takuma Sato was also possibly involved as he pitted for body parts. This incident brought out the first full course caution. All drivers eventually continued. Bourdais pitted for a new nose and fuel, and Castroneves pitted for a new front wing and tires. Then Castroneves pitted again to remove right rear wheel guard and change all four tires, under a green flag, putting him in last place.

Throughout the broadcast, TV kept showing the Driver Championship standings as they would be at that moment, and IndyCar T&S showed the points on each lap. Then, after the race, someone somewhere knocked down or pulled the Internet cable, while all the media were desperately trying to beat their deadlines.

The top nine drivers started on the red option tires, as did Sebastian Saavedra, who started last. By Lap 16, Saavedra was up to P7. He went up to P3 during pit stops, being the only driver stayed out. Then dropped and raised throughout the race, finishing sixteenth.

The second full course caution was on Lap 30 for Rookie Carlos Huertas No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, who was towed in. The third yellow was for Saavedra who was involved with Sebastien Bourdais No.11 Hydroxy KVSH Racing Chevrolet and Castroneves on Lap 37, one lap after the second restart. This time cars tried fitting three abreast, into Turn 7 – the corner which is considered the most demanding on brakes. That incident underwent Steward’s Review, with no action taken. Saavedra put to the back of the field for pitting during closed pits. He didn’t have far to go.

Brake wise, the drivers brake seven times during a lap on the 2.238-mile elevated road course, with 14.38 percent of the lap spent on braking.

This year the Pit Lane has painted lines showing the safety zone in which the crew must remain during a pit stop. This was brought about by the pit crew accident on Pit Lane.

And speaking of pits and grid and GoPro, there were a bunch of those ubiquitous cameras, mostly held high on GoPro poles or home-made sticks high above people shooting photos of everyone and everything.

In the Pre-Race festivities, Driver Intros this time included all drivers throwing a white Tshirt to the fans. Graham Rahal threw as though he’d gone to Spring Training. Castroneves drop-kicked his.

The next and final race of the 2014 season the MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday night, 30 August 2014 in Fontana CA. And yet again, the Driver’s Championship comes down to the final race. Doesn’t get more exciting than that.