Ryan Hunter-Reay knew what he had to do to win the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma. Scott Dixon knew what was needed to wrap up a fifth Verizon IndyCar Series championship. Mission accomplished on both fronts.
Hunter-Reay led 80 of 85 laps at Sonoma Raceway in a commanding performance to win the 2018 season finale from the pole position. Dixon started second and finished there, which was more than enough to secure the season crown.
"Man, this is so awesome!" said Dixon, whose five championships leave him behind only another legend, A.J. Foyt with seven, in Indy car annals. "I can't believe that it's actually happened. I can't thank everybody enough for this, it's so cool!"
Dixon entered the race with a 29-point lead, knowing he essentially only had to finish ahead of second-place Alexander Rossi in the double-points race. When Rossi damaged the front wing on his car and punctured a tire in first-lap contact with teammate Marco Andretti, it tipped the scales clearly in Dixon's favor. From there, the driver of the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was content to trail Hunter-Reay and bring home the crown that earned Dixon another Astor Cup and $1 million prize.
"The whole race I was thinking about things that were out of our control, cautions that were going to flip the field," said Dixon, whose 44 race wins rank third in Indy car history. "None of that happened.
"It was a very smooth race, but mentally it was tough and draining. Yeah, it's amazing to be in this situation, fifth championship. What this team has achieved, I'm a very small piece in that whole wheelhouse of what's going on at Chip Ganassi Racing. I feel very lucky to work with the people that I do."
With the achievement, Dixon moved ahead of Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti - each of whom has four titles. All of Dixon's championships have come in his 17 seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, which laid claim to its 12th Indy car driver's title.
"He's the guy on the track, off the track," team owner Chip Ganassi said of Dixon. "If you take a piece of stone, inject some brains into it, chisel it out, it's Scott Dixon. He's just the man.
"When you talk about records - A.J., Mario, all these guys - obviously Scott's name is in that group now."
Rossi dropped to last place in the 25-car field following the Lap 1 incident. But much like the Andretti Autosport driver did all season, he charged back in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda to finish seventh. It left the 26-year-old Californian 57 points short of Dixon in the quest for his first series championship.
"It was unfortunate because I thought we got a good start," Rossi said of the contact with Andretti heading up the hill in Turn 1. "Just two cars going for the same spot type of thing.
"At the end of the day, the (No.) 27 NAPA team did an amazing job of getting us back to a point where we could at least be in contention if something did happen to Scott. I knew it was probably a 1 percent shot at getting anything done at the end of the day. I just tried to attack it, move up as many positions as we could."
Hunter-Reay commanded the race on the 2.385-mile, 12-turn Sonoma Raceway road course from the outset, surrendering the lead only briefly through pit stop cycles. When the driver of the No. 28 DHL Honda crossed the finish line, he collected the 18th win of an Indy car career that began in 2003. It moved the Andretti Autosport driver into sole possession of 26th place on the all-time Indy car wins list.
"It was nice to go from pole (to) win, lead the most laps, the whole thing," Hunter-Reay said. "That's an ideal race. May not be the most exciting thing for the fans at times, but from a race car driver's point of view, team owner, race team, it's the ideal race.
"Felt like the race just didn't want to end," Hunter-Reay added. "I guess that's what happens when you spend the whole day out front. Any time I needed the pace to put it down, we leapt out to a lead (and) I was able to maintain that."
Hunter-Reay won by 2.7573 seconds over Dixon. Will Power finished third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to secure third in the point standings. Hunter-Reay ended up fourth in the championship, with Josef Newgarden fifth following his eighth-place race finish.
Patricio O'Ward, the newly crowned Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut, was one of eight rookies in the field and finished ninth in the No. 8 Harding Group Chevrolet.
The 2019 IndyCar Series season will again consist of 17 races, opening for the ninth straight year with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10. The schedule includes a visit to a new track, Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, on March 24; the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca near Monterey, California, on Sept. 22; and is anchored by the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26.
INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma Driver quotes:
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "It was not a great day. It really all started with the first pit stop. We just had a mistake in trying to get out and I stalled it. It kind of ruined the whole day from that point there on. It was tough to recover after that. I think we had a lot of potential today and we could have contended for the win, but it was too hard to come back. It was a great season and a lot of great moments for the whole team and myself. We just have to work to be a little stronger next year and go for the championship and the Indy 500."
