By MIKE BURGHARDT
The pristine silence of the Sonoma Wine Country was shattered by the high revving engines of the fastest open wheel race cars in the country as the Indy Cars invaded Sonoma Raceway for the 2017 GoPro Sonoma Grand Prix this past weekend. The event is the last event for the season, where the season champion would be crowned. The event is also a “double points” race, as racers earn twice as many points as they would normally earn at any other event.
Josef Newgarden came into the event as the series point leader, but with “double points” at stake, his championship chances could be severely hampered by a poor finish at the season finale. Newgarden left no question that he was ready for the battle, as he captured the pole position with a new track lap record (01:15.5205 at 113.691 mph), followed by fellow Team Penske drivers, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud.
The 85-lap race was primarily decided in the pit stops, with Pagenaud taking the lead on lap 62. He was then able to hold off both Newgarden and Power to take the checkered flag. But, with a second place finish, Newgarden was able to capture the Verizon Indy Car Season Championship. In addition, with Power finishing third in his Penske/Verizon #12, Team Penske achieved the 1-2-3 event sweep, capturing the top three finishing positons for the season’s final event. Overall, there were six lead changes during the event, divided between three drivers (Newgarden for 41 total laps, during three different times in the lead; Pagenaud for 41 total laps, during three different times in the lead, including the last 23 laps; and Conor Daly for three laps, during one stint in the lead). With no caution flag laps, the race was completed with an average speed of 104.968 mph over the famed 2.385 mile road course.
Chevrolet not only supplied the engines for the Team Penske Indy Cars, but also was awarded as manufacturer of the year, based on total season event wins by Chevrolet Powered Indy Car Teams: Penske Racing, A.J. Foyt Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing.