Drafting The Circuits

by Frank Santoroski        @seveng1967

04CJ7529AAfter a sixteen race season, The Verizon IndyCar Series has crowned their 2015 champion, and it is a familiar face holding the Astor Cup.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon jumped from third place in the pre-race standings to take the IndyCar title by winning the Go Pro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.

With the title, Dixon becomes a four-time Series Champion and is quietly cementing his legacy as one of the best to have ever competed in American open-wheel racing.  Dixon played all of the strategies correct, saved fuel when he needed to, and cruised to a convincing victory.

I’ve often said that Dixon can never be counted out of any race until the checkered flag falls, and he proved that today. Coming into the weekend with a 47 point deficit and leaving the weekend as the Champion just goes to show why Dixon will go down in history as one of the greats.

04CJ2318The victory, his third on the season, was also the 100th win for Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixon’s Championship was the eleventh for the team that has been a major player in IndyCar Racing for more than two decades.

“It still seems so unreal, it was such a long shot” said Dixon, who credited his team for their efforts. “I’ve been with this team for fourteen years, which is an amazing stretch, and I feel so blessed to work with so many talented people. None of these Championships are won with one person, its a team effort. Team Target won that one, the pit stop was phenomenal, the strategy was amazing and I can’t thank everyone involved in this program enough.”

The Championship was as close it could possibly be with Dixon being tied in points with Juan Pablo Montoya. On the virtue of Dixon’s three race wins to Montoya’s two, Dixon wins the tie-breaker.

Ironically, Montoya’s first major open-wheel championship in 1999 was also settled on a tie-breaker. On that occasion, the advantage went to Montoya over Dario Franchitti.

The true turning point in the event came early on as points-leader Juan Pablo Montoya made contact with his Penske teammate, Will Power. Power went to the grass as JPM damaged his front wing. Both cars headed down the pit lane for quick repairs, and rejoined the field 23rd and 24th.

JDC_SONOMA-15-1041From there, Montoya watched his dreams of a Championship fade away as he desperately tried to make his way back up to the front on one of the hardest tracks on the schedule to execute a pass.

With Dixon in the lead, and claiming the bonus points for leading the most laps, Montoya needed to pull off a fifth place finish to take the title.

Running eighth in the closing laps. Montoya caught a major break when Sebastien Bourdais made contact with Graham Rahal ahead of him. Rahal’s off-track excursion combined with a drive through penalty for Bourdais elevated Montoya to sixth. As the laps ran out, Montoya was unable to catch Ryan Briscoe to take the fifth spot and the title.

The incident between the Penske drivers was just the latest in a series of miscues, mistakes, blown strategies and plain bad luck that have plagued the second half of their season. After leading the point standings from the season-opener, Montoya was understandably disappointed at the end of the day.

JPMACS2004“It doesn’t matter what happened,” Montoya said. “We had a few ways to win the championship and we just threw it away. We didn’t close it. When you do this and you put double points on the last race, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done all year.”

This may be a case of sour grapes for Montoya, who earned double points for his victory at Indianapolis in May.  The fact of the matter is that, even if you remove the double points from both Indy and Sonoma, Dixon still wins the title. Case closed.

The unpredictable nature of the race, and the surprise result was a welcome storyline for the IndyCar community to cap off a difficult week. The paddock is still grieving over the loss of Justin Wilson. The popular English driver lost his life following an on-track incident at Pocono Raceway last weekend.

19SG0286Tributes to Wilson were evident all around the race track, as the community remembered their fallen friend. A moment of silence was observed following an emotional tribute video. The National Anthem of England was played in Wilson’s honor.

Thoughts and prayers for Wilson’s family were on everyone’s mind as the teams got back to the business of racing during this difficult time.

Dixon finished the race 6.115 seconds ahead of Andretti AutoSport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay. Charlie Kimball came home third as Tony Kanaan and Ryan Briscoe rounded out the top five.

The win was the 38th of Dixon’s career and his fourth title ties him with Mario Andretti, Dario Franchitti and Sebastien Bourdais for second on the all-time list behind A.J. Foyt.