SONOMA, California – After 16 races, more than 4,000 race miles and thousands more in testing and practice, it all comes down to this.
Six Verizon IndyCar Series drivers still have even the slightest of hopes to come out of the 2017 season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, with the championship and the accompanying Astor Cup and $1 million prize.
GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA: Starting lineup/tire designation
Ahead of them lie 85 of the most intense laps they’ll ever face on Sonoma Raceway’s permanent road course. It’s 2.385 miles of low grip, elevation changes and blind corners that test the limits of ability for even the best drivers. The one making the fewest mistakes will likely emerge the champion.
Here is a synopsis of what each driver needs to happen to make their championship dream come true:
Josef Newgarden, No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet: With a four-point lead heading into the race, the 26-year-old Tennessean is in the best position but by no means safe with double race points offered. Essentially, he must finish ahead of his nearest competitors – Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves – and within striking distance of Simon Pagenaud. Starting from the pole is a great advantage.
Scott Dixon, No. 9 NTT Data Honda: Simple formula for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver who sits second in points – win the race and he’s a five-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion. Dixon starts sixth today but charged from the ninth starting position two years ago to win the race and the crown on a tiebreaker over Juan Pablo Montoya. Dixon is a three-time race winner at Sonoma.
Helio Castroneves, No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet: For the 20-year Indy car veteran (third in points) to finally capture that elusive first championship, he needs to win, have Newgarden finish third or worse and Dixon to finish second or lower and not lead the most race laps.
Simon Pagenaud, No. 1 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet: To guarantee a repeat of his 2016 championship, Pagenaud needs to win and have Newgarden finish no better than fifth and Dixon no better than fourth.
Will Power, No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet: The 2014 champion, who starts on the outside of the front row and fifth in points, needs to have a great day while others struggle. If Power wins, Newgarden can finish no better than 16th, Dixon 15th, Castroneves seventh and Pagenaud fourth.
Alexander Rossi, No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda: At 85 points out of the lead, Rossi’s only hope is to score maximum points today (win the race and lead the most laps), while Newgarden finishes last in the 22-car race, Dixon 21st, Castroneves 12th or worse and Pagenaud no better than ninth.
The intensity of the championship battle has even affected the crews of contenders. Three members of Power’s pit crew – the right-side tire changers and airjack operator – have swapped their spots with crewmembers performing the same duties on Newgarden’s car for the race. It’s an effort to give Newgarden the strongest crew possible for his bid to win a first championship in his first season with Team Penske.
This marks the 12th straight year that the Verizon IndyCar Series championship is being decided at the season finale. Sit back and enjoy the action.
GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma fast facts:
Race 17 of 17 in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season
Track: Sonoma Raceway, a 12-turn2.385-mile permanent road course in Sonoma, California; today’s race will be the 14th for Indy cars at the track, with past races in 1970 and every year since 2005
Race distance: 85 laps/202.7 miles
Fuel: 70 gallons of Sunoco E85 ethanol
Fuel stint: 20-22 laps
Broadcast information: A pre-race primer program streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com at 6 p.m. ET; Live coverage airs starts at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network