Racing at Sonoma through the years has often been painful to watch, and the season finale was no different. Admittedly, there were a few moments of pleasure along with hours of punishment.
Scott Dixon clinched his fifth championship Sunday in dominant fashion, totally overshadowing Ryan Hunter-Reay who abused the competition from pole in IndyCar’s final race at the dungeon like track. In a curious move by the series’ sole broadcast partner, NBCSN viewers missed an eventful start due to preemption by a NASCAR crash and delay at Vegas. Of course it proved to be one of few interesting segments of the day, and for fans it really hurt.
As Hunter-Reay led the field to the green his teammate Alexander Rossi suffered a brain fade typical of his youth and inexperience. Entering turn 1 the championship contender inexplicably ran into the back of teammate Marco Andretti, damaging his front wing and right front tire and all but eliminating his title hopes. Rossi would battle back and almost make it interesting by the end, but couldn’t surpass Dixon’s maturity and experience.
Cars quickly strung out single file as normalcy returned to Sonoma. Rossi dropped to the rear after his faux pas, but gamely battled back storming his way through the field and whipping one car after another. On lap 44 Graham Rahal’s car suffered a battery issue, sitting dead stick on course and bringing out the afternoon’s only caution. His stable mate Takuma Sato was already out by the time Rahal eventually returned to the fray, capping off a season in which he was beaten up pretty badly.
Photo from sports.usatoday.com
Exciting racing unexpectedly broke out following the lap 49 restart, almost as if an oval race were magically dropped on to the dreadful road course. Cars locked ’em up as others bumped and grinded their way through the turns. Carlos Munoz was contacted by Matt Leist – who was penalized – and spun out while fellow Andretti Autosport driver Rossi continued his hard charge toward the front. Seductive Ed Carpenter Racing rookie Jordan King gained the most positions, improving twelve spots on the day as well as his chances of returning next season. The rookie quickly got the rough Rossi treatment after the restart however, as the Indy 500 winner passed him low through a corner.
Rossi wasn’t finished, bump passing Josef Newgarden and then getting around James Hinchcliffe in quick successsion. King followed in his wake as the close racing continued for several laps before everyone again calmed down into single file more typical of Sonoma’s unpleasurable environs.
Photo from indycar.com
Hunter-Reay cruised to victory leading all but five laps, although the spotlight was firmly on Dixon and Rossi, who faded after his war-like tear through the field to finish seventh. Dixie wound up second ahead of the sadistic Will Power, whose presence on the podium added insult to injury for fans.
Post Race Quotes –
Scott Dixon: “It’s all about the people. I’m the lucky one that gets to take it across the line.”
Alexander Rossi: “I don’t know. It is what it is. . . . The team did a great job to kinda get me on the road to recovery after the mistake that I made.”