Photo: John Cote
Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Chevrolet) overtook race leader Mike Conway (Ed Carpenter Racing, Chevy) on Lap 83 of 85 en route to victory yesterday in the GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway. The win was the 35th of Dixon's Indy car career, putting him in a tie for fifth place on the all-time list with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser. "This is just big for our team," said Dixon. "It was tough because there were so many fuel strategies going on and they were just slightly off. I didn't know who could make it and who couldn't."
Dixon started third and beat Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport, Honda) across the finish line by 1.1359 sec. Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Honda) finished third, with Conway fading after running out of fuel and coasting across the finish line in 14th place.
"I was doing all I could keep Scott and Ryan behind me,” said Conway. “The team knew that Graham (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Honda) had to pit for fuel. I could see that the boys behind me were a little quicker and I was trying to save as much fuel as possible too. It was tricky but I thought I was making a good job of it. I was hitting my fuel number through the last stint. I thought it would be good but I suppose the lap when I used the overtake button to keep back Scott came back to cost us. There wasn't much more I could do at that point and I thought I could hang on for a podium finish. But when I got to turn 10 on the last lap, the engine just died. It picked up a little into turn 11 but finally just shut off in the corner. It was a tough way to finish the year. I really want to thank Ed and his guys, the Fuzzy's [Vodka] boys, Chevrolet and our suppliers for a great year. Two wins for me and one for Ed so far. I would love to see Ed win next week in Fontana too."
Pagenaud, who started P15, joins Team Penske (Chevy) teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves as drivers still eligible for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dixon remain mathematically in contention at the moment, but will be eliminated once Power participates in Friday practice at Auto Club Speedway.
Power takes a lead of 51 points over Castroneves and 81 points over Pagenaud to the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval for the season-closing MAVTV 500 on Aug. 30. A total of 104 points are available in the final round of the Triple Crown series; comprising the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, the 500-mile race at Pocono Raceway, and this weekend’s season finale. Hunter-Reay won at Indy and Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske) at Pocono.
Power started on the pole and led a field-high 33 laps, finishing 10th after a spin on Lap 40 dropped him to 20th. "It took me by surprise when I spun. That's just racing," Power said. "I would have liked to have had a better finish, but the Verizon Chevy team will look to Fontana working towards the championship."
Castroneves was involved in contact on Laps 1 and 36 and finished 18th. He entered the race 40 points behind Power. "It's a pretty disappointing finish, to be honest,” he said. “The Hitachi Chevy was really fast all weekend and to get hit so early on in the race was really tough. That certainly put us behind, fixing the damage in the front and back of the car and it was tough to recover. So now, we are 50 points behind in the championship heading to the finale at Auto Club Speedway and with the double points there anything can happen. We are not giving up. We will keep on it and give everything we have next weekend to try and reach our goal. We are still in it and we know what we need to do now over the 500 miles."
Takuma Sato (AJ Foyt Enterprises, Honda) started 20th and finished a season-high fourth, with Montoya crossing the line in fifth. "Very happy,” said Sato. “It was a great effort by the whole ABC Supply team. We had another unlucky morning--after the warm up we had to change the engine. The guys did a tremendous job to change it in such a short time and give me a competitive car. Unfortunately, we caught debris in the first accident and we had to change the nose and tires. We stayed on the lead lap and kept topping off fuel to make a slightly different sequence of pit stops from everyone else. Larry and the engineers made good calls on strategy and it worked out really well. The crew did a great job on the stops. Unfortunately on the last stop, we were leaving when Marco was coming in [pitted in box ahead of Sato] and I had to stop to avoid hitting him. Nevertheless I overtook a few cars on the track, our strategy worked and the Honda engine did a great job in the end. Everyone is very happy."
Twenty cars finished on the lead lap, tying a season high set in the Indianapolis 500. The 10 lead changes were the most for a Verizon IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway.