2018 INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma
|17th round of the 2018 IndyCar Series season|
|Date||September 16, 2018|
|Course||Permanent racing facility|
2.2 mi / 3.5 km
195.755 mi / 315.037 km
|Driver||Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport)|
|First||Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport)|
|Second||Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing)|
|Third||Will Power (Team Penske)|
The 2018 INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma was the 17th and final round of the 2018 IndyCar Series season. The race was contested on September 16, 2018, on the IndyCar layout of Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California, and served as the season finale for the series. Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport started on pole and led 80 of the 85 laps to win his 2nd race of the season. Andretti Autosport teammate Alexander Rossi would finish 7th while Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon would go on to place 2nd, giving Dixon a 57 point margin over Rossi in the standings and ultimately the 2018 IndyCar Series Championship. This would be Dixon's 5th IndyCar Championship.
This would be the 15th and final IndyCar race at Sonoma after IndyCar announced on July 13, 2018, that the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca would replace Sonoma as the final race on the IndyCar schedule starting in 2019.
Background[edit | edit source]
Sonoma Raceway served as the final race of the 2018 IndyCar season, doing so for the 4th year in a row. Since this was the season finale it also served as a double points race, one of only two on the season (the other being the Indianapolis 500).
Heading into the race weekend the points battle for the championship was mathematically down to 4 drivers; Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi, Will Power, and defending IndyCar Champion Josef Newgarden. Realistically the battle was between Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi as the difference between the two drivers was only 29 points. Also to this point Dixon only had to finish 21st of the 25 starters to eliminate Power and Newgarden from Championship contention. Dixon's second place starting position meant he was in really great position to do just that.
Dixon's 29 point lead over Rossi meant that he was in control of the championship. Dixon only needed to win the race, finish 2nd, or finish 3rd and earn a bonus point to win the championship no matter what the other drivers did. Rossi's Championship scenarios included winning the race and Dixon finishing 3rd with 0 bonus points, finishing 2nd with Dixon finishing 8th, or to finish 3rd in the race and Dixon finishing 10th or worse. Dixon also held all tie-breakers between the four drivers. Newgarden and Power were tied for 3rd in points and were 87 points behind the leader Scott Dixon. The only way Newgarden or Power could win the championship was if either won the race and Dixon finished 24th or 25th and did not lead the most laps. They also needed Rossi to finish 10th or worse.
All the tension subsided though, and a smile was felt throughout the IndyCar world as Robert Wickens, who was severely injured after a massive accident at the Pocono race just a month prior, posted an update video of his condition on his twitter just before race start.
Report[edit | edit source]
Qualifying[edit | edit source]
Qualifying was held on Saturday, September 15. Ryan Hunter-Reay won the Verizon P1 Pole Award with a time of 1:17.6277 and an average speed of 110.605 MPH. It was Hunter-Reay's first pole position since the IndyCar race at Long Beach in 2014. Three of the four Championship drivers would make the Firestone Fast Six, or the third round of qualifying, with Scott Dixon qualifying 2nd (1:17.7599), Josef Newgarden 3rd (1:17.7937), and Alexander Rossi qualifying in 6th (1:18.0019) after opting to qualify on the harder of the two tire compounds as to put him on a different strategy for the race. Will Power (1:17.6495) would just miss out on the final round of qualifying after being just 7th quickest at the end of round 2.
The top two finishers in the 2018 Indy Lights points championship would also make their IndyCar debut this race. Colton Herta, son of car owner and former IndyCar driver Bryan Herta, would qualify 19th (1:18.6823). The 2018 IndyLights Champion Patricio O'Ward would surprise everyone by making the final round of qualifying and qualify his No. 8 Harding Group Chevrolet in 5th position (1:17.9737). With Colton Herta starting the race, it marked for the first time since Fontana 1998, that a Herta, Andretti, and Rahal would all start an IndyCar race.
