There’s a lot at stake this weekend at Sonoma Raceway for the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale. Two Team Penske IndyCar drivers will do battle for the 2016 IndyCar Driver’s Championship. Either way it turns out, team owner, Roger Penske will have the icing on his 50th Team Penske Racing Anniversary cake. Frenchman Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet and Aussie Will Powers/No.11 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet are 43 points apart going into this double points season finale weekend.
Pagenaud, with four victories, six pole positions, and 330 led laps, tops the standings going into the weekend, but the championship is his to lose. His best Sonoma finish is a third. There are a couple of complicated Points Possibilities Charts, guaranteed to addle one’s focus.
Power has four wins, two poles, and 139 led laps. He has won three times in seven starts at the wine country race track, and been on pole at Sonoma five times. Power holds the qualifying track record of 1:16.2597, 112.589 mph set last year in the third/last round of qualifying. Team Penske has the most IndyCar wins at Sonoma – five.
Last year’s race was won by Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and with it the 2015 Championship. Dixon had gone into last year’s race weekend 47 points beyond Juan Pablo Montoya/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. He is the only driver to win more than once at Sonoma Raceway – he also won in 2007 and 2014.
The Kiwi is the only IndyCar driver to have completed every lap in the eleven races at Sonoma, and one of three drivers who have raced in all 11, the other two being his Ganassi teammate, Tony Kanaan/No.10 Chevrolet and Helio Castroneves/No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.
Dixon has been with Ganassi Racing since 2002, and his sponsor, Target, has been with Ganassi for the past 27 years. This year will be the last for Target. Dixon is currently third in the standings, 104 points behind and mathematically out of contention for a repeat championship.
This year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Alexander Rossi/No.98 Castrol Edge Curb Honda, currently leads the Rookie standings with 370 points. The others are Conor Daly/No.18 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda – 295; Spencer Pigot/No.20 Samsung/Fuzzy’s Vodka/ECR Chevrolet – 149; Matt Brabham, not racing this weekend – 37; RC Enerson/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Honda – 33; and Stefan Wilson, not racing this weekend – 14.
In the other championship to be determined this weekend – for Manufacturer, Chevrolet is leading Honda 1587 to 1516.
Thursday the contenders put on a show for the San Francisco fans, driving their race cars down the Embarcadero to Pier 39 near Fisherman’s Wharf, in a police-led motorcade. Newly-crowned Indy Lights Champion, Ed Jones, drove the IndyCar two-seater with the Astor Challenge Cup in the passenger seat. The police Harleys couldn’t drown out the sound of the IndyCars. At Pier 39, a popular tourist attraction, the racers parked and posed, with their cars, the stunning IndyCar silver trophy, and a freshly-baked replica made minutes before by Boudin Bakery Master Baker, Fernando Padilla. While the Astor Cup dates back to 1915, Padilla brags that the Boudin Bakery starter sour dough dates back 167 years.
Twenty-two drivers are entered for Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, including four Rookies.
All the practice sessions will be live streamed, with timing & scoring, on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. TV coverage on NBCSN: Practice 3 at 5 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 17 (tape); Qualifying, 6 p.m. ET Saturday, Sept. 17 (live); Race, 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 18 (live). The race is starting later than usual due to NFL.