The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship wrapped up at Sonoma Raceway with Simon Pagenaud coming out on top of the race and Josef Newgarden securing his first title.
- RESULTS: 2017 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
Pole sitter Newgarden got a jump on the field in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet and led teammates Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Pagenaud with championship contender Scott Dixon in fifth after the opening lap.
Just before his first pit stop on Lap 17, Newgarden had grown his lead over Power to more than two seconds.
Pagenaud hit the pits on Lap 11 in the No. 1 Penske machine and went off sequence, committing to a four-stop strategy. The standard pit window in green-flag conditions was 20 to 24 laps.
Following Newgarden’s first pit stop on Lap 17, Pagenaud inherited the lead on Lap 21 following four laps led by Conor Daly and had a 9.7-second advantage over Newgarden three laps later.
With Pagenaud’s second pit stop on Lap 30, Newgarden reclaimed the lead setting up the push and pull that would define the remainder of the race.
The exchange occurred again on Lap 40 when Newgarden pitted from the lead, handing it back to Pagenaud. On the Frenchman’s pit stop eight laps later, Newgarden went back to the front of the field.
On Lap 62, Newgarden made his final pit stop. Two laps later, Pagenaud made his last stop. Due to fast laps and not needing to save fuel with his strategy, Pagenaud emerged from pit lane still in the lead.
The two teammates ran close for several laps but by Lap 83, two seconds separated leader Pagenaud from chaser Newgarden.
Pagenaud took the white flag and cruised to the checkered with a 1.1-second gap over Newgarden. Even with the victory for Pagenaud and the second-place finish for Newgarden, the Tennessee native scored enough points to secure his first series championship by a 13-point margin over the race winner.
“I think what is important to me is to perform at your best in those conditions,” said Pagenaud at the post-race press conference. “I think to me, the final champion is someone that can bring his A game or extra A game on a given time.
“I thought we did just that today as a team, myself as a driver, my engineer, my strategist, my guys, my crew in the pit stops. I think we did just that.”
Power finished in the third position a half-second behind Newgarden. The No. 12 Chevrolet was fast throughout the race and Power was a top-five contender from the drop of the green flag.
“Boring day for me,” said Power. “That’s exactly what the team needed, no yellows or anything, just kind of shadowed Josef to try to keep a buffer between him and Dixon, and yeah, obviously you can’t have four DNFs in a year and be up there in the championship.
“We won enough races and poles and we led some good laps, but just really didn’t — yeah, just too many DNFs, too many.”
Scott Dixon came home in the fourth position in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. The finish dropped him from second to third in the final championship standings.
“It just seems like the No. 3 car covered us,” said Dixon. “Every time we short-pitted they followed us and he was just a massive roadblock. Once we got into clean air, we were able to make up ground, but every time we got into traffic we got real loose.
“Huge credit to everyone on the NTT Data crew. Obviously not the way we wanted to finish. A big congrats to Penske and Josef on a job well done.”
Helio Castroneves and the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet completed the top five in what may have been his final race as a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series driver. As noted by Dixon, Castroneves ran ahead of him for much of the race but their positions reversed after the final round of pit stops.
Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sebastien Bourdais and Conor Daly completed the top 10. As was the trend for much of the weekend in Sonoma, the top 10 was made up of the four Chevrolet-powered Team Penske cars and six Honda-powered entries.
Newgarden Wins Series Championship in First Year With Team Penske
Newgarden’s second-place performance in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma gave him 642 points to finish out the season ahead of defending champion Simon Pagenaud.
Though Newgarden came close over the final 21 laps, especially when Pagenaud came out just a half-second ahead after his last pit stop, the American driver did not need to win the race to secure the championship.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” said Newgarden after the race. “I don’t even know what to say. It was all year and it took a lot to make it happen.
“Thank you to my teammates. They were giving me a lot of help to make sure we got this done. It’s huge team effort at Team Penske.
“It’s cool to do this in the hum colors for Verizon. They do so much for the series and give fans so much access. So happy to have this car for the championship and all our partners.
“To finally get it done is a dream come true.”
Newgarden became the first American champion since Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012. Before that, the last American to win it all was Sam Hornish Jr. for Penske in 2006.
“I’ve always preached that it’s great that we have the best of the best in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” said Newgarden. “We don’t want a championship filled with just American drivers, but it’s important to have the best of America in it.
“I think the Mazda Road to Indy has come such a long way, and the farming system seems to be working again.
“I feel like team owners and people within IndyCar are looking to the youth in America, which is a great thing. I think there’s more guys that are capable that are coming up to help fly the flag in this series.”
The championship is Penske’s 15th overall in Indy car competition and third in the last four years. Power and Pagenaud won the title in 2014 and 2016, respectively.
While the official schedule has not yet released by INDYCAR, the series will be on the streets of St. Petersburg on the weekend of March 9–11, 2018.