IndyCar Flashback: 2015 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma

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On Sunday, the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season draws to a close. With just the Grand Prix of Sonoma remaining, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon leads Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi by 29 points.

Team Penske drivers Will Power and Josef Newgarden are 87 points behind Dixon. Each of the four drivers remains mathematically eligible for the championship with double points available for the finale.

This week, IndyCar Flashback takes us to 2015, another memorable season finale and championship battle at Sonoma.

Dixon Clinches Fourth Title with Sonoma Win

The  2015 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma was an emotional weekend, to say the least. Earlier that week, driver Justin Wilson passed away from injuries sustained in a crash at Pocono.

The passing of Justin Wilson was on everyone’s mind at Sonoma (Chris Owens/INDYCAR)

With heavy hearts, the paddock continued on with the 16th and final race of the season. Tributes poured in throughout the weekend from all over the racing community.

At the request of Wilson’s family, Oriol Servia would drive in the No. 25 Andretti Autosport Dallara-Honda. that Wilson ran part-time during the year.

In the wake of Wilson’s passing, there was a championship to be decided.

Heading to the 2.303-mile road course, six drivers would have a mathematical chance at the title. Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya held a 34-point lead in search of his second IndyCar championship.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal entered Sonoma second in points despite an early crash at Pocono a week earlier. Three-time champion Scott Dixon sat 47 back in third, with defending champion Will Power 61 behind his teammate Montoya.

Fellow Penske driver Helio Castroneves (77 points back) and Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden (87 back) also had an outside title chance.

Power, a three-time Sonoma winner, gained an early advantage by winning his fifth Sonoma pole in six years and earning the bonus championship point. He did so with a track record speed of 112.589 MPH.

Power celebrates his sixth pole of 2015 (Chris Jones/INDYCAR)

Newgarden would join him on the front row, with Montoya and Rahal in fifth and sixth. Dixon (9th) and Castroneves (15th) qualified the furthest back of the contenders.

From the start, Power gained an early advantage. The reigning series champion would lead the first 13 laps before he and Newgarden pitted.

Power cycled back to the front of the field on Lap 22. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Luca Filippi stalled on Lap 33, bringing out the first caution flag of the day.

Just after the restart, the cautions continued. Power and Montoya tangled in Turn 4, with the 2014 champion spinning out. Both drivers pitted for repairs after the contact, setting them back in the field.

After the restart on Lap 42, the action settled down. Dixon took the lead on Lap 51 and with it, the points lead. The 2007 and 2014 Sonoma winner maintained the lead until the final set of pit stops on Lap 63.

In typical Dixon and Ganassi fashion, the final stop went smoothly. On Lap 63, the race record from 2014 was tied as Dixon overtook Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay for the 10th and final lead change.

Shortly after, another set of yellows would slow the race. On Lap 65, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Jakes lost brakes and spun hard into the Turn 9 tire barrier. Fortunately, he would walk away following the incident.

Two laps after the restart, the yellow was brought out once again. Carlos Munoz and Jack Hawksworth made contact in Turn 7.

When Munoz was unable to get his Andretti Autosport machine refired, the fourth and final caution of the afternoon was brought out.

Following the restart on Lap 73, Dixon pulled away from the field. Montoya made his march from eighth to sixth in the final laps.

Ultimately, it would not be enough. Dixon won the race by 6.112 seconds over Hunter-Reay. He also clinched the championship on a tiebreaker.

Dixon celebrates his fourth IndyCar title (John Cote/INDYCAR)

With he and Montoya equal in points, Dixon’s win gave him three to Montoya’s two in 2015. Dixon earned his fourth IndyCar championship and Chip Ganassi Racing’s 11th.

It also marked the first time since Dario Franchitti in 2009 that the champion won the season finale.

16 years after he beat Dario Franchitti on a tiebreaker to win the 1999 CART FedEx Championship, he lost on a tiebreaker.

It also marked the third time a tiebreaker would decide the champion.

Power finished seventh in the race and 63 points back of Dixon for third in the standings. Rahal and Castroneves rounded out the Top Five, with Hunter-Reay leapfrogging Newgarden for sixth.

Analysis

A frantic end to the first season of manufacturer aero kits saw the championship decided in the last race yet again. Now, here’s a look at the aftermath three seasons removed from that race.

Scott Dixon 

Dixon tied Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti for second all-time with four championships. The New Zealander has finished sixth and third in the seasons since his title.

This year, Dixon has won three races to pass Michael Andretti for third all-time with 44 victories. By finishing in the Top 2 on Sunday, Dixon will clinch his fifth title regardless of what any other driver does.

Juan Pablo Montoya 

After a disappointing end to 2015, Montoya won the season opener in St. Petersburg for the second straight year in 2016. To date, it is the last of his 15 IndyCar victories.

As it turned out, 2016 would be his last full-time season racing an IndyCar.

Montoya after his runner-up championship finish (Richard Dowdy/INDYCAR)

In 2017, Montoya would run both races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Team Penske’s IndyCar team.

He has not entered any IndyCar events since then. This season, his efforts have been focused on the organization’s sports car team.

Sonoma Raceway and the Season Finale 

2015 would mark the first time Sonoma Raceway hosted the season finale.

The popular road course will play host to the season finale for the fourth consecutive season on Sunday.

For the 13th straight season, the championship will be decided during the final race.

In July, IndyCar announced that WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca will host the 2019 IndyCar finale. This weekend, Sonoma hosts its 15th and final scheduled IndyCar race.

Header Image by Chris Jones/INDYCAR Media

Spencer Neff

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