IndyCar Recap: September 2017 – Watkins Glen & Sonoma

The finale!

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2017 Verizon IndyCar Series

2015_Verizon_IndyCar_Series_logo

The final two races of 2017 were held on a pair of road courses. The great Watkins Glen in upstate New York started the month, with the double points season finale at the undulating Sonoma circuit in California two weeks later.

Going into Watkins Glen, Josef Newgarden held an advantage after 3 wins in the last 4 races, but with double points on offer the title race was wide open.

IndyCar Grand Prix at the Glen

3 September 2017 – Race 16 of 17 – Watkins Glen International, Watkins Glen, New York, USA.

Video: Full Race

A damp, cold day, it was not raining but it was declared a wet start and wet tyres were mandated, the track not quite dry yet.

Alexander Rossi on pole alongside Scott Dixon, who has won here 4 times. Newgarden from row 2 dove down the inside to lead for all of 50m before going wide and losing positions.

At the end of lap 1 everyone pitted for slicks except Hildebrand and Chilton who went an extra lap, that didn’t work for them, they were nearly caught by the others before they came in. Castroneves took red softs and overtook Rossi for the lead. Drivers on softs definitely had the advantage early on.

Some drivers went with a wet setup expecting rain later, others went to a full dry setup to go for speed, and anything in between. All the Penskes went for downforce so were slower on straights.

A Safety Car for Hinchcliffe’s gearbox problem and a 2nd SC for Sato’s car in trouble meant we didn’t yet learn the durability of the black hard tyres. Pigot, Hildebrand, Chilton, Andretti and Jack Harvey stayed out under the Sato yellow and ran up front for a while.

Rossi’s fuel rig failed mid-stop so he was forced to pit early – until just 2 laps later the Safety Car was back out, everyone else then pitted so he found himself leading again!

Later, under green-flag pit stops some drivers really struggled with pit exit. Castroneves crossed the white line, but a lap or two later it all went wrong – Newgarden hit the pit exit wall, Bourdais hit the back of him, Kanaan hit the wall as well. Bourdais stayed on the lead lap, Newgarden pitted several times, but TK was out, the second week running that Kanaan had been parked.

Through all this Rossi was ahead of Dixon, driving brilliantly to hold off the master of the Glen and take his second IndyCar win. Newgarden finished 2 laps down, the championship lead cut to just 3 points.

Entertaining race, kept you guessing.

  1. 98 Alexander Rossi (Andretti Honda);
  2. 9 Scott Dixon (Ganassi Honda);
  3. 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Honda);
  4. 3 Helio Castroneves (Penske Chevy);
  5. 15 Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Honda);
  6. 12 Will Power (Penske Chevy)
  7. 83 Charlie Kimball (Ganassi Honda);
  8. 8 Max Chilton (Ganassi Honda);
  9. 1 Simon Pagenaud (Penske Chevy);
  10. 14 Carlos Munoz (Foyt Chevy);

Pagenaud wound up only 9th. Kimball rescued a great 7th despite grass-tracking a couple of times! And another top run from Munoz.

GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma

17 September 2017 – Race 17 of 17 – Sonoma Raceway, Sears Point, California, USA.

Video: Full race

The double-points season finale. I disagree with double-points for standard races: the Indy 500 I understand, this I don’t. The top four in points are already covered by 35 points, a standard race win is worth 50, it is exciting enough! I actually think it is less interesting with double points.

This track tends to favour Penske and they won the front two rows in qualifying:  Newgarden, Power, Pagenaud, Castroneves. Dixon starts 6th.

Clean start until Hinchcliffe spun – replays show Pigot hit and spun him though I’m not sure Pigot wasn’t pushed too. Later in the first lap there was a cloud of dust, Kanaan emerged with a puncture or suspension damage, someone else also pitted. Yet another bad day for TK. No safety car. Sato dropped away from 5th so the title contenders were nose-to-tail.

Pagenaud went off-strategy early to try something different, sitting in 4th place all day wouldn’t get it done.

The other reason I don’t like that this is double points and is the season finale? The racing isn’t that good. You get boring races from time to time, that’s okay, but Sonoma has a LOT of them. Which is a shame because it looks so much fun to drive! I hope they move the date, keep the race but have something else end the year.

After their green-flag stops, Dixon tried a pass on Castroneves which didn’t work.

The man on the move was Pagenaud, after stopping again he was passing cars and setting fastest laps, he was on fire on that alternative strategy sticking to soft tyres. Though he did go off course briefly on two consecutive laps. But he closed down a 10-second loss to get on Newgarden’s tail: the classic case of fast & light versus slow and fuel-saving.

And at the final stops Pagenaud got out JUST ahead of Newgarden! He worked hard on that all day. Newgarden tried the over/under hairpin pass but couldn’t make it work.

Pagenaud drove flat all day and took a well-deserved win, from a brilliant championship-winning drive by Newgarden. Power tailed them all day. Dixon got 4th, close behind but otherwise didn’t factor.

And Helio Castroneves fell away by 20 seconds to finish 5th in his final start as a full-season IndyCar driver. He will be missed in IndyCar and I hope he enjoys his new career in IMSA sports cars.

