Six drivers entered Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with something resembling a chance to win the 2015 Verizon IndyCar championship.
At the end it was Scott Dixon celebrating as everyone else was left to look back at the 85-lap race and figure out what went wrong.
For Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves, it is easy to pinpoint the causes of their demise.
In Castroneves’ case, it began very early. The only driver among the six eligible who hadn’t won a race this year, the Penske driver started 15th and had to bring his No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet to pit road on Lap 3 after somehow damaging his front wing during the start.
The wing replaced, Castroneves returned to the track but never recovered, finishing exactly where he started.
Castroneves finishes the 2015 season fifth in points. Despite winning three Indianapolis 500s, has still yet to win a championship after 19 seasons in IndyCar/CART.
“We know we did have a fast Hitachi Chevy today but because of a bad qualifying we put ourselves in a tough position,” Castroneves said in a release.
“I’m disappointed for everyone at Team Penske and especially for Juan Pablo (Montoya) and the No. 2 car team, leading the championship up until the end. To have the team finish second just doesn’t seem right. But this team is strong we’ll come back even stronger next year.”
Power had earned his fifth Sonoma pole in eight visits to the road course, and was looking to turn that into a win and his second-straight championship.
The Australian led 26 of the opening 34 laps when the first caution came out. He and many of the leaders pitted while others stayed out. On Lap 39 restart, the field raced through Turn 5 when disaster struck from an unlikely source: Montoya.
The points leader struck Power’s rear, sending his No. 1 Chevrolet into the dirt.
“Unfortunately, the yellows came at the wrong time for the Verizon Chevy which has been the case all year for us,” Power said. “It is an absolute lottery. I feel horrible for Juan. Josef (Newgarden) went up on the inside and I went to switch back off of him and I damaged Juan’s wing. Then the yellow (flag) started and that set the day there.”
With the help of other cautions and having a better car, Power worked his way back through field to finish seventh, ending his season third in the point standings.
Newgarden, who started second, never led a lap in the race and found his chances at a title disappear on pit road over the course of two stops.
The first occurred on Lap 14. Newgarden was in his pit stall behind Power when the latter’s teammate, Simon Pagenaud, stopped his No. 22 Chevrolet next to Newgarden’s stall, which allowed Power to exit his stall cleanly. Newgarden, unable to exit properly, drove through Power’s pit stall.
With 23 laps remaining, Newgarden’s No. 67 stalled in its pit stall. Moments later a small fire broke out near the fuel nozzle that was quickly put out. The team struggled to refire the car before sending Newgarden back into the race. The two-time winner this season would finish 21st, one lap down and end the season in eighth.
“It was a good day in a lot of ways, we definitely had a podium car,’ Newgarden said in a release. “I really sealed our fate when I stalled the car and we just weren’t able to get it re-fired. It put us pretty far back and pretty much ended our day.
“It was hard to throw away a podium car, maybe even a winning car. I am proud of our effort all year, I feel really bad for putting us in a bad position at the end there.”