Hunter-Reay wins Sonoma as Dixon earns fifth IndyCar title

Image by IMS Photo

Hunter-Reay wins Sonoma as Dixon earns fifth IndyCar title


Hunter-Reay wins Sonoma as Dixon earns fifth IndyCar title


Image by Abbott/LAT

Dixon and Rossi were the only two drivers in the top six to opt for Firestone’s blacks for the final stint, and this helped contribute to some late race intrigue, first when Power began to reel Dixon in, and then when Andretti passed Rossi and marched off. In the closing laps Rossi also learned that he’d need to lean off due to a fuel miscalculation, which allowed Bourdais past and left him to finish the race in seventh.

“I don’t know [what happened at the start],” said a disappointed Rossi. “I got a good start and then I don’t know if [Andretti] lifted or whatever, but it is what it is. It was going to be tough to beat Scott anyway, but this team did such a good job. So unfortunate to go out like that. I wish I could replay that a million more times, but the team did a great job to get us back out there after the mistake I made.

“At the end of the day we have to be pretty happy with 2018, but it’s pretty hard to come home second and the first loser. I’m happy but I expect a lot out of myself, and the people around me, and there were times this year that we made mistakes and had things not go our way. Hopefully next year we can come out of the box and lead the whole way, but huge congrats to Scott – he is a five-time champion for a reason.”

Dixon admitted that Rossi’s misstep made his life easier, and said that the job from that point became about making it as difficult as possible for the No.27 to find a way back.

“We were just making sure we didn’t get ourselves into an awkward place that [Rossi] could capitalize on, and for them to go down almost a lap was kind of helping,” Dixon said. “But nobody is ever out.”

Hunter-Reay had arguably the least complicated afternoon of anyone in the field. His advantage over Dixon rarely dipped lower than 1.0s, and sometimes ballooned out to well over 3.5s.

“This is a great win for this team,” he said after the 18th win of his career. “The car was awesome. I want to dedicate this win to Robert Wickens, he’s fighting hard and we’re all with him. We wish he was here; he would have made our lives a lot harder on the race track. And congratulations to Scott Dixon, what he’s done in this era of IndyCar racing is amazing. It’s a nice way to end the season, a nice way to celebrate, and hopefully we’ll be back with a punch.”

Team Penske’s slim title hopes were halved again when Josef Newgarden’s car stalled during his first stop, leaving Will Power as the only other mathematical contender. He turned a seventh-place start into a third-place finish: strong, but not enough to made a dent in Dixon’s points haul. Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud was fourth ahead of Marco Andretti.

Further back, much of the action seemed to be happening in the vicinity of Jordan King or DCR’s Santino Ferrucci. King in particular made his presence felt with an elbows-out drive from 24th to 13th, salvaging something from the race for the ECR team after it lost Spencer Pigot’s car to a gearbox problem just after the halfway mark.

Pato O’Ward’s debut began with his being rapidly flushed from his P5 starting position when his tires faded, but after plunging towards the outskirts of the top 20 he began to find his feet, and recovered to an excellent ninth at the finish.

“In practice I didn’t do any passing, so that was something I had to learn during the race,” he said. “After a while it became easier, so I decided to put my head down and start passing people. It was a very long race; I’m pretty sore, my back is tired, my neck… that safety car saved me a bit, because I could rest my neck. But when I came here my optimistic aim was a top six start and a top 10 finish, and I achieved it. The first race is so hectic and so crazy, but I have a really good idea about things now and expect to be way stronger in future.”

Aside from Pigot’s problem, the bulk of the gremlins were reserved for Rahal Letterman Lanigan. Rahal was able to return to the track after his battery problem was fixed, albeit 19 laps down, but by then teammate Takuma Sato had long exited the race after a smoky engine blowup.