Race[edit | edit source]
The green flag dropped and immediately drama ensued as no more than 100 feet beyond the start/finish line Alexander Rossi found his right front tire in the back of Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti's No. 98 U.S. Concrete Honda IndyCar. White smoke pillowed from the front of Rossi's car as he had sustained some front wing damage and a flat right front tire after the contact. The contact being caused by Andretti checking up as he was about to go into turn 1 and Rossi not anticipating the early braking. Rossi limped his No. 27 NAPA Honda IndyCar back to the pits. Rossi took all the escape roads and shortcuts around the Sonoma Raceway, which should've ensued a penalty. But because Rossi was forced to do so and did not gain any time advantage, he was cleared of any wrong-doing and was not penalized for the excursion. Rossi was able to get back to his pit box and change the front wing and four tires. He rejoined the track, being just 20-some seconds ahead of the leaders. Just one lap into the race Scott Dixon was sitting in 2nd position, Newgarden - 3rd, Power - 7th, and Rossi in last (25th). In those current positions Rossi was now 112 points behind Dixon for the championship. It looked as if Rossi's chances for his first IndyCar title were over.
Green flag pit stops began on lap 13 with Simon Pagenaud being the first one to get fuel and tires. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Championship leader Scott Dixon would hit pit lane on lap 15, relinquishing the lead to Josef Newgarden and promoting Will Power to second. Newgarden would give up the lead on lap 18 to Penske teammate Will Power as Newgarden made his first pit stop of the day. Trouble ensued though for the defending IndyCar champion as Newgarden would stall trying to leave his pit box, costing him to drop from 3rd to 9th after the cycle of pit stops. Will Power then came in the next lap giving the lead back to Ryan Hunter-Reay. Things went smoothly for Power on his stop and he would rejoin 6th. After pitting on lap 1, championship contender Alexander Rossi did not pit on this cycle of stops, being forced to take a different strategy in hopes of getting back into the fight. He was in 22nd position. Lap 20 of 85, Ryan Hunter-Reay leads once again from Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud, who had jumped to 3rd after his under-cut strategy. Rossi would finally come in on lap 26 to make what was effectively his first real pit stop of the day. No issues for Rossi on the stop, but he would be lapped by leaders Hunter-Reay and Dixon before he came off of pit road.
Lap 36 would be the start of second round green flag stops with Simon Pagenaud taking his No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet down pit road for fuel and fresh tires. During this lap, also, Alexander Rossi would overtake Scott Dixon on track, but not for position as Rossi was a lap down. Rossi now only a second behind the leader and his teammate Hunter-Reay, trying to catch him and pass him to get back on the lead lap. Championship contender Josef Newgarden would make his second stop just one lap later, this time no issues for the No. 1 car. On lap 39 Rossi would catch Hunter-Reay and the No. 28 team had agreed to let Rossi go by and get his lap back when Rossi was close enough. Heading into turn 7 he was more than close enough, going up the inside of Hunter-Reay, but a poor exit from Rossi would give Hunter-Reay a chance to whiz back by and he chose to do just that. Shoving Rossi off the track through the "S section" of turns 8. Hunter-Reay's team told Rob Edwards (strategist of Alexander Rossi) that he was heading to pit road that lap and didn't want to give time up to Scott Dixon, who at the time of the attempted pass was less than a second behind Hunter-Reay for the race lead. So on lap 39 both Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon would come down pit road for their second stops of the day. Dixon, mimicking strategy of the No. 28 Andretti Autosport team as to not let him walk away with the race win, would take the softer of the two compounds this time around where as Hunter-Reay took the harder to run a longer stint. Will Power would also come in this lap from the 3rd position and 7.5 seconds behind the two front runners. A clean pit stop for the No. 12 Verizon crew would get Power back out 5th meaning Hunter-Reay would not give up the lead during this cycle of pit stops.
