IndyCar: Scott Dixon takes lead with 3 laps to go, wins at Sonoma (VIDEO)

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After Graham Rahal had to give up the lead for fuel with four laps to go, Scott Dixon took P1 from Mike Conway and went on to win today’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Raceway.

But a wild final lap involving the Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader also claimed some of the post-race spotlight.

Will Power, who had dominated the first half of the race only to fall to the back of the pack due to a Lap 40 spin, had managed to climb back up into the Top 10.

[RELATED: Click here to watch the full replay of the race]

Heading into the Turn 11 hairpin, Power went to the inside of Justin Wilson and the two made contact, allowing Sebastien Bourdais to pull alongside them both as they moved onto the front straight.

But in that same area, Conway was creeping along the inside after running out of fuel. A nearby corner worker was waving a yellow flag, but Wilson, Power and Bourdais zoomed by it and Conway.

Bourdais got into the outside front stretch wall, as Power beat Wilson to the stripe for ninth. However, citing that local yellow for Conway, INDYCAR Race Control bumped Wilson to ninth in the final standings and knocked Power to 10th.

Thus, Power will take a 51-point lead over Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves to the season-finale at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday night.

But Power’s advantage could have been so much more.

The Australian started the race from pole and right after the green flag, a multi-car melee ensued behind him on the way up the hill to Turn 2.

Among those involved was Castroneves, who had to pit under the caution to replace a damaged front wing. But on Lap 9, he had to pit again under green, with his crew cutting away his right rear wheel guard on the No. 3 Chevrolet.

That stop put Castroneves one lap down, in 22nd and last place. He eventually returned to the lead lap but could only finish 18th.

While Castroneves struggled, Power was cruising. He led by almost 10 seconds before his first stop at Lap 17, and then rebuilt a sizable lead before Carlos Huertas pulled off course and stopped to force a full course yellow at Lap 29.

Rahal and Tony Kanaan chose to pit, but the other leaders stayed out. Kanaan and Rahal lined up 18th and 19th respectively for the restart at Lap 36, which only lasted for a few moments.

In Turn 7, Bourdais, Castroneves, and Sebastian Saavedra went into the corner three-wide. Contact was made between the trio and Saavedra was ultimately left behind after stalling.

That led to the leaders pitting en masse at Lap 37, and in that exchange, Dixon was able to beat Power back onto the track. But a group of six drivers that was led by Kanaan and included Conway and Rahal stayed out, causing Dixon and Power to be slotted into sixth and seventh for the Lap 40 restart.

On that same lap, perhaps the biggest moment of the race occurred in Turn 7, when Power spun out on the inside of the hairpin on cold tires. He fell all the way back to 20th place before putting on a solid recovery drive in the race’s second half.

Up front, Conway – who had charged by Kanaan for P1 right after the Lap 40 restart – took his lead north of eight seconds. Kanaan ceded second to Rahal before they both went into the pits together at Lap 57.

Conway, however, kept going until Lap 60, when he pitted and switched to the reds for the final stint of the race. But although he cycled back to the front at Lap 64, his lead had been melted down to a few car lengths over Rahal.

At Turn 7, Rahal went for it on the inside and was able to get Conway wide enough to take the lead for himself.

Since Rahal and Kanaan pitted early in the previous cycle, though, there were questions about them being able to make it to the finish without a yellow.

For Kanaan, the question was answered on Lap 73 when he was brought in for fuel and tires (he finished 13th).

That shifted the spotlight to Rahal and his nearby pursuers – Conway in second, Dixon in third, and Ryan Hunter-Reay in fourth. But with four laps left, Rahal finally had to pit.

Shortly after Rahal ducked in, Dixon went to the inside of Conway on the front stretch and took the lead for good in Turn 1. Then at Turn 7, Hunter-Reay got past Conway for second place.

As for Rahal, he was hit with a pit road speeding penalty for a disastrous ending to his day. He would finish 20th after contending for what would have been his second career IndyCar win.

Simon Pagenaud ended up finishing third behind Dixon and Hunter-Reay. With that, the Frenchman is still mathematically alive in the championship going into the ACS finale at 81 points back of Power.

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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