Two major road courses will determine the Verizon IndyCar Championship this year. Both have wonderful histories and great challenges for INDYCAR drivers and teams. And maybe some surprises.
The Glen is back. Watkins Glen International in upstate New York is much like Road America in Wisconsin and about the same age – both opened in the mid-1950s, evolving from races held on nearby public roads.
Watkins Glen, site of this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen, was founded by Cameron Argetsinger, in his own words, because he had an MG-TC and no place to race it. Road races were held in and around the village starting in 1948. They even stopped a train for the racers for the first post-World War II road race in the United States. The permanent course opened in 1956.
Were you ever at “the bog?” It went the way of the original Indianapolis Motor Speedway “snakepit.” Buck Baker was the first pro winner in a 1957 NASCAR Grand National race. Since then, this prestigious track has hosted the finest racing series in the world; NASCAR, F1, Can-Am, INDYCAR and a host of others.
Now the Indy cars are back to face corners with names like the “Boot,” the “Esses” and the “90.” It was here Justin Wilson got the Indy car first win for Dale Coyne Racing. It could be a key in the championship because the last time the Verizon IndyCar Series raced at The Glen, Will Power won, leading 45 laps. Power trails Simon Pagenaud, who hasn’t raced on the track, by 28 points heading into the weekend.
Then there is Sonoma Raceway in Northern California, opened in 1968. Since that time, it has hosted a wide variety of races, including being the site of a single racing lap as a part of the One Lap of America event created by Brock Yates.
In 1970, Dan Gurney won the first Indy car race against the likes of Mario Andretti, Mark Donahue and Al Unser. This is the course that determined the championship last year, the first time it was the site of the final race of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Sonoma is 2.385 miles, has 12 turns and tons of elevation changes. A couple of off-camber corners always create interest at Turns 2 and 3. And it has turn names, too, including the “Crown.”
It is the only current INDYCAR circuit that boasts an NHRA drag strip as a part of the facility, although the addition of Gateway Motorsports Park for 2017 will bring that total to two.
Perhaps the most important challenge at Sonoma is the pits. The roll in and out of the pits is long. Very long, and winding. The driver who can maximize in and out laps supported by a blindingly fast pit crew has a real advantage. “Won or lost in the pits” definitely applies here.
While Scott Dixon won the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma and the championship last year at Sonoma, Power finished the race seventh and Pagenaud 16th. Power has won there three times, while Pagenaud’s best finish is third. And remember, this race also awards double the usual points.
So as we roll toward the final races of the championship, these two road courses will play a pivotal role in deciding the championship again. Barring some major development, it’s a two-man race: Pagenaud and Power, both driving for Penske.
Let’s sit back and enjoy watching it unfold.