Race Report: GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma
SONOMA, Calif. Aug. 30, 2015—The day began in tears and ended in tears. A touching tribute to Justin Wilson, the popular British IndyCar driver who passed away Monday from injuries sustained at Pocono Raceway, left steely eyes moist at Sonoma Raceway.
Two hours later, when Scott Dixon edged out season-long point leader Juan Pablo Montoya by winning the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to snare the Astor Cup and the Verizon IndyCar Series title right out of Montoya’s hands, there were tears of joy in victory lane.
Dixon, who entered the race third in points, capitalized on the double point bonus in the season finale which allowed him to tie point leader Montoya who finished sixth in the race. The tie breaker – the driver who won the most races – went to Dixon who claimed three victories to Montoya’s two.
In a much quieter celebration in the ABC Supply pits, Takuma Sato emerged from the No. 14 cockpit, elated with his ABC Supply team’s performance. Sato, who started 18th, finished eighth through a combination of smart driving, consistently fast pit stops and an off-sequence pit strategy to gain track position.
Sato pitted early – on lap six and again on lap 22 – so when the full course yellow came on lap 33 for a tangle between Will Power and his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya resulting in Power spinning out, strategist Larry Foyt told Sato to stay out to gain track position which he did, jumping from 19th to seventh on lap 35 when most of the field pitted. Sato pitted twice more, with the final pit stop coming on lap 62. He dropped back to 18th but several cars still had to pit.
Meanwhile Jack Hawksworth had climbed from his 25th starting slot to eighth by lap 51 as he too was using an off-sequence fuel strategy. When he pitted for his final stop on lap 62, he fell to 19th but as others pitted, he climbed back to 15th. A full course yellow on lap 65 for James Jakes off track excursion closed up the field. The drivers who hadn’t pitted ducked into the pits for their final stop which allowed Hawksworth and Sato climb to 10th and 13th respectively.
A few laps later, Hawksworth was running ninth when, by his own admission, he made an aggressive move past Carlos Munoz resulting in their both spinning and bringing out another full course yellow on lap 72.
Hawksworth pitted for a new nose while his teammate moved from 12th to 10th. Sato gained a couple more spots when Sebastien Bourdais tangled with Graham Rahal vying for sixth on lap 77. Rahal, a championship contender, dropped to 20th and then Bourdais joined him after serving a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.
With four laps to go, Power charged past Sato (nearly taking him out) to take seventh on the track. The move gave Power enough points (three) to overtake Rahal in the standings for third place in the championship. Sato finished 14th in the drivers’ standings.
“First, big congrats to Dixie and the whole Ganassi organization – they did a great job to achieve winning a championship as well as the last race. It’s fantastic to see them on top,” Sato said. “It was a tough start for us from 18th so we had to try a different strategy from the leaders – different pit stop sequence – in order to move forward. Indeed we did. The crew did a fantastic job on all the stops getting me into position to be able to fight on the track. Had a couple overtakings, which I really enjoyed. Thank you to the fans for their great support and of course ABC Supply for the whole season, and of course Alfe for their support. A top 10 is a good way to finish off the season and we learned so much because we had a two car team this year which helped this team to move forward. Thank you to the team for all their support!”
Hawksworth finished 19th in the race and placed 17th in the drivers’ standings.
“We struggled for pace in the beginning because the car wasn’t good on the right handers, but as the race went on, we made some strategies work and we had some good restarts where I could pass a lot of cars on track,” Hawksworth said. “That got us back into the hunt, we saved some fuel, pitted before the last caution and that got us into the top 10. Then I had a bit of a stupid move. We were really bad on old tires so I was trying to make as much ground as I could at the beginning so once the end came, and we were slipping and sliding I wouldn’t go backwards as much. But I just got a little optimistic and touched Munoz and broke my front wing. Congratulations to Scott on his championship and Ganassi Racing—impressive finish.”
Following Dixon under the checkered flag were Ryan Hunter-Reay, Charlie Kimball, Tony Kanaan and Ryan Briscoe. In the championship series standings, Dixon was followed by Montoya, Power, Rahal and Helio Castroneves.