SONOMA, Calif. – Ninth place ordinarily isn’t something you celebrate, but when that ninth place secures you a place in the Leaders’ Circle, is the best result for a car all year that has had six different drivers, and caps off a challenging season for a team, it’s cause for celebration.
All credit then, to Rodolfo Gonzalez and the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda team for pulling off an unlikely but huge result that put this car into 22nd in the INDYCAR Entrant Points Standings for 2015, and ahead of the No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet driven by Stefano Coletti.
Gonzalez and Pippa Mann provided a needed amount of stability in the No. 18 car from Detroit onwards after a chaotic “who’s on first?” routine through the opening six races of the season.
In the first six races, Carlos Huertas ran at St. Petersburg and NOLA, before Rocky Moran Jr. was brought in for Long Beach, got hurt and got replaced by Conor Daly, and then Gonzalez made his series debut at Barber.
Then it came to the month of May, when Huertas returned for both the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. But when the Colombian was diagnosed with an inner ear condition he was ruled out of the ‘500 itself, with Tristan Vautier moving over from the No. 19 car he qualified to fill in for Huertas.
All told, you had five drivers in the No. 18 car in the first six races. Mann, the car’s sixth and final driver, made her first start in that entry at Texas after running the No. 63 Susan G. Komen car at Indy, and ran the remaining oval races this year. Prior to Sunday, she had posted the car’s two best finishes of the season, 13th at both Fontana and Pocono.
Gonzalez has ran the road and street courses races since Detroit, and had by far his best weekend of the year this weekend at Sonoma.
He only qualified 24th, but was on pace for a lap quick enough to advance into Q2 (top 12) before slipping on oil laid down by Jack Hawksworth’s car.
In the race, courtesy of excellent tire management and a typically savvy Coyne strategy, Gonzalez drove a mistake-free race and had worked his way up to the middle of the pack after only 25 laps. A timely yellow just after his last pit stop put him in the top 12 for the final stint of the race. He had good battles with Tony Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya during the race.
“I am really happy with the result. I think we got absolutely everything out of the car and the team today,” Gonzalez said in a release. “I want to give a big thanks to the team and to Dale Coyne Racing. They have made me feel at home all season and helped me adapt and learn as much as possible about the series. A special thanks goes out to Dale (Coyne) because he is a dream maker and he made my dream of being an IndyCar driver come true.”
Coyne elaborated on what it meant for the No. 18 car to leap ahead for the Leaders Circle position.
“We knew coming in we had to beat (Stefano) Coletti by 7 spots, and Rodolfo did a great job beating him by 8 spots and 3 points to keep us in the top 22 for 2016,” Coyne said in the release.
It was a nice finish to a tough season for both team and driver.