RHR, Kimball bank podiums; others throughout field star under-the-radar at Sonoma

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SONOMA, Calif. – As tends to be the case in a season finale race, plenty of good stories get overlooked in the wake of the champion being crowned and the race winner being decided.

It was no different again in Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to cap off the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Beyond race winner and champion Scott Dixon, championship rival Juan Pablo Montoya suffering an inglorious defeat and Graham Rahal’s dream season finally coming to an end, these were some of the stories of note on Sunday:

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay continued his final quarter surge with a runner-up finish to cap off the season. His last four races from Iowa to Sonoma? First, seventh, first and second – and a leap from 14th to sixth in the points. “It was a good finish to the season, that’s for sure… we finished sixth which is crazy coming from 11th in the championship this morning,” said the driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda.
  • Charlie Kimball banked his second podium of the year, first since a third at the Indianapolis 500 and first on a road or street course since coming third at Detroit race two in 2014. “You know, Chip loves winners and to be able to put the NovoLog FlexPen up on the podium. It’s a pretty good day at the office,” said Kimball, who ends the season 12th in points.
  • In fifth, Ryan Briscoe recorded his first top-five finish of the season in the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda.
  • Rodolfo Gonzalez scored a career-best ninth place finish in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, a result that would pay huge dividends for the No. 18 car in the year-end Leaders’ Circle standings. More on this result to come in a separate post next week on MotorSportsTalk.
  • Mikhail Aleshin made it into the top-10 on his return in the No. 77 SMP Racing Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, after starting 14th. It was Aleshin’s first IndyCar start since, incidentally, Sonoma last year – he was seriously injured in an accident at Auto Club Speedway at Fontana last August.
  • The three off-sequence drivers of note who started on Firestone’s black primary compound – Marco Andretti, Oriol Servia and Sebastian Saavedra – ended 11th, 12th and 13th but all ran in the top three at one stage. Saavedra led twice for 12 laps.
  • Running as he has all year – consistently but quietly – Bryan Herta Autosport’s Gabby Chaves finished 14th and secured Sunoco Rookie-of-the-Year honors in the No. 98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda. Even more impressively, in 15th in points he finished ahead of several notable drivers.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10-3 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 7 p.m. to USA Network. Peacock will have flag-to-flag coverage.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III