Rodolfo Gonzalez figures he's earned a cheeseburger.
Gonzalez, who started 24th in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, advanced a field-high 15 positions over the 85 laps on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn road course in the Verizon IndyCar Series finale Aug. 30.
Ninth place was a season high for the native of Venezuela in six road/street course races with the team. The cheeseburger has a back story.
“(Early in his career in Europe) whenever I won a race or had a podium, my prize from my father was to go to a little pub near where we were staying and have a cheeseburger, and they always had the (Indy car) races on TV,” Gonzalez said. “We would turn up after driving four or five hours after racing and have a cheeseburger and the Indy car race would be on TV.
“That was the time when Bryan Herta, Jimmy Vasser and Alex Zanardi all were fighting for the title. I was a big Zanardi fan. I remember watching the (1996) race at Laguna Seca and the overtaking maneuver Zanardi pulled on Herta and I said, ‘I’d like to be there some day and do that.’ ’’
Ninth place isn't a podium, but the effort is worth at least one patty. From winning the 2006 British F3 National Class championship with 18 podium finishes, including 13 victories, in 22 races through the Formula 3 Euro Series and 64 races in the GP2 Series over four years, Gonzalez remained steadfast in attaining his goal.
He was a test driver for the Marussia F1 Team for two seasons, and sought out the opportunity this season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Gonzalez, 29, who worked with veteran engineer Robert Ridgley, said he was pleased with this race result in particular and will be working to return to the team for 2016.
“I think we got absolutely everything out of the car and the team,” he said. “I want to give a big thanks to the team and to Dale Coyne Racing. They have made me feel at home all season and helped me adapt and learn as much as possible about the series. A special thanks goes out to Dale (Coyne) because he is a dream maker and he made my dream of being an IndyCar driver come true.”
The result moved the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda up one position to 22nd in the entrant standings, which could prove financially beneficial for the 2016 season.
Twenty-one entrants for the 2015 Leaders Circle were selected based on 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series final entrant points. Each Leaders Circle member was assured a minimum of $1.25 million if the entrant successfully qualified for all 16 Verizon IndyCar Series events in 2015. The No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing entry was 21st in the final entrant standings.
The Leaders Circle program was established in 2002 to provide incentives to teams that participate full time in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Ryan Briscoe gained 12 positions in the No. 5 Arrow/Lucas Oil Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for a season-high fifth-place finish. He posted four top 10s in eight races, starting at the Indianapolis 500, as a substitute for the injured James Hinchcliffe.
Takuma Sato, completing his third season in the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda for AJ Foyt Racing, advanced 10 positions to place eighth – his second consecutive top 10 and fifth of the season.
Another big contribution
American Honda Motor Company and Honda Performance Development contributed $50 per lap completed in the race by each of the 13 Honda to the Wilson Children’s Fund, which totaled $53,950. Fans may add their own donations, or purchase Justin Wilson memorabilia with proceeds going to the fund, by visiting www.wilsonchildrensfund.com.
The Justin Wilson Memorial Auction begins Sept. 16 on eBay with helmets worn by Verizon IndyCar Series drivers in the race at Sonoma Raceway being auctioned first. Sign up for updates at www.wilchildrensfund.com.
CFH Racing’s Josef Newgarden, a two-time race winner this season, placed seventh in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings to give the team its highest finish. Newgarden topped the field with 345 laps led in six races. Eleven drivers surpassed 50 laps led. … Team Penske teammates Helio Castroneves and Will Power led laps in a field-high 11 races. … Four-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais completed his fifth Verizon IndyCar Series season, which matches his seasons in Champ Car. He’s totaled 147 starts.