Simon kissing trophy
Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Pole sitter and points leader Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet won the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway, and the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Drivers’ Championship. He made it look so easy, leading the most laps except when recycling through pit stops. This was the fifth win this year for the amiable Frenchman, and the first victory with the HP sponsor. He had seven Push To Pass opportunities left…and ran out of fuel in Turn Seven on his victory lap, giving the Holmatro Safety Crew first crack at congratulations.

Pagenaud Leaping

Pagenaud drinking

Team Penske group

Victory Circle photos by Pablo Matamoros.

Sunday’s victory racked up a lot of stats – Pagenaud’s ninth overall win, the 187th victory for Team Penske; and Pagenaud’s championship was the 14th for Team Penske, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Pagenaud led a series high 406 laps this season, and led laps in 12 of the 16 races, the most of any IndyCar driver this year. With that stat for the Sonoma race, he picked up another Bonus point, giving him 659 total.

Graham Rahal & Steve Page
Graham Rahal & Steve Page. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

An energized Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak n’ Shake Honda finished second, 3.2523 seconds behind. He finished fifth in the standings, with 484 points

JPM & Steve Page
Juan Pablo Montoya & Steve Page. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Pagenaud’s teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was third – in what might be his last race with Penske. Montoya is one of the players in a game of dominoes among the IndyCar teams. JPM finished eighth in the standings with 433 points.

Fourth was Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Honda, passing Rossi at the last minute. It was a nice finish for his continuing sponsor, although he said he wasn’t on the podium so it could have been better. RHR finished twelfth in the standings with 428 points.

Alexander Rossi
Alexander Rossi. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Fifth was Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda, who was the top finishing Rookie and came into the race leading the Rookie standings, giving him the 2016 Rookie Championship. He was fourth until the very last when he ran out of fuel. He finished eleventh overall in the standings with 430 points. Rossi skillfully deflected any post-race bating by Robin Miller about being on Roger Penske’s radar for next season.

Simon and Roger
Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Team owner, Roger Penske said “I can’t tell you how good our team is. We focused and had the luxury of having the race in hand and didn’t have to fight for it.”

Pagenaud said when he knew the championship was his to lose, he “Unleashed The Beast.” He also admitted ten laps from the end he got a hunger attack.

Chevrolet Mfr Spokesmen
Michael Stouffer, Chevrolet Marketing Manager; Mark Kent, Chevrolet Director of Racing; and Paul Ray, President Ilmor Engineering

Chevrolet won the Manufacturer’s Championship, with 14 victories in 16 races, with 1814 points. This is its fifth straight Championship since rejoining the IndyCar Series. Honda had 1710 points. Mark Kent, Chevrolet Director of Racing said “It’s been a great season, a very good year of competition for Chevrolet. We’re very proud of the opportunity to compete in this great series.” Paul Ray, CEO of Ilmor Engineering said “Whilst the rules don’t allow us to change a huge amount, it doesn’t mean to say that you can’t keep tweaking on the bits we can change. We’ll be testing engines on track as soon as we’re allowed to in January with the new specifications. All we can hope for is more of the same for next year.” Michael Stouffer, Chevrolet Marketing Manager said “It’s been a big year for Chevrolet marketing. All of our platforms have been pretty successful. It opens up all motorsport platforms, a lot of different tracks, a lot of different partnerships we can have. We plan to continue with those. We’re actually going through our activation plans right now, what 2017 will look like.”

Sixth was Josef Newgarden/No.21 Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet, from is tenth grid position. He’s considered the lead domino in the game of musical seats in the IndyCar paddock.

Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet finished seventh but did take third in the Championship, behind Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. This made it 1-2-3 for Team Penske. Castroneves said “Congratulations to Simon and an honor to be working with him. It was a dream team this year.”

Eighth through tenth were Marco Andretti/No27 Snapple Honda, Charlie Kimball/No83 Tresiba Chevrolet, and Sebastien Bourdais/No.11 Team Hydroxycut-KVSH Racing.

