There was a whole lot more than earthquakes shaking up the Sonoma wine country this weekend. The IndyCar GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma was shaking up the race results as well as the run for the championship.
The weekend began as if this was yet again going to be a runaway win, for Team Penske’s Will Power. Power, who has driven away with wins at Sonoma the last two years in a row appeared to be headed for the trifecta of three in a row as he qualified in the pole position at the end of qualifying on Saturday. At the start of the race on Sunday Power seemed to be running away from the rest of the field following a second turn incident that created a road block for almost all the other competitors.
It all started very ominously as championship leaders Power and Helio Castroneves were evacuated from their hotel following a 6.0 earthquake. Castroneves came away the worst in the opening crash on turn two that damaged a front wing and forced a pit stop under a green flag for a replacement. Power was in front of the whole mess and seemed to run from everyone garnering more than a 10 second lead. Leading 33 laps until spinning out on cold tires after a pit stop on lap 40, Power lost positions sending him back to 20th. "It took me by surprise when I spun. That's just racing," Power said. "I would have liked to have had a better finish, but the Verizon Chevy team will look to Fontana working towards the championship."
Crowd favorite Graham Rahal in his National Guard sponsored car led for a number of laps near the end and tried to push to the finish on low fuel, but to no avail having to pit for fuel giving way to Mike Conway and Scott Dixon. Dixon fought his way past Conway on lap 83 of the 85 lap race to take the lead and the win the 2014 IndyCar GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished second with Simon Pagenaud third.
Pagenaud, who started 15th in his Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports No. 77, moves into the running for the Verizon IndyCar Series championship with his 3rd place finish. Following the race Pagenaud said, ”The whole race was interesting, actually, because I was just behind the wreck in the beginning in turn one, didn't know where to go. I was at the back of the pack basically after that. Our chances were not looking good at that point. But we recovered well. The team did fantastic pit stops, were really good on the in and out laps, which really helped. Through the strategy, we put ourselves in a really good situation. But the end of the race, I had to save a lot of fuel to make it to the end. On the last lap I asked if I could be cut loose basically to go after Conway. I didn't know he pulled off actually. I thought that was a great pass.” He continued, “I'm delighted with third and to go to Fontana with a chance for the title.“
Following the victory, Dixon explained his thoughts, “By the time we caught Conway, I was sort of waiting to find a spot. He was very good through turn six, the carrousel, which was going to make it very difficult into seven. Just basically started following him trying to figure out where he was leaving himself vulnerable.” Dixon continued, “I think I caught him by surprise there. Just the momentum we had out of the last corner. All in all, it's fantastic. It's a huge weekend for us.
As the championship standings sit now anything can happen as attention turns toward the final race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. with double points on the line more than ten drivers stand a chance to take the championship even though Power and Castroneves have run one and two most of the season. Following the Sonoma race, Power takes a lead of 51 points over Castroneves and 81 points over Pagenaud. It all comes down to who can fair well through the last race.