Penske Perfect at Sonoma Helio Castroneves did exactly what he had to Sunday at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, winning the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County and leading the most laps to keep his IndyCar Series championship hopes ...
Penske Perfect at Sonoma
Helio Castroneves did exactly what he had to Sunday at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, winning the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma County and leading the most laps to keep his IndyCar Series championship hopes alive and close the gap to points leader Scott Dixon from 78 to 43 with two races remaining.
Castroneves' win was his first of 2008, ending a 29 race drought. The Team Penske driver previously had kept his championship fight alive through consistency, having finished out of the top five only twice this year. Castroneves has finished second a total of seven times in 2008, adding one third, three fourths and a fifth.
In today's 80-lap event on the twisty, hilly Infineon road course, an early caution flag on Lap 15 led to teams using one of three different pit strategies. The middle group, which included Castroneves and Dixon, proved to be the right call as the race ran caution-free for the remainder of the day. But Dixon's efforts were repeatedly blunted by slower traffic, dropping him to an uncharacteristic 12th-place finish.
On a track where a driver shifts more than 3,000 times in an 80-lap race, 27 drivers completed 10,874 miles this weekend at Infineon Raceway, without a single failure for the Honda Indy V-8 engine used by all competitors in the IndyCar Series. So far this season, the IndyCar field has completed 209,351 miles without a single race-day failure, extending a record-setting season for Honda, dating to when the manufacturer started supplying the entire IndyCar field in 2006.
Behind Castroneves, the group led by his Team Penske partner, Ryan Briscoe, and Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan appeared to be in the best position. Briscoe duly followed his teammate across the finish line in second, while Kanaan was occupied in the final laps blunting the advances of Dan Wheldon to finish third. Kanaan and Wheldon entered the race weekend here with slim championship hopes, but both have now been mathematically eliminated from title contention.
Finishing fifth, Danica Patrick had her best road-racing result of the season, as did rookie E.J. Viso in sixth for HVM Racing. The IndyCar Series continues its three-week championship-concluding run with the final street-circuit event of the season, the Labor Day weekend Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, on August 31; followed by the season-ending Peak Antifreeze Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 7.
Helio Castroneves (#3 Team Penske Honda) Started 1st, finished 1st, his first win of 2008 and 13th career victory, the first IndyCar driver to win at Infineon from pole since the series began racing here in 2005: "I've been looking forward to this [winning] for sooooo long! This has been such an incredible week for us, with the problems we had earlier [a transporter fire en route to the event]. But the team responded in an incredible fashion. Everyone pitched in, even guys from our NASCAR and ALMS teams, so that we could race here this weekend. We never lost faith. It was hard, really hard, racing today, but it also was really fun. TC [team manager Tim Cindric] called a perfect race for me. He kept telling me to 'push, push' and that's exactly what I did!."
Scott Dixon (#9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) Started 5th, finished 12th, maintains a 43-point championship lead with two races remaining: "It wasn't a very good race for us today. We did nothing right, staying out on track while stuck behind a car that was three seconds a lap slower than us. We still have a good lead in the championship, but we can't afford another race like this one next week in Detroit."
Erik Berkman (President, Honda Performance Development) on today's race: "It was an interesting race from a tactical point of view, and I was impressed by the performance by the entire Team Penske organization this weekend, both in recovering from their transporter fire earlier in the week and the calls made in the race today. Congratulations to them for a 1-2 finish, and to Helio Castroneves for his excellent victory today."