Fuel became the concern for many at the end of a day that started with an earthquake being the concern for the Verizon IndyCar Series community but at the end of 85 laps in the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma it was Scott Dixon standing in victory lane for the second time in 2014 and 35th time in his career. He is now tied with Bobby Unser for fifth on the all-time wins list.
Dixon in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car took the lead from Mike Conway on lap 83 to score the win on a day that started at 3:20 a.m. for many drivers that were woken by the 6.0 magnitude earthquake in the Napa Valley area. The epicenter of the largest United States earthquake since 1989 was only 8.4 miles from Sonoma Raceway.
"I'm just so happy to end on this note and thanks to obviously all the fans out here this weekend, it's a big race for us in wine country and love coming here," Dixon said in victory lane. "Hope everybody's safe after that big rock and roll last night."
Graham Rahal and then Mike Conway had to give way due to being short on fuel and that is what let Scott Dixon get the late lead. He then held off Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud joined them on the podium. Championship contenders Will Power and Helio Castroneves each had issues which has kept Pagenaud in contention for the title at next Saturday night's season finale at Auto Club Speedway.
The GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma began with Will Power on the pole but a melee into Turn 2 brought out the first caution. Sebastien Bourdais got into the back of Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves. Castroneves then got into James Hinchcliffe and all four cars suffered from the contact. Castroneves' issue gave Power a chance to really extend his points lead which started the day at 40 points.
The race restarted on lap 5 and Power took off and looked dominant. Castroneves meanwhile pitted on lap 8 and his crew fixed some right-rear damage that they did not fix under the caution. By lap 15 Power had an eight second lead on Josef Newgarden.
Power would pit from the lead on lap 17 and then Newgarden pitted on lap 18. Carlos Munoz pitted from the lead on lap 19 and on lap 20 Power passed Juan Pablo Montoya for the lead right before Montoya pitted.
The second caution on lap 29 came out when Carlos Huertas had a mechanical issue and stopped on track. He finished 22nd. The caution erased a 10 second lead that Power had built up. Graham Rahal pitted from fourth, Tony Kanaan from sixth, along with Mike Conway and Takuma Sato while all the other cars stayed out.
The race restarted on lap 36 with Power in the lead but the third caution flew when Sebastian Saavedra spun in the hairpin Turn 7 after three-wide contact from Sebastien Bourdais and Helio Castroneves. Ryan Briscoe also got a piece of Saavedra's car after he had spun. Those that did not pit on the last caution did this time and Scott Dixon was able to get past Will Power on the pit stops.
The running order for the lap 40 restart was Tony Kanaan, Mike Conway, Ryan Briscoe, Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Jack Hawksworth, and then Dixon and Power. Conway got a great start and took the lead from Kanaan out of Turn 2. Will Power made a huge mistake exiting the hairpin when he spun out on his own. Behind him Carlos Munoz also spun. Both would continue without a caution but Power had dropped to 20th.
On lap 55 Rahal moved into second past Kanaan but was 8.7 seconds behind Conway. Then on lap 57 Rahal and Kanaan pitted from second and third which put them on a very long fuel run in order to make the finish from there. Conway held out and pitted on lap 60 from the lead. Sato then pitted from the lead on lap 61 along with Dixon but Sato's team had a slow stop.
Montoya pitted on lap 63 which handed the lead back to Conway but Rahal was right on him. Rahal made the pass on lap 64 in the hairpin to take the lead. By lap 70 the top five were all close together with Rahal in the lead ahead of Conway, Kanaan, Dixon, and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Kanaan would pit for fuel and tires on lap 73 knowing he could not make the finish.
Rahal continued to lead but on lap 82 he had to pit for fuel as he had run out. He was upset and also got a speeding penalty. When he hit pit road it put Conway out front but Dixon took little time to pounce and he went past Conway in Turn 1 on lap 83. Hunter-Reay then passed Conway later in the lap as Conway tried to conserve fuel.
On the last lap fuel was the issue as Charlie Kimball was the first to run out. Then it was Mike Conway. As Conway limped to the finish line Will Power made a daring move to try to gain more points when he dove low on Justin Wilson in Turn 11 and made contact. Sebastien Bourdais then made it three wide as the three raced to the line where Bourdais was forced into the wall. The yellow was thrown though for Conway's creeping car at the line. Which made Power's pass on Wilson not stand. Power and Wilson both ran out of fuel on the cool down lap.
Scott Dixon earned the win with Ryan Hunter-Reay not far behind.
Simon Pagenaud was third. Takuma Sato was fourth, Juan Pablo Montoya fifth, Josef Newgarden sixth, Mikhail Aleshin seventh, Marco Andretti eighth, Justin Wilson ninth, Will Power tenth, Sebastien Bourdais 11th, James Hinchcliffe 12th, Tony Kanaan 13th, and Mike Conway 14th. Jack Hawksworth was 15th, Sebastian Saavedra 16th, Ryan Briscoe 17th, Helio Castroneves 18th, Carlos Munoz 19th, and Graham Rahal was the last lead lap car in 20th. The 20 lead lap cars was tied for the most with the Indianapolis 500 for the most all season. Charlie Kimball finished 21st and Carlos Huertas 22nd.
The season finale MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday, August 30th will be a double points race with a maximum of 104 points to be earned. With that said only three drivers are in contention for the championship. Will Power takes a 51 point lead out of Sonoma and into the finale over Helio Castroneves. Simon Pagenaud is also alive but is 81 points back. Fourth in the standings is Ryan Hunter-Reay with Scott Dixon fifth, Juan Pablo Montoya sixth, Tony Kanaan seventh, Sebastien Bourdais eighth, Carlos Munoz ninth, and Marco Andretti tenth.
In other news Josef Newgarden signed to race 2015 for the newly merged CFH Racing. The merger is between Newgarden's current team Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing.
Also Gabby Chaves won the 2014 Indy Lights Championship. Jack Harvey swept the two weekend races at Sonoma Raceway to pull even with Chaves in points at the end of the 14-race season but Chaves was awarded the title. Both drivers had four wins on the season but Chaves had five second place finishes to only one for Harvey. As a result Chaves has earned a $750,000 Mazda Road to Indy scholarship to help him possibly advance to a 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series ride. It was also the first championship for Belardi Auto Racing.
Seeing your team play in the SuperBowl is priceless. Watching the SuperBowl live in the stands for $1 per week is beyond priceless. Find out how at TicketScore.com, the future of Championship Tickets. Tags: Bobby Unser, Graham Rahal, Grand Prix of Sonoma, Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mike Conway, Motorsports, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, Sonoma Raceway, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Verizon IndyCar Series, Will Power