A bold tire strategy and a charging drive took Simon Pagenaud from third on the grid to win at Sonoma, but Penske teammate Josef Newgarden claimed the big prize and is the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion.
Team Penske-Chevrolet pair Newgarden and Will Power made a clean start from the front row while Helio Castroneves on red tires beat Simon Pagenaud to third after three corners running side by side.
Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda’s Scott Dixon went straight into fifth as Andretti Autosport-Honda’s Takuma Sato ran wide and also lost places to Alexander Rossi and Graham Rahal.
At the back, Spencer Pigot turned James Hinchcliffe off the road. Meanwhile, Tony Kanaan’s Ganassi #10 picked up a puncture as debutant Zachary Claman DeMelo and Jack Harvey at the back also came together. Harvey pitted on Lap 6.
In the early laps, the most intense battle was between Dixon, Rossi and Rahal for fifth. Behind them, on Lap 5, Sato could be seen slowing and limping to the pits with a flat right-rear tire, allowing his Andretti teammates Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti into eighth and ninth.
Pagenaud made a pitstop on Lap 12, the first of the cars to go off-strategy out of choice rather than necessity, leaving Dixon in fourth, running 2.7 seconds from the top three. By this time Newgarden had a 2.1sec lead on Power, who was 1.1sec ahead of Castroneves.
But it was their teammate Pagenaud, running red tires, who was truly flying – lapping in 1min18.36sec at a point when most of his competitors were running 1min20s. His four-stop strategy could work at this rate.
Rossi pulled out of fifth place to make a stop on Lap 15 and a lap later Dixon, Rahal and Hunter-Reay did likewise, and all emerged ahead of Rossi, who had to head to the pits with electrical trouble.
Newgarden, Power, and Castroneves stopped on Lap 17, leaving Conor Daly up front in the AJ Foyt Racing-Chevy. Castroneves switched to scuffed blacks, Newgarden and Power who had started on blacks, went to reds. Dixon tried to take advantage of Castroneves on cold tires at Turn 7, but he braked too late, and Castroneves was able to duck back ahead.
Pagenaud’s searing laps had put him in position to take the lead as he was 10.4sec behind Daly when the American pitted on Lap 21. But Pagenaud’s new problem was the pair of lapped cars ahead, Kanaan and Hinchcliffe.
Once he cleared Hinchcliffe, the Frenchman was able to continue laying down fast laps, and had a 9.4sec lead over Newgarden, who continued to run 1.5sec ahead of Power, with Castroneves a further 2.2sec back, still haunted by Dixon and Rahal.
Pagenaud kept stretching his lead until stopping on Lap 30, with a 15.6sec lead, taking on a set of fresh red tires. Newgarden was back in a 2.2sec lead over Power, with Castroneves a further 2.6sec back, and Dixon, Rahal, Andretti and Hunter-Reay stacked up behind him.
By Lap 35, Newgarden had stretched his lead to 3.0sec. Pagenaud, following his stop, was on a charge and had moved past Ganassi’s Charlie Kimball for ninth and would soon pass Sebastien Bourdais’ Dale Coyne Racing-Honda for eighth.
Dixon was starting to fall away from Castroneves and was having to instead keep his eye on Rahal and Andretti in his mirrors.
On the other hand, reigning champion Pagenaud was keeping his momentum, passing Hunter-Reay for seventh on Lap 38, and at the end of that lap, the road got clearer ahead as Castroneves, Dixon and Hunter-Reay stopped.
At the end of Lap 39, Newgarden, Power, Andretti and Rahal stopped, Newgarden just getting ahead of the lapped Hinchcliffe. Power and the others were less lucky.
Pagenaud now had a 25sec lead over Newgarden – the pair temporarily also separated by late-stopping Daly – so that around four more seconds could see him stop and gain the lead of the race, back on Newgarden’s strategy.
Braking hard for Turn 9 on Lap 47, the #1 Penske went flying over the dust on the shortcut, and he repeated the off on the following lap, when he pitted for reds. He emerged in third, ahead of Castroneves, but 4.8sec behind Power who trailed Newgarden by 3.3sec.
That naturally changed as Pagenaud charged at his primary-tired teammates, passing Power out of the hairpin as they crossed the start-finish at the start of Lap 54. Dixon pitted on Lap 61, and grabbed a set of fresh reds; Newgarden stopped on Lap 62, handing the lead to Pagenaud and Castroneves stopped too. He would emerge behind race-long rival Dixon.
Power stopped on Lap 63, as did Andretti. Pagenaud stopped on Lap 64, and emerged just in front of Newgarden - and despite the American’s semi-concerted efforts, he couldn’t shake Pagenaud’s focus and perfect car placement.
As Pagenaud hit traffic with 10 laps to go, Newgarden closed back onto his teammate’s tail, bringing Power with him, but when the Ed Carpenter Racing pair of Pigot and JR Hildebrand moved out of the way, the race was settled.
Pagenaud ended up winning by 1.1sec over Newgarden who was just half a second clear of Power. Dixon was 10 seconds behind, five seconds ahead of Castroneves, with Rahal, Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Bourdais and Daly behind.
After four victories this season, one pole and some supremely aggressive driving, Newgarden is a well-deserved 2017 champion, his second place giving him the title by 13 points over Pagenaud.
|1||1||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||85 laps|
|2||2||Josef Newgarden||Team Penske||1.0986|
|3||12||Will Power||Team Penske||1.6139|
|4||9||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||12.0870|
|5||3||Helio Castroneves||Team Penske||22.5022|
|6||15||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||23.5289|
|7||27||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||23.9788|
|8||28||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||24.5140|
|9||18||Sébastien Bourdais||Dale Coyne Racing||49.9911|
|10||4||Conor Daly||A. J. Foyt Enterprises||55.6650|
|11||83||Charlie Kimball||Chip Ganassi Racing||1'21.0203|
|12||8||Max Chilton||Chip Ganassi Racing||1'24.5038|
|13||20||Spencer Pigot||Ed Carpenter Racing||1 lap|
|14||21||J.R. Hildebrand||Ed Carpenter Racing||1 lap|
|15||14||Carlos Munoz||A. J. Foyt Enterprises||1 lap|
|16||10||Tony Kanaan||Chip Ganassi Racing||1 lap|
|17||13||Zachary Claman DeMelo||Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing||1 lap|
|18||7||Jack Harvey||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||1 lap|
|19||19||Ed Jones||Dale Coyne Racing||16 laps|
|20||26||Takuma Sato||Andretti Autosport||23 laps|
|21||98||Alexander Rossi||Andretti Autosport||25 laps|
|22||5||James Hinchcliffe||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports||33 laps|