Sonoma Finale Race Review: ‘Damn It, Man!’ Championship Edition

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Photo from indycar.com

In a result few outside of Chip Ganassi‘s Star Wars bar scene inner circle saw coming, Kiwi Scott Dixon won both the Sonoma GoPro Grand Prix and the IndyCar championship Sunday, his third win of the year and fourth title of Dixie’s storied career. It was thanks in large part to Team Penske and Juan Montoya‘s monumental collapse. Leading since St. Pete it was Montoya’s title to lose, and he did so in spectacular fashion. Banging into and spinning team mate Will Power who was leading the race on the first restart, Montoya damaged the nose of his own car and threw the championship away in a single turn. JPM had enjoyed a substantial points lead going into the finale – thirty four over Rahal and forty seven over Dixon – but thanks to this epic brain fade finished second in a tie breaker on wins.

Aug 30, 2015; Sonoma, CA, USA; Pit crew for IndyCar Series driver Juan Pablo Montoya bring the car to the grid before the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Photo from sports.usatoday.com

The first half of the contest was fairly humdrum and typical of a Sonoma race as Leigh Diffey himself admitted in the latter stages. From pole Power sped away from the field and dominated the race until Montoya foolishly punted him. It being a Penske affair, of course no penalty was forthcoming. The first caution was a questionable flag for Filippi who hit  nothing but was supposedly slow on course. This was the beginning of race control rearing its ugly heads though, and unfortunately it would have an effect on the outcome. For the first time in months they penalized drivers during the contest with drive through penalties including one for Sebastien Bourdais who hit Graham Rahal from behind, spinning him out and costing him any chance at the title. Rahal angrily confronted Bourdais afterwards on pit lane, saying “Good job . . . you knew exactly where I was going and you drove like a f___ing d__k! ”

Graham Rahal, right, and Charlie Kimball (83) compete during the IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma auto race Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Sonoma, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) ORG XMIT: CAER108

Photo from sports.usatoday.com

Josef Newgarden ran well in second but Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud parked it on pit road obstructing the young American’s exit from his pit box. Understandably Newgarden sped forward through Pags’ box and right over his air hose. This didn’t draw a penalty but the maneuver by Pagenaud succeeded in dropping Josef back. Later Newgarden’s title hopes literally went up in flames after he stalled it on pit road – with no help from Penske this time – bringing a disappointing end to the Tennessean’s break out year. Tony Kanaan put on a furious late race charge for Ganassi, but couldn’t keep up the pace in the end. Scott Dixon took the lead the last quarter of the contest and never relinquished it, winning the race and incredibly the title over Montoya, who wound up finishing sixth.

sonomasportsusatodaycom

Photo from sports.usatoday.com

The coverage was acceptable, though we wondered if Leigh Diffey needed some anti-depressants during the course of the weekend as he looked terrible during Saturday’s practice session. It was his first television appearance since the tragic loss of Justin Wilson at Pocono and it was obviously difficult. Paul Tracy’s gotten a bit too self referential this year, at one point Sunday claiming to have invented the rear end collision in racing. The gorgeous Katie Hargitt did a good job in the pits as did the beautiful Jon Beekhuis. Happily Townsend Bell’s commentating chops have improved this season – he was actually funny at times during the broadcast.

katiehargittsundownpicturescom

Photo from sundownpictures.com

Noticeably on television there were lots of empty seats in the grandstands; however, there won’t be any talk of dropping Sonoma from the schedule next year like IndyCar routinely discards ovals. Mark Miles said during the trophy presentation, “We love Sonoma as our finale.” Speak for yourself, Mr. Miles.

Post Race Quotes

Scott Dixon: “Damn it man! I can’t believe it!”

Chip Ganassi: “WOWWW!”

Juan Montoya: “Just a shame, you know. We had two ways to win the championship and just threw it away. So, it’s a shame”

Will Power: “There’s only been three races decided on merit. It is an absolute lottery. . . . We gotta decide whether we’re a sport or a casino.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay: “Today we’re remembering Justin Wilson. I want to really emphasize the fact we’re not moving on from him. He’s here, he’s a part of what we’re doing. He’s inspired me and I’m gonna take his traits . . . and take what I learned from him and apply it all the time . .  . Thanks to all the IndyCar fans throughout the year for being so supportive. We’ve got the best fans in the world.”

Graham Rahal: “The Bourdais thing hurt us, but what can you say. It’s been a great year . . . but we wanted to go out better than this.”

Leigh Diffey: “Kids – you never give up.”

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