I mentioned yesterday that it looked like it would be a typical Penske party at Sonoma with Will Power turning his pole position into yet another win in wine country. Team Penske was definitely happy with their race results, but it was the #2 car of Ryan Briscoe that pulled into the Winner’s Circle. There was an extremely relieved Aussie at the wheel, a driver who hadn’t won a race in two years. It was a typical-but-not Penske party.
In fact, it was a typical-but-not day at Sonoma in many respects. The fog burned off early, leaving clear skies and warming temperatures earlier than normal. The usual stiff breeze was a bit less pushy, which made racing a bit easier and conditions more pleasant for fans. Attendance seemed about the same as last year’s race, and I’ll take that as a good thing. The preliminary races for next year’s America’s Cup took place in San Francisco’s harbor this weekend and were definitely a competing event for this race at Sonoma. To have trouble getting through the paddock and general pedestrian areas due to crowds is always welcome, even if it temporarily annoys me.
As the green flag dropped there were 15 drivers who had a mathematical chance to win the championship, but only Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves had a realistic chance of claiming the title. And on lap one, Helio bumped Scott in turn 7, turning the 9 car and earning a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact. The course stayed green as Dixon got underway quickly, but it set him back in the field and turned it into a very long day for the Kiwi.
Speaking of green, it looked like we would have three straight races with no cautions as the first half of this one continued without any full course cautions. But on lap 64, Sebastien Bourdais slid wide and collected Josef Newgarden, sending both hard into the barriers between turns 8 and 9. Sebastien later tweeted photos of the cracked tub on his machine, and Josef suffered an injury to his left hand that is being further evaluated in Indianapolis. The full course yellow lasted nine laps due to the need to rebuild the tire barrier in that area.
Just two laps later, Alex Tagliani ran into the back of Ryan Hunter-Reay, leaving the 28 car spun and idle in turn 7. Shortly after the green flew again, Hunter-Reay was penalized for avoidable contact with E.J. Viso and had to drive through the pits. These incidents impacted his championship battle with Will Power, and we saw Ryan fuming after the race as he stalked toward Tagliani’s pit for a few choice words. (Tagliani accepted complete blame for the incident.)
Briscoe’s win kept a few points out of Will Power’s hands, but Will has a more comfortable advantage in the championship battle with Baltimore and Fontana remaining. Hunter-Reay and Castroneves will need a little help to catch up to Will, and Scott Dixon will need a lot. Power did wrap up the Mario Andretti Road Course title yesterday (and Chevy clinched the engine manufacturer title), and although he was disappointed not to win the race, he was happy for his teammate and can take some solace in his points lead as he heads into Baltimore.
Final thoughts on the “new” Sonoma:
- Gorgeous, as always.
- Huge hospitality turnout, as always.
- Great event staff, as always.
- Alterations to turns 7 and 11 helped and there was more movement and passing on the track, but there may be some more touches needed to make racing here truly exciting from start to finish.
- GoPro had a huge staff here recording everything and doing their GoPro cheer in the Winner’s Circle. They have loads of enthusiasm, and it will be great to see how they activate around this event.
- I didn’t hear any word on an agreement on the sanctioning fee for this race going forward, but with GoPro in place as a title sponsor, both sides must feel confident they’ll get it accomplished.
Thanks very much for following along this weekend. You can find stats and data on our Sonoma Event Summary, and don’t forget that MoreFrontWing.com and @MoreFrontWing on Twitter are your sources for INDYCAR news and commentary all season long!