Power Parade
Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Title contender Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was running second for the first third of the race before experiencing heartbreaking disappointment. Power lost …. power. He couldn’t get out of first gear and then the car was in anti-stall mode and he limped to a stop on the fastest part of the race track in Turn Ten, causing the only caution of the race. He finished twentieth, eight laps down but held onto second place in the standings, followed by Castroneves.

Power said “It was obviously disappointing to have the gear box problem. It still was a strong season. I won a 500-mile race, not the right one, but one. I won on all kinds of tracks, and on two tracks where I’ve never won before. So it was a good year, and it was a 1-2-3 finish for the team. And I got another second (place in championship.) To win ten races and eleven poles as a team, out of 16, it’s great position to be in as a driver. So blessed to have ended up with Chevy. They do everything the right way.”


Parachute Jumper

First Race Lap

Pre Race and First Lap Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

The first half of the race wasn’t exactly the most exciting IndyCar race this season. Not much on-track passing. It was more like a Penske Parade with the Captain’s drivers running at least 1-2-3. There were five lead changes in the race among three drivers, due to pit stops: Pagenaud led three times or 76 laps; Castroneves twice for seven laps; and Rahal once for two laps. There were no penalties, speeding tickets or Steward’s Actions, although early on there was one review of a first lap incident in Turn Seven involving Mikhail Aleshin/No.7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Honda and Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chevrolet. The drivers had a meeting of sorts, but both recovered and continued. Aleshin finished eleventh, where he started; and Kanaan finished thirteenth, where he started.

Almost simultaneously with Power’s problem, Rookie Spencer Pigot/No.20 Samsung/Fuzzy Vodka/ECR Chevrolet pulled off mechanical at Pit Exit uphill into Turn One; and Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda retired in the pits with overheating issues.

There was further drama on Lap 40 when Dixon pitted with loss of communication problem. He pitted while the team changed electronics in his helmet. Dixon finished seventeenth, after running strong.

The temperature was 96 degrees F for the start of the race and 119 degrees F on the race track. As the race progressed, the temperature dropped incrementally, and was down to 90F for Victory Circle and dropping.

Borg Warner Trophy

Local driver, Rossi from nearby Nevada City, won the Indianapolis 500 as a Rookie. He didn’t get to keep the famed Borg Warner Trophy, but did get a Baby Borg with his sterling silver likeness just like on the big trophy. The Trophy resides in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with occasional forays to special places of interest. A winner can request a visit, and Rossi asked that the trophy join him for his hometown Constitution Day Parade a week ago, where he was the Grand Marshal. The logistics are mind boggling. Briefly, the trophy is dismantled into its three pieces, carefully boxed and driven by two drivers non-stop to its destination. The trophy is 5’4 3/4″ tall with the base – the same height as IndyCar driver, Kanaan, and it weighs 110 pounds – less than TK. The 81-year old trophy is now worth $3.5 million.

1. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
2. (5) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
3. (3) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (6) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
5. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
6. (10) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
7. (2) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
8. (14) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
9. (12) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 85, Running
10. (9) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 85, Running
11. (11) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 85, Running
12. (20) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
13. (13) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 85, Running
14. (15) Takuma Sato, Honda, 85, Running
15. (16) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 85, Running
16. (18) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 85, Running
17. (7) Scott Dixon, Chevrolet, 85, Running
18. (17) Jack Hawksworth, Honda, 84, Running
19. (22) RC Enerson, Honda, 84, Running
20. (4) Will Power, Chevrolet, 77, Running
21. (21) Conor Daly, Honda, 36, Mechanical
22. (19) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 35, Mechanical

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 101.181 mph
Time of Race: 2:00:12.9424
Margin of victory: 3.2523 seconds
Cautions: 1 for 3 laps
Lead changes: 5 among 3 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Pagenaud 1-15
Castroneves 16
Pagenaud 17-60
Rahal 61-62
Castroneves 63-68
Pagenaud 69-85

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Pagenaud 659, Power 532, Castroneves 504, Newgarden 502, Rahal 484, Dixon 477, Kanaan 461, Montoya 433, Kimball 433, Munoz 432.

Podium finishers
Podium finishers. Photo by Pablo Matamoros