Pagenaud takes Rookie title
The first two stints of Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar race, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma were executed at the front of the race with flawless symmetry. Pole sitter and Championship points leader Will Power would pit first. Then his teammate and the second place driver, fellow Australian Ryan Briscoe would assume the lead during Power’s pit stops. After Power returned to the track, then Briscoe would then pit.
In third place, in his best run of the year, was Dragon Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, who was blistering fast nearly all day. Just when it looked like this race cum Swan Lake ballet would go for a third performance, all hell broke loose. For the first time in two races plus 63 laps, there was a full course yellow. And 11 laps later came the second full course yellow, because yellows beget yellows. In the words of 3rd place finisher, Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dario Franchitti, “there were really two races today”.
(I) just put my head down and held the guys off behind me for the win.
The so-called second race began on lap 64 when race leader Will Power pitted from the lead. For reasons unknown, the heretofore flawless performance of Team Penske was not there for Power’s stop, which cost the leader 4 needed seconds.
Next, third place driver Bourdais collided with the slower running car of Josef Newgarden. It appeared that something broke on Bourdais’ car. The hit from Bourdais catapulted the #67 car hard into the tire barrier between turns 8 and 9. Newgarden injured his left index finger on impact. The driver will be evaluated again when he returns to Indianapolis.
Since the pits were open, Briscoe was able to pit under yellow. He was also able to beat Power back to the blend line. In the words of Power, this was due to “being held up by two wankers who were taking their time getting back to the blend line”. From there, it was a matter of Briscoe maintaining his lead on the both restarts.
“I was holding ground with Will at the start of the race,” commented Briscoe. “We went to blacks for the next two stints. The car just wasn't quite as good. I was struggling to maintain speed on the black tire. Then we got a timely yellow. The 12 car guys made a little mistake in the pits. We got the lead and finished the race on the reds. The car was awesome again. It was the best it had been all day. Just put my head down and held the guys off behind me for the win.”
While Will Power was admittedly disappointed about not winning this race, nearly everything else worked completely to his advantage in terms of the 2012 series championship. For starters, he clinched the Mario Andretti Trophy for road racing in the ICS championship with his second place finish today. This is the second year in a row that he has achieved this honor.
Second place in the championship remains with American Ryan Hunter-Reay, but he started the day only 5 points behind Power but leaves Sonoma 34 point behind power. Ryan was unfortunately speared into a spin by Alex Tagliani who made an overly optimistic move on the #28 car in Turn #7. The words exchanged by these two veteran drivers are not suitable for a family publication, but suffice it to say, Hunter-Reay was justifiably upset by possibly losing his first series championship due to the spin caused by Tagliani.
Also helping Power was his teammate Helio Castroneves’ causing 4th place in points driver Scott Dixon’s first lap spin, ultimately contributing to Dixon’s 13th place finish. Not exactly where someone vying for a championship needs to end up with only two more races to go!
Rookie Simon Pagenaud started the race in 9th and finished 7th, which was good enough to clinch the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors for 2012. Pagenaud ran a clean race and managed to stay out of trouble, which today was something of an accomplishment in itself.
Most of the drivers were disenchanted with the five second delay in the push to pass feature. In this Brave New IndyCar, though, the drivers were able to take their opinions straight to Race Director Beaux Barfield who reportedly told them that there simply was not time to make the change for Sonoma but who knows, maybe Baltimore?
The post-race press conference also featured an appearance by CEO Randy Bernard along with two representatives from Chevrolet. Briscoe’s win clinched the engine manufacturer’s trophy for GM and they seemed to be genuinely thrilled to have beaten such a formidable opponent as Honda. Congratulations are in order for Chevrolet, Ilmor, Hitachi, and their IndyCar teams, including and lead by Team Penske.
It hard to believable that Ryan Briscoe went over two years without a win, an unfortunate streak broken by today’s win. Nearly everyone, including his teammate Will Power was very happy for him, and both these Australians are anxious to win next week in Baltimore.