The first and only caution of the day would fly on lap 44 for a stopped car off course at turn 7. Graham Rahal was off track to the left just past turn 6, also known as the carousel section, reporting back to his team on the radio saying "The engine simply stopped. It had nothing, I've got nothing." Alexander Rossi would be the major beneficiary of this caution as he had just pitted a couple laps prior and was able to get out ahead of Hunter-Reay meaning he was still on the lead lap. Rossi would join up to the back of the queue, but because everyone had just pitted only a half-dozen laps prior to the caution, only 4 cars came down pit road for fuel and tires. One of those being Alexander Rossi, to fill up on fuel and switch over to the faster of the two compounds in hopes of catching Scott Dixon on track. The green flag would drop to restart the race at the beginning of lap 50 and chaos would rain down from about the middle of the pack on. Cars going left and right, tire lock ups everywhere, as everyone was trying to gain positions heading into the hairpin, turn 11. The only incident, miraciously, was the No. 6 of Carlos Muñoz (who was filling in for the injured Wickens, winner of the 2018 Sunoco Rookie of the Year award), who spun in the middle of turn 11 after being bumped by Matheus Leist, who was given a penalty for "Avoidable Contact". Muñoz was able to keep the car running and turn it around and kept going, so no caution was brought out. Rossi would get through untouched and made up a few positions too. With Rahal, Pigot, and Sato out of the race, the two Penske drivers were mathematically eliminated from the championship by lap 50. This was because Dixon could no longer finish worse than 22nd in the race, a scenario both Power and Newgarden needed to happen with one of them winning the race as well. Just 4 laps after the restart Rossi had made his way into 9th after restating 20th. A lap later Tony Kanaan would wave his hand, letting Alexander Rossi go by and take the 8th position going into turn 7. NBC Analyst and former IndyCar driver Townsend Bell had this to say about the move, "There's a race fan driving that ABC car, Tony Kanaan wants to see Rossi take the championship to the end. And that's a huge, huge gift from a guy on his 300th start, Tony Kanaan."
Alexander Rossi would be the first car to take their third pit stop of the day, coming in on lap 60 from the 7th position. Rossi came in with hopes of a caution happening right after he leaves pit road, which would cycle him up to the front of the field. Unfortunately for the No. 27 Napa machine the caution would never come. Scott Dixon, not taking any chances would come in the next lap as to limit Rossi's advantage of the undercut. Race leader Ryan Hunter-Reay would come in on lap 62 followed in by Simon Pagenaud, giving the current race lead to Will Power who would eventually pit a couple laps later giving the lead back to Ryan Hunter-Reay. So the top 5 running order after that cycle of green flag stops was Hunter-Reay leading, Dixon 2nd, Power 3rd, Pagenaud 4th, and Rossi in 5th. Nothing really happening in the final 25 laps of the race other than Rossi dropping 2 spots and finishing 7th. Power and Pagenaud would swap place on track, Power finishing 4th, Pagenaud 3rd. Ryan Hunter-Reay would be the race winner, by a margin of over 2-seconds. An absolutely dominant performance from Hunter-Reay, leading 80 of the 85 laps. His win would also move him up in the championship standings and leap Josef Newgarden for 4th outright in the points. But the story of the race was Scott Dixon, running as perfect as he possibly could have, nothing ever going wrong for the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing team, coming home in 2nd place and with it, an incredible 5th IndyCar Championship. Becoming just the 2nd driver to reach 5 Championships (A. J. Foyt being the other, who has 7). Rookie Patricio O'Ward looked really good in his debut, starting 5th and finishing 9th.
Results[edit | edit source]
Qualifying[edit | edit source]
|Pos||No.||Name||Grp.||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3|
|2||9||Scott Dixon W||2||1:17.5943||1:17.5215||1:17.7599|
|4||98||Marco Andretti W||1||1:18.0472||1:17.5813||1:17.7999|
|5||8||Patricio O'Ward R||2||1:18.1765||1:17.5583||1:17.9737|
|7||12||Will Power W||1||1:17.9290||1:17.6495|
|8||22||Simon Pagenaud W||1||1:17.9171||1:17.7489|
|10||26||Zach Veach R||2||1:18.1307||1:17.9111|
|13||19||Pietro Fittipaldi R||1||1:18.5281|
|16||60||Jack Harvey R||2||1:18.5892|
|18||14||Tony Kanaan W||2||1:18.5966|
|19||88||Colton Herta R||1||1:18.6823|
|20||39||Santino Ferucci R||2||1:18.6172|
|23||4||Matheus Leist R||1||1:18.9665|
|25||20||Jordan King R||2||1:19.1519|
|OFFICIAL BOX SCORE|
Source for individual rounds:
Race[edit | edit source]
1 Points include 1 point for leading at least 1 lap during a race, an additional 2 points for leading the most race laps, and 1 point for Pole Position.
2 Double points awarded for season finale.
Source for time gaps:
External Links[edit | edit source]
Championship standings after the race[edit | edit source]
References[edit | edit source]