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IndyCar Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma Preview

Simon Pagenaud exits the Turns 9-9A Esses section during the open test at Sonoma Raceway.  [Photo by: Chris Jones]

Simon Pagenaud exits the Turns 9-9A Esses section during the open test at Sonoma Raceway.  [Photo by: Chris Jones]

 

Verizon IndyCar Series: Race 17/17
Sonoma Raceway

by Paul Gohde

Just a short drive north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, Sonoma Raceway will play host Sunday to the double-points Verizon IndyCar Series season-ending race: The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Sonoma Raceway Facts:

The 2.385-mile, 12-turn natural road course in California’s Sonoma Valley wine country has hosted Indy car competition since April, 1970, when Dan Gurney defeated Mario Andretti and Al Unser in a USAC race. Indy car racing returned in 2006 (IRL) and IndyCar took over in 2011, with the track hosting the series’ championship finale since 2015.

Sunday’s 85-lap, 202.7-mile run will determine the Verizon Series’ champion with three-time Sonoma winner Scott Dixon just three markers behind current leader, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden. Team Penske has won here six times, while Newgarden’s teammate, Will Power, also has three wins here. Simon Pagenaud won here last year (also for the Captain), setting a qualifying record (1:16.25-112.599 mph) and race record (2:0012.94-101.181mph) while clinching his 2016 series’ crown. Other Sonoma winners entered have been Helio Castroneves and Marco Andretti.

2016 Sonoma Race: Pagenaud’s Chevrolet held off Graham Rahal’s Honda by 3.25 seconds to clinch the championship by 127 points over Power. Pagenaud led all but nine laps of the 85-lap race, only relinquishing the lead during pit stop cycles. The win was his fifth of the season. Power was running second to Pagenaud early in the race, but clutch problems sent him to the pits for repairs. He returned eight laps down and finished 20th. He did finish second in the championship; his fourth runner-up finish in his 12-year Indy car career.

2017 So Far: Points and wins: 1. Newgarden (560 pts., 4 wins).  2.Dixon (-3, 1). 3. Castroneves (-22, 1). 4. Pagenaud (-34, 1). 5. Power (-68, 3).   Street/Road Course winners: Newgarden-2, Graham Rahal-2, James Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais, Alexander Rossi, Power and Dixon- one each.

The Field: Twenty-two cars are entered with Rahal Letterman Lanigan running a second car for Indy Lights driver Zachary Clamon DeMelo. The 19-year-old Canadian won his first Lights race at Road America in June and may be a 2018 choice for Rahal’s second series entry. Jack Harvey returns for Schmidt Peterson.

Notes:

  • TV: NBCSN, Race- Sunday, 6:30p.m. ET/ Qualifying-Saturday, 6:30p.m. ET/ Practice 2- Friday 5p.m. ET.
  • Team Penske finished 1,2,3, (Pagenaud, Power, Castroneves) for the 2016 series’ championship, as they were in 1994 with Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi and Paul Tracy.
  • Dixon would have to fall out of the first three in points to allow Team Penske to repeat the point’s sweep.
  • Chevrolet has won nine of the 16 races so far. Honda’s seven wins are five more than in 2016.
  • Power has won five of the last seven poles at Sonoma.
  • Newgarden leads the championship race going into the final race for the first time in his career.
  • This is the 12th consecutive year that the Indy car championship will be decided at the final race of the season.
  • No schedule has been announced for the upcoming 2018 season, but Gateway will return at the same date (late August) with an hour earlier start.
  • Beside the first five in points, only Rossi and Rahal remain mathematically eligible to win the championship.

Our Take: With double points on the line, any driver in the first seven could win the championship Sunday depending on circumstances. But past Sonoma results lean heavily toward a Team Penske race/series champion. Newgarden is hungry to prove that Penske was wise to sign him after last season; and so far he’s proven his worth. Dixon’s Ganassi Honda has been strong all year but is outnumbered by four Penske Chevy’s and that could be the decider for the Verizon crown. No dark horse winner Sunday; give it to Penske and Chevrolet one more time.

The Final Word: Zachary Clamon DeMelo (No. 13 Paysafe RLL Honda): “To get this opportunity (to drive an Indy car) is a big deal for me…I think Sonoma in general is a great track. It’s really up and down which is exciting. You have some fast sections and hard braking and a lot of blind corners…My favorite part would have to be Turn 2, it’s uphill and really fun to drive…As a driver and competitive person I want to be at the front, running with the best guys and showing I can compete.”

 

 

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Paul Gohde
Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life. Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950's, Paul had no idea what "that noise" was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked. The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner's autograph in the pits, something he couldn't do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked. Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt's first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark's historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them. He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats. Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, "a factor that got me hooked in the first place."