  1. 1 Simon Pagenaud (Penske Chevrolet);
  2. 2 Josef Newgarden (Penske Chevrolet);
  3. 12 Will Power (Penske Chevrolet);
  4. 9 Scott Dixon (Ganassi Honda);
  5. 3 Helio Castroneves (Penske Chevrolet);
  6. 15 Graham Rahal (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda);
  7. 27 Marco Andretti (Andretti Honda);
  8. 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Honda);
  9. 18 Sebastien Bourdais (Coyne Honda);
  10. 4 Conor Daly (Foyt Chevrolet);

A man having a good day was Marco Andretti, running top 7 for most of the race, battling with Rahal. He gets a lot of stick so I like it when he shows well, after a difficult season. Conor Daly also got a great result in 10th.

Points Scored in September

WAT SON (x2) SEP
Simon Pagenaud 22 103 125
Scott Dixon 41 64 105
Will Power 28 70 98
Josef Newgarden 13 82 95
Helio Castroneves 33 60 93
Graham Rahal 30 56 86
Ryan Hunter-Reay 36 48 84
Alexander Rossi 54 18 72
Marco Andretti 14 52 66
Charlie Kimball 26 38 64
Max Chilton 24 36 60
Conor Daly 19 41 60
Sebastien Bourdais 13 44 57
Spencer Pigot 19 34 53
Carlos Munoz 20 30 50
JR Hildebrand 15 32 47
Jack Harvey 16 24 40
Ed Jones 17 22 39
Tony Kanaan 10 28 38
Takuma Sato 11 20 31
Zachary Claman DeMelo 26 26
James Hinchcliffe 9 16 25
  • Pagenaud’s double-points win gives him the high-score for September.
  • Dixon combined two top 5 results for 2nd in the month.
  • Power, Newgarden and Castroneves closely matched between the two events.
  • Clearly all the drivers who were title-contenders at 31st August stepped up a gear, all scoring very well in the final two races!
  • The Andretti drivers had a better run at the end.
  • Kanaan, Sato and Hinchcliffe had an awful month which will surely motivate them into 2018.

Final Points Table

Here is the full points table to end the season.

Pos Pre +/- Name Pre Sep Total Wins
1 1 0 Josef Newgarden 547 95 642 4
2 4 2 Simon Pagenaud 504 125 629 2
3 2 -1 Scott Dixon 516 105 621 1
4 3 -1 Helio Castroneves 505 93 598 1
5 5 0 Will Power 464 98 562 3
6 6 0 Graham Rahal 436 86 522 2
7 7 0 Alexander Rossi 422 72 494 1
8 8 0 Takuma Sato 410 31 441 1
9 11 2 Ryan Hunter-Reay 337 84 421  
10 9 -1 Tony Kanaan 365 38 403  
11 12 1 Max Chilton 336 60 396  
12 13 1 Marco Andretti 322 66 388  
13 10 -3 James Hinchcliffe 351 25 376 1
14 14 0 Ed Jones 315 39 354  
15 15 0 JR Hildebrand 300 47 347  
16 16 0 Carlos Munoz 278 50 328  
17 17 0 Charlie Kimball 263 64 327  
18 18 0 Conor Daly 245 60 305  
19 19 0 Mikhail Aleshin 237 237  
20 21 1 Spencer Pigot 165 53 218  
21 22 1 Sebastien Bourdais 157 57 214 1
22 20 -2 Ed Carpenter 169 169  
23 23 0 Gabby Chaves 98 98  
24 24 0 Juan Pablo Montoya 93 93  
25 25 0 Esteban Gutierrez 91 91  
26 26 0 Sebastian Saavedra 80 80  
27 27 0 Oriol Servia 61 61  
28 34 6 Jack Harvey 17 40 57  
29 28 -1 Fernando Alonso 47 47  
30 29 -1 Pippa Mann 32 32  
31 37 6 Zachary Claman DeMelo 0 26 26  
32 30 -2 Jay Howard 24 24  
33 31 -2 Zach Veach 23 23  
= 32 -2 Sage Karam 23 23  
35 33 -2 James Davison 21 21  
36 35 -1 Tristan Vautier 15 15  
37 36 -1 Buddy Lazier 14 14

IndyCar 2017 Sept

  • Newgarden wins by 13 points!
  • Pagenaud’s double-points win jumps him above both Dixon and Castroneves for second.
  • Power scored 3 wins but only took 5th in points, a slow first 3 races and finishing 23rd at double-points Indy hurt his chances.
  • Rahal secured 6th ahead of Rossi, Sato and RHR.
  • Kanaan took 10th which is better than I thought he’d done, but at 200 points behind the winner that’s not a good year for his stature or that team. It is a shame.
  • Chilton and Andretti rallied at the end and pipped Hinchcliffe.
  • Jones had a phenomenal rookie year.
  • Hildebrand I think deserves a full-time seat but he’s been let go by Carpenter.
  • Kimball and Daly also had good late-season runs, but not good enough to be retained by their teams. Munoz is often the forgotten man.

Summary

Another great IndyCar season!

Josef Newgarden is a worthy champion. Showed well early in the season, then his July & August wins really gave him the advantage of being able to defend himself into the final races.

Simon Pagenaud as reigning champion carried the Number 1 well, he was the consumate champion and drove like it at Sonoma.

Scott Dixon, what a man, yet again in contention even though he had that massive crash at Indianapolis and “just” one win, he still led the points for a large chunk of the year.

Next year it is all change:  the same chassis and engines but a radically different aerodynamics package, the same one for everyone (albeit some teams got it much earlier in testing). It takes away over-body downforce, adds it back underneath the car, and should allow closer racing as well as have that back-end sliding. It promises to be spectacular on every type of circuit.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these recaps. I was testing the water to see whether I would want to do them in 2018 for select series such as IndyCar, F1, Formula E or WEC. Let me know what you think.

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