Despite a growing sense of tragedy created by the accident-related death of Justin Wilson days after last Sunday’s race at Pocono, Pennsylvania, the Verizon IndyCar Series has made the cross-country trek to the wine country of Northern California, for the final event of the 2015 season: the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. The 2.52 mile layout, more known for its race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit since 1989, has proven be a fair test for the cars and drivers of the IndyCar championship, offering multiple places to overtake and to also error. Although not the most famous or popular track on the current slate, it should provide a strong climax to a series that needs some positive vibes entering the off season.
As was the case last weekend at the tricky triangle at Pocono, the battle for the series championship is still focused on three drivers: Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal, and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. After carrying the momentum through a victory at his home track at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the second generation driver Graham Rahal suffered a serious setback at Pocono as he eliminated in a two-car accident prior to the halfway point and finished 20th. Unlike the American, both Montoya and Dixon survived the high attrition and placed third and ninth respectively.
Although the excitement of the efforts was understandably dampened due to the concern about the condition of Justin Wilson, the scenarios have put Montoya in the driver’s seat in the championship possibilities. Although double points will be rewarded this weekend, as was also the case back in May at the Indianapolis 500, the Colombian’s 34-point advantage on Rahal means if Montoya places fourth or better Sunday at Sonoma, he is assured the title. Rahal is still somewhat in control of his own destiny, although the bad result at Pocono hampered that and did limit his options. As for Dixon, he needs help and a pair of iffy results from the two ahead of him to have an opportunity to jump from third to first in the points, as he is 47 points out of the lead.
Outside of the championship fight, others are looking to start the 2015 silly season on high notes. Defending series champion Will Power is looking to earn just his second win of the season. So far the Team Penske-based Australian only has a victory at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis under his belt, despite the fact he has earned a series high five pole positions in 2015. Also on the potential hot property list is Josef Newgarden of CFH Racing, who has won a pair of races in 2015 at Alabama and Toronto. Although he reportedly would prefer to stay where he is, he has also been pointed to as a potential driver for a number of other teams in 2016.
The Sonoma Raceway, is similar to Mid-Ohio in that it is very undulating. A lot of uphill and downhill sections are present in the first half of the lap, the most notable being the run up to turn two and the other of which being the downhill plunge through the Carousel hairpin. A lot of action and contact has also occurred at the tight turn seven, which comes up right after the longest straightaway that also serves as a drag strip for the NHRA.
Stay tuned to OnPitRoad.com for full updates throughout the weekend.