Simon Pagenaud dominated the GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday and left no doubt who was the 2016 Verizon IndyCar champion. It was a year-long celebration of Roger Penske’s 50th year in racing. The Astor Trophy was just the icing on the cake for the Team Penske organization.
The feisty Frenchman captured his first ever Verizon IndyCar championship in only his second year driving for Team Penske Racing. Simon Pagenaud also led a race-high 76 laps of the 85 turned through the 2.303 mile road course in California’s wine country.
Simon Pagenaud only needed a steady and untroubled performance to wrap-up his first title in this breakthrough season. Instead, the points leader reeled in his fifth victory of the year. As a result, Team Penske Racing finished with a two drivers on the final podium of 2016.
“My whole career has been about this day, reaching this level. For an athlete, it’s what you work for. It’s unbelievable!,” said Pagenaud after he got out of his car. “I think I will realize more tomorrow. What a race! So much emotion right now to be honest, it’s also hard to find the words. For an athlete, I think when you can perform 100 percent under pressure like this is amazing. It’s also such a great feeling. Obviously, it’s me winning. But it’s also my whole team.”
Impressively, Team Penske finished with three of it’s drivers in the top three point positions. Hence, they became the first trio to do that since Team Penske pulled it off in 1994. Obviously, Simon Pagenaud finished in first. He was followed by teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves.
Finally, it was the 14th IndyCar championship and the 29th title in all forms of auto-sports competition. In fact, Team Penske Racing was guaranteed a a victory because only two of it’s drivers were mathematically alive for the championship before the final race even started.
Will Power, the 2016 runner-up, found troubles right away at the winding road-course in Northern California. Power needed a flawless victory with his teammate Simon Pagenaud also finishing worse than sixth place. But none of that mattered, when Power lost his chance on lap 36. The come-from-behind driver was sidelined due to a transmission failure.
A full track yellow flag was waved, but Will Power was a whopping 8 circuits down by the time he got his chance to rejoin the contest. In addition, the mechanical failure erased any hopes the Australian speedster had to complete his come from behind championship run.
Consequently, this became the fourth time in Will Power’s career that he finished second fiddle in the final point standings. Although it was easier to take this time around, because he reeled in his elusive title in 2014.
Not to mention, Will Power missed the opening race of the season when he was ruled out with concussion-like symptoms from an inner-ear infection. Considering that, his second place tally was quite the feat.
“If I hadn’t won a championship, it would have been a pretty bad day,” confessed Power, who also won the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2014. “But it’s also been a great year and challenging year. I am also happy seeing my teammate Simon Pagenaud, win a championship.”
Letterman/Rahal Racing’s Graham Rahal tried his best to keep Simon Pagenaud in his cross-hairs during the closing laps of the race. The would be champion was in the process of conserving fuel while he cruised through the turns at Sonoma Raceway. Graham Rahal could not make a move on him, and as a result, Simon Pagenaud led Rahal and Juan Pablo Montoya to the checkered flag.
Ryan Hunter-Reay finished his last race of the 2016 season in fourth. Also, the Indy 500 victor Alexander Rossi, claimed a fifth-place result even though he started to run out of gas on the very last lap of the GoPro Grand Prix.
Final Results for the GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway:
1. Simon Pagenaud
2. Graham Rahal
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Ryan Hunter-Reay
5. Alexander Rossi
6. Josef Newgarden
7. Helio Castroneves
8. Marco Andretti
9. Charlie Kimball
10. Sebastien Bourdais
11. Mikhail Aleshin
12. James Hinchcliffe
13. Tony Kanaan
14. Takuma Sato
15. Carlos Munoz
16. Max Chilton
17. Scott Dixon
18. Jack Hawksworth
19. RC Enerson
20. Will Power
21. Conor Daly (DNF)
22. Spencer Pigot (DNF)
The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series will kick-off next year on March 12th on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.
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