GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma

Relive championship battle tonight at 7 pm ET on NBCSN — IndyCar Chronicles: Simon Pagenaud

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If you want to relive the excitement of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship battle between Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, make sure to tune in tonight at 7 p.m. ET to IndyCar Chronicles on NBCSN.

“IndyCar Chronicles: Simon Pagenaud” is the final episode of this year’s show and features interviews with the two Team Penske teammates as they break down before, during and after the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Pagenaud dominated the season, winning five of the series’ 16 races, and put a bow on his first-ever IndyCar championship by winning the season finale at the picturesque road course north of San Francisco.

Power, who was seeking his second IndyCar championship (in three seasons), missed the first race of the season due to a health issue, but still bounced back to win four races in the season and was Pagenaud’s primary challenger heading to Sonoma.

Unfortunately for Power, a mechanical issue that his car suffered in the race paved the way for Pagenaud to win both the event and the championship.

Check out the video above for a two-minute preview of tonight’s show.

Previous editions of IndyCar Chronicles can also be viewed on YouTube.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Strong season ending finish, new deal gives Hunter-Reay promising outlook

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Ryan Hunter-Reay will be the first to admit it was a rough 2016 season for himself and his Andretti Autosport team.

For the first time since 2009, he failed to win at least one race in a season (although he did earn three podium finishes).

Even worse, he recorded the second-worst season finish in his Verizon IndyCar Series career, ending in 12th. That’s the lowest showing since he finished 15th, also in 2009, and that year saw him bounce between two teams.

However, all was not gloom and doom: the 2012 series champion ended this season on a high note, finishing fourth in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

“It’s nice to have a decent finish, but if we’re not stepping on top of the podium, we’re not really doing the job,” he said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a tough season at times, lots of missed opportunities, but we have done the job sometimes and we need to redouble our efforts.”

Hunter-Reay will get plenty of opportunities to redouble his efforts going forward, as he signed a contract extension prior to Sunday’s race. Instead of 2017 being the last year of his current deal, he’ll now be with Andretti Autosport for four more seasons, through 2020.

Primary sponsor DHL, which has graced the side of Hunter-Reay’s race car since 2011 (and has been with the Andretti group since 2005), will also remain with the team for the next four seasons, as well.

“I’m very happy about this, and obviously it’s been a lot of highs and a lot of lows,” Hunter-Reay said. “Just been a wild ride the last week.”

Indeed, it was, one of blissful happiness followed by unspeakable tragedy.

Hunter-Reay’s wife, Beccy, gave birth to their third son on Wednesday, a joyous gift that came two days before Beccy’s birthday.

Sadly, however, less than 24 hours later came news from California that Beccy’s father – off-road racing legend Bob Gordon – and his wife were found dead in what police believe to be a murder-suicide.

“Beccy is doing amazing, she’s strong,” Hunter-Reay said. “Focusing on a new baby has been a blessing at this time. It’s amazing she is, how strong Robby has been, her sisters Robyn and Haylee. It’s blown me away because this is nothing you can compare to, this isn’t as simple as a life passing.”

While the grieving and healing will take a long time, at least Hunter-Reay – who is the most successful active American driver in the IndyCar Series with 16 wins, 36 podiums, a win in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 and the afore-mentioned 2012 championship – knows his racing future is in good shape.

“When it comes to getting in the car and opportunities, I’m a fighter,” he said. “I was on the brink in 2006, 2007.

“(I) was maybe a month away from going and doing something else with my life. Every time I got in the car, I knew I had to prove myself immediately. It was never a two-year deal where I could take my time developing.”

So, while he struggled for much of this season, Hunter-Reay came up a winner nonetheless Sunday. It may not show up in this year’s standings, but he’ll now have plenty of time to get back to his old form.

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Indy 500 win, Rookie of the Year — so what’s next for Alexander Rossi?

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While he’ll never forget winning the milestone 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma will be almost as much of an accomplishment for Alexander Rossi.

Rossi, who was named the Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, will point to his fifth-place finish at Sonoma as the kind of showing he had hoped to see more of this past season.

His Sonoma finish was Rossi’s second-best of the season. It also capped off a late-season run that included finishes of 11th at Texas, eighth at Watkins Glen and the top-5 effort at Sonoma.

As a result, he finished 11th in the season standings, although several spots fewer than was possible because he ran out of fuel on the final lap and coasted across the line a spot lower than planned.

While some first-year drivers would consider such a finish a success racing against the top IndyCar drivers in the world, Rossi looked at it in somewhat of a bittersweet fashion.

