Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon has won his fourth IndyCar Series championship title with victory in a thrilling GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday.
The New Zealander was considered a rank outsider for the title after qualifying a lowly ninth-fastest at a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult. Yet with double championship points on offer for the season finale and with nothing to lose, he went on to claim his 38th career victory and the ultimate prize in a battle that went to the wire on the last lap.
The end result saw Dixon tie with season-long championship leader Juan Pablo Montoya on 556 points, with Dixon taking the crown by dint of claiming three wins in the season to the Colombian’s two.
The outcome cemented him among the all-time greats of the American open-wheel racing scene with another sterling drive. A renowned fuel saver, the veteran moved into fuel conservation mode as soon as he got into the lead and he went on to win by six seconds from Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport) and his Ganassi teammate Charlie Kimball. The result also marked the Ganassi team’s one-hundredth IndyCar race win.
“This is just fantastic for Target and obviously for Chevy as well,” said an overwhelmed Dixon, who also paid tribute to his late friend Justin Wilson and the Englishman’s family. “I don’t know what to say. Our thoughts and prayers to Justin Wilson’s family and Stefan [his brother] is here as well.
“This season we had some good races; Long Beach [where he won] was a first for me which as a big milestone and Indy was a massive disappointment just because I thought we had a car to beat until we had overheating issues. We were such a long shot to get this through; you constantly kind of know where [your rivals] are and you are trying to calculate points as well but the team were saying nothing and I knew it was going to be extremely close.”
Title aspirations for Team Penske duo Montoya and his teammate and defending series champion Will Power were quashed following a tangle halfway through the race.
On Lap 33, an unnecessary caution was called after Luca Filippi’s CFH Racing Chevrolet was limping back to the pits with throttle problems.
During that caution, Dixon pit crew pulled out a lightning pit stop to get him ahead by front-row starters Power and Josef Newgarden. That wasn’t going to give him a certain victory, however, as there were still over 50 laps of the race to run and all who pitted were now buried in the midfield.
Just moments after the race went back to green, Newgarden got by Power, who was then tagged in the right rear bumper by Montoya. The contact saw the Australian spin off the circuit at Turn 5, although he was able to rejoin. Both Montoya and Power’s hopes were ruined, however, having to pit immediately for a new front wing and fresh tyres respectively. The pair were now at the tail of the field in 23rd and 24th places.
That left Dixon sitting pretty in eighth, and before long he’d worked his way up to second place behind teammate Tony Kanaan once the drivers ahead had peeled into the pits for their second pit stops.
When Kanaan pitted, Dixon inherited the lead from Newgarden and Kimball, while Graham Rahal was sitting pretty in fourth place in his very ill-handling Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda.
Newgarden’s faint title hopes went up in smoke – literally – when his #67 CFH Racing Chevrolet momentarily caught fire during his third pit stop – while Dixon maintained an effective lead when he pitted and rejoined the race a lap later.
The race had two more yellow-flag interruptions thanks to James Jakes (brake failure) and Carlos Muñoz (spin), but each time Dixon had things under control and was able to stoke away into a comfortable lead following the restarts.
Hunter-Reay and Kimball were left to squabble it out for the runner-up spot, while Rahal’s championship hopes went belly-up after he was hit from behind by Sébastien Bourdais with 10 laps to go.
The contact tipped Rahal into a spin – not helping his heavily-worn tyres – and Bourdais was rightly issued a drive-through penalty for his troubles; that moved Montoya up the crucial place he needed to draw level with Dixon in their points’ race.
To win the title, Montoya needed to pass the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry of Ryan Briscoe, but the Australian was on the softer tyres and never came under threat from the Colombian on the run to the flag.
That ensured Dixon would cross the line as the race winner to become the fifth four-time champion alongside the likes of A.J. Foyt, Sébastien Bourdais, Mario Andretti and Dario Franchitti.
Hunter-Reay and Kimball finished second and third respectively completing the podium, while Kanaan finished fourth and Briscoe rounded out the top five.
Montoya had a consistent run, leading the championship right from the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St.Petersburg, but found himself on the wrong side of history with the double points rule to end up the loser at the end of an incredible run during the season.
“We threw it away,” a circumspect Montoya reflected after a bitterly disappointing race, having come into the weekend a seemingly unassailable 47 points clear of Dixon in the championship race. His comments were a reflection on the race itself, but also the last four rounds of the championship where he notched up a DNF, 11th, 3rd and 6th to Dixon’s 18th, 4th, 9th and victory.
Montoya and his teammate Will Power had a few choice words for the double-points rule in the finale, but it should be noted that he was also the beneficiary of the same rule when he won the Indianapolis 500 earlier in the year.
It was quickly pointed out that if all races had been given equal points’ weighting, Dixon would have won the title by four points anyway. Perhaps the best driver won after all…
|2015 IndyCar Series GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma – Final Classification (85 laps)|
|Pos||Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||85||2:09:14.2620|
|2.||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||85||+ 6.1115|
|3.||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing||85||+ 7.1279|
|4.||Tony Kanaan||Chip Ganassi Racing||85||+ 8.9030|
|5.||Ryan Briscoe||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||85||+ 10.0749|
|6.||Juan Pablo Montoya||Team Penske||85||+ 11.2548|
|7.||Will Power||Team Penske||85||+ 12.4877|
|8.||Takuma Sato||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||85||+ 16.0888|
|9.||Rodolfo Gonzalez||Dale Coyne Racing||85||+ 20.8011|
|10.||Mikhail Aleshin||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||85||+ 22.5749|
|11.||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||85||+ 23.6709|
|12.||Oriol Servia||Andretti Autosport||85||+ 24.4514|
|13.||Sebastian Saavedra||Chip Ganassi Racing||85||+ 24.7775|
|14.||Gabby Chaves||Bryan Herta Autosport||85||+ 25.5357|
|15.||Hélio Castroneves||Team Penske||85||+ 26.0659|
|16.||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||85||+ 27.3185|
|17.||Stefano Coletti||KV Racing Technology||85||+ 35.1645|
|18.||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||85||+ 36.4838|
|19.||Jack Hawksworth||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||85||+ 38.9404|
|20.||Sébastien Bourdais||KV Racing Technology||85||+ 42.5956|
|21.||Josef Newgarden||CFH Racing||84||+ 1 lap|
|22.||Carlos Muñoz||Andretti Autosport||84||+ 1 lap|
|23.||Tristan Vautier||Dale Coyne Racing||83||+ 2 laps|
|24.||Luca Filippi||CFH Racing||80||+ 5 laps|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|DNF.||James Jakes||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||63||Accident|
Image via IndyCar Series
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