Sonoma Raceway

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.

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Simon Pagenaud had The Force with him in winning IndyCar championship

(Getty Images)
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So, Simon Pagenaud DID have an extra advantage when he won his first Verizon IndyCar Series championship on Sept. 18.

Pagenaud had The Force with him – no, we’re not talking about NHRA legend John Force – but rather The Force from Star Wars.

Our friends at IndyCar.com revealed in a story Wednesday that Pagenaud was part of a Verizon-sponsored advertisement for the popular “The Star Wars Show” on YouTube.

Show hosts Andi Gutierrez and Peter Townley tried to draw a connection between IndyCar racing and the popular Star Wars movie franchise.

“Star Wars is all about things going fast, spaceships (and) pod racers,” Townley said.

Added Gutierrez, “Right, it’s a natural connection.”

They interviewed Pagenaud at Sonoma Raceway, where the French driver would go on to win the championship later that weekend.

“I love this racetrack because it’s very difficult to get right,” Pagenaud said. “It’s quite slippery. You might experience up to 4Gs. Unleash the beast inside of you – and use The Force.”

See, we told you Pagenaud had an extra advantage.

It’s not surprising that Sonoma Raceway caught the attention of the show, given that George Lucas’ famed Skywalker Ranch is only about 20 miles from the racetrack.

Speaking of which, in one of the strangest Star Wars trivia contests we’ve ever heard of, both Townley and Gutierrez were peppered with questions about the film series while they “toured” the 2.385-mile racetrack at speeds of around 110 mph.

In addition to giving the answers, there was quite a bit of screaming from the hosts during the ride, with IndyCar driver Gabby Chaves and Indy Lights pilot Zach Veach serving as chauffeurs in the two-seat INDYCAR Experience car.

Who knows, maybe the next Star Wars film may include Indy cars in it instead of pod racers or TIE fighters. And instead of a lightsaber, maybe they could use the buttons on an IndyCar steering wheel to shoot all the menaces of The Empire.

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PWC: Sonoma sweeps on track, two titles clinched in GTA, GT Cup

Photo: PWC
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The Sunday races for Pirelli World Challenge at Sonoma Raceway were a little less eventful than Saturday’s, but they did feature the same winners.

Johnny O’Connell (GT), Michael Schein (GTA) and Alec Udell (GT Cup) completed weekend sweeps of the two races. In GTS, points leader Brett Sandberg won to close on a potential title.

Udell, meanwhile, made it a dynamic weekend by also clinching the GT Cup title for GMG Racing, which was one of two wrapped this weekend. Martin Fuentes secured the GTA title for Scuderia Corsa, continuing with the banner year for Giacomo Mattioli’s team.

O’Connell’s win up front came courtesy of a dynamic start, although he was able to get away cleanly following contact behind him when a pair of McLarens collided unintentionally. Jon Fogarty reported a loss of air in the right rear of his No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing McLaren 650S GT3, which backed him into points leader Alvaro Parente, in the No. 9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3.

In the ensuing chaos, O’Connell’s teammate Michael Cooper got caught up in it through no fault of his own, and faded to 21st.

Up front, O’Connell controlled the rest of the day in the No. 3 Cadillac Racing Cadillac ATS-V.R for his third win of the year and second of the weekend.

Parente was second to take the points lead by 9, 1554-1545 over Patrick Long, who finished fourth in the No. 58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R.

Austin Cindric finished third for his second podium of the weekend in the No. 6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3, albeit still disappointed to have lost the Saturday win.

O’Connell grabbed a win at a track that while he has a wealth of experience at, he’s struggled in recent years.

“I was laser focused on the starter with the green flag,” O’Connell said. “I had the revs up on the Cadillac ATS-V.R Coupe and was able to drive by the McLarens. I guess there was a lot of action behind me in the carousel and when I exited the last turn on the first lap I had pretty nice gap. Then when I came around on lap two I saw parts and pieces in the track from the lap one action. It was a good weekend for Cadillac. I tell people this team is like Joe Montana. He was always a fourth quarter player and we are headed to Laguna Seca with still a chance.”

That “chance” is a mathematically possible one – O’Connell and Cooper both have 1451 points, 103 back of Parente. A race win maximum is 110 points and seven bonus points are possible for pole. But such a situation would only present itself if Parente and Long failed to reach 50 percent race distance and failed to score points. There’s only one race left at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on Oct. 9, so that’s all the marbles.

Of note, Michael Lewis banked his fifth top-10 in the last six races in the No. 98 Calvert Dynamics Porsche, Jonathan Summerton finished an impressive eighth overall in his first weekend in the older, venerable No. 66 DIME Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 and Acura NSX GT3 driver Peter Kox ended a solid 10th in the No. 34 RealTime Racing Acura TLX-GT.

gtcupsonThe Fuentes and Udell titles come after they’ve paced both their classes this year. Udell has 12 wins this year, Fuentes 9.

“We knew we had a real shot at the championship this year, but to walk away with 12 wins and still one race remaining is beyond what we could have hoped for,” Udell said.

“Last year we had such a heartbreaking incident that took us out of the championship that this year has more than made up for it. I couldn’t be happier and look forward to closing everything out in Monterey.”

CorsaFuentes added of his title year, “This is not a single man championship. The whole year, Scuderia Corsa gave us a great car and I’m thankful for everyone on our team – this is a full team championship, and it wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t have the best team on my side. Thank you to everyone who supports us all season – the team, sponsors, and fans. We are looking forward to a great season in 2017, and to these last two races of the season.”

The GTS race was more interesting. Sandberg led from the front in his No. 13 ANSA Motorsports KTM X-BOW GT4 but Anthony Mantella drove well in his own No. 8 KTM to get into second, edging ahead of Saturday winner Nate Stacy, who held on for all he could in the No. 14 Roush Performance Ford Mustang Boss 302 ahead of the lighter, more nimble car.

Lawson Aschenbach, who finished sixth in the No. 10 Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R, has a shot at the title at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with two races on tap there rather than one, owing to the fact Mid-Ohio’s first race was canceled and shifted.

All classes for Pirelli World Challenge resume and finish their season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca the weekend of Oct. 7-9.

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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While Newgarden is mum about 2017, he has lots of good to say about 2016

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No matter where he winds up in 2017, Josef Newgarden will never forget the season that was in 2016.

Newgarden, who finished sixth in Sunday’s season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, is keeping mum about what next season holds in store for him in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

There are rumors about him potentially joining Team Penske.

Others call Newgarden the pivotal domino during the offseason: where he ultimately ends up could potentially impact the 2017 season plans for several other drivers – and what teams they’ll wind up racing for.

And there’s still a chance Newgarden could remain with Ed Carpenter Racing, a team that he has truly blossomed with, particularly in the last two seasons (2015 was under the Carpenter/Fisher Racing banner).

All in all, 2016 was a great season for Newgarden, particularly since it ended with a career-best fourth-place overall finish in the standings. Had he been able to amass just three more points in the 16-race schedule, he would have finished third in the overall season standings.

Still, he’s not complaining.

“We feel great about it,” Newgarden told NBCSN after the race. “It would have been nice to get Helio (Castroneves) there. I was doing everything I could and the team was working as hard as they could. We missed it by just a bit.

“I still think we had a great season. We really had an amazing team effort and all year, with all the trials and tribulations, everybody pulled through when we needed to. We nearly got there in the end. There’s nothing for us to hang our heads about.”

As for his future and what team he’ll race for next season, Newgarden will never forget where he came from.

“I love this team,” he said. “I can’t say anything but great things about it. I love working here, I’ve got everything I could ask for from a boss and a team. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of this group all year.”

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