“My expectations were higher than that, that’s for sure,” Rossi told NBCSN after the race. “But if you look at where we came from at St. Pete, the whole Andretti Autosport team, we made big steps forward.

“This is our best result since the 500. … At the end of the day, it was a strong result. It was great for the final race. … There’s still areas we need to work on, I’m sure.”

Now comes planning for next season – and whether Rossi will stick around to help work on those same areas that need improvement.

While Rossi had been expected to return to the Andretti fold in 2017 as part of the alliance with Bryan Herta, Mike Curb and Cary Agajanian, reports in Sonoma this past weekend could potentially have him racing elsewhere next season.

One of the biggest rumors is that he may potentially move to Team Penske – even though Josef Newgarden is also rumored to be heading there. But Roger Penske said in a media availability Saturday nothing is set yet.

When asked by NBCSN after Sunday’s race whether team owner Roger Penske indeed wants his driving services for next season, Rossi surprised a bit with his answer.

“That’d be nice,” he said.

So what does his future hold for him?

“We’re just trying to do the best job we can and wake up each day and do my best,” Rossi said. “Sometimes it’s not good enough and other times I come away fairly satisfied.

“We’ll have to look at where the future takes us.”

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Graham Rahal ends 2016 with a strong melody

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Graham Rahal has a lot in common with musicians: there’s nothing like finishing on an upbeat note.

Rahal, who has had an up-and-down year on the racetrack, finished the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season in strong fashion.

Not only did he finish second in Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma – tying his second-best finish of the season (Birmingham) – he also finished the season fifth in the final standings.

Admittedly, 2016 (one win, finished fifth) was a bit short of what Rahal accomplished in 2015 (two wins, career-best fourth-place season finish).

But the driver for the self-professed single car “little team that can” – Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – ended the season with a lot to look forward to heading into 2017.

In three of the last five races of 2016, Rahal recorded two podiums – won at Texas, second at Sonoma – and one other top-five finish (fourth at Mid-Ohio).

“It’s been a weird year,” Rahal told NBCSN. “Overall, we’ve had our ups and downs, but I’m really proud of this team for all the effort they put in.

“I’m also proud to be the top Honda once again. We’ve led the charge for them the last couple years and there’s a lot of pride in that.”

Rahal was closing in on eventual race winner and new champion Simon Pagenaud in the closing laps of Sunday’s race, but couldn’t quite catch him.

“Just a good day and a good way to end it,” Rahal said. “I wanted to get Pags there obviously, but when I get behind him I get massively loose.

“I thought at one point it be best to salvage second then to do something stupid.”

Smart move, indeed.

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IndyCar: Post-race interviews from Sonoma (VIDEO)

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SONOMA, Calif. – The IndyCar on NBCSN team was hard at work both in today’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma and throughout the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Race highlights are above, and then a bunch of post-race interviews followed.

Videos from the NBCSN team after the checkered flag flew are below, with their finishing positions:

Team Owner, Roger Penske
1. Simon Pagenaud
20. Will Power

2. Graham Rahal
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Ryan Hunter-Reay
5. Alexander Rossi
6. Josef Newgarden
7. Helio Castroneves
10. Sebastien Bourdais
16. Max Chilton

Owner Roger Penske discusses the gratification of winning his 14th IndyCar title and tips his hat to the entire team.

Simon Pagenaud treats IndyCar fans to celebratory donuts after winning the Grand Prix of Sonoma and title.

Pagenaud, the official IndyCar champion, describes the emotional rollercoaster in the moments after winning the Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Will Power discusses missing out on the potential championship after suffering “unfortunate” mechanical issues at the Grand Prix of Sonoma and regaining his health throughout the season.

Graham Rahal discusses the “weird year” and ending the season as the top Honda.

Juan Pablo Montoya talks about ending the season on the podium and winning with Team Penske.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished fourth at Sonoma, dissects his start and explains how that did him in from the beginning.

Alexander Rossi, IndyCar’s rookie of the year, says his expectations for Sonoma were much higher than a fifth place finish but he’s trying to look at the positives.

Josef Newgarden discusses the strong team effort after finishing sixth at Sonoma and fourth in the IndyCar championship.

Helio Castroneves congratulates Simon Pagenaud and the rest of his Penske team after finishing third in the championship and looks forward to next season.

Sebastien Bourdais discusses the mentally and physically demanding day at the Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Max Chilton reflects back on his rookie season in IndyCar and discusses the speed problems that impacted his finish in the Grand Prix of Sonoma.