MATHEUS "MATT" LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): " I think this race basically sums up our season. It was a pretty tough season for everyone, not just the No. 4 car, but for the No. 14 car too. Everyone worked very hard and we tried very hard but sometimes we just couldn't put everything together. We just didn't have the pace. It's a shame because all the engineers, the mechanics and the drivers deserve better results. As we're going to stay together as a team for 2019, we must: concentrate and try to do a better job, try to do a better off-season and figure out what is going to be better for us next year. It was a tough race for me. Unfortunately, I had a drive-through penalty due to the contact on the restart. I think the penalty was not fair - if the leaders go and then they back off, everyone knows what happens when you are running in the back [accordion effect], but I just couldn't do anything to avoid the crash and I hit Carlos (Munoz) and he spun, unfortunately. But we just didn't have the pace again and we struggled a lot with the old tires. We'll keep working hard and better days will come for sure. Big thanks to my team, my sponsors, ABC Supply, Al-Fe, Sherwin Williams and INDYCAR for the great season. I'm looking for a good season in 2019."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): "Obviously not the day we wanted. We actually had a pretty solid race going until our last pit stop. There was some anomaly with the engine or gearbox or clutch - not quite sure which yet - it caused the car to stall, so we dropped from ninth down to 18th. We fought back what we could in the remaining laps, but it's disappointing because the team did a better job than that today on track, in the pits, with the car. We just didn't have the results to show for it. At the end of the day, the 2019 season started the second the checkered flag fell and we're already all eyes forward and focused on hitting the ground running in St. Petersburg. Thanks to the SPM team for all the hard work all year. Thanks to Arrow Electronics and all our partners. It's been an up-and-down year, but we've won as a team, we've lost as a team, and we'll come back stronger next year. #GetWellWickens."
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): "Tough race for the Lucas Oil car. It's a pretty tough track to overtake. I think when we finally got going, I passed a few cars and I was up to P14. Then on the restart, someone hit me in the rear, I spun and lost a lot of positions. The hit broke my gearbox and I had to run the rest of the race in emergency mode which cost us a lot of time. Not how I wanted to finish for sure. Really thankful to everyone at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports - the mechanics, the engineers, everyone on the team have been so great to me. Wishing a quick recovery to Robert (Wickens) and hopefully, he'll be back at it in no time. For sure we wanted more out of today, but that's racing."
PATRICIO O'WARD (No. 8 Harding Group Chevrolet): "It was a really great weekend, we learned a lot. We qualified the car fifth and we ended the race ninth. As a driver, you want to stay in your qualifying position or get better. But I think for a first try, especially with a super long race with three or four pit stops that was a job well done. I'm really satisfied, and I just want to get better for next year."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): " I can't thank everybody enough - the team, my teammate (Ed Jones), everybody involved. This doesn't come without a lot of hard work. We had a lot of grit. We had a lot of things that could've gone wrong today. Huge thanks for PNC coming on this year, it really stepped up the team. Honda's been amazing, so many people at NTT DATA, our technical partner, too. I've got to thank the other teams, too, that we fought hard with - Penske and Andretti - throughout the season. Rossi did a hell of a job, he's been pushing so hard this year. He's a huge talent and one that's going to win many championships throughout his career. I'm just stoked for everybody. And Chip, this is mega, man. They're 12th (championship)." (On how he drove after Rossi's early mistake): "We were just making sure we weren't getting ourselves in an awkward place throughout the race that they could capitalize on. Nobody's ever out. Until we got to the last (pit) stop and were full to the end, even then I could see him moving up on the pylon. Man, this is so awesome! I can't believe that it's actually happened. You always feel these situations so much that it's never going to happen. I can't thank everybody enough for this, it's so cool."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "It was a really good race for the No. 12 Verizon team. We had a really, really fast car. I think if we would have started farther up front, we would have had a chance to win. It was a good year though,.Roger (Penske) got his 500th win today. We won the Indy 500. We won the 200th INDYCAR race for Team Penske. We won the Brickyard 400. Just couldn't get the championship here. But overall, it was a good year for Team Penske."
TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): "I'm happy with my performance. Tried a couple different things this weekend and finally, I think we found a direction to work on over the winter to make the cars better. It was a great start, I had a lot of fun. It was a fun weekend celebrating my 300th consecutive start. I was really amazed by how many people came by to congratulate me even a lot of the drivers I raced against. Coming into the weekend and to be honest I didn't really think much about it. I didn't think it was that much of a big deal, but as the weekend progressed I was realizing more and more what it is. It's one of those things I don't think I'm going to really realize it until 10 years down the road and you look back with all the names that I mixed with and people that won't maybe beat that record and it will probably be even more enjoyable. You know it was a difficult year for us at AJ Foyt Racing but we're coming back. We have the whole winter to think about what we did right and what we did wrong, fix it and come back stronger."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 TOTAL Honda): "What happened in the race was our year in a nutshell. It was obviously disappointing to have the race end how it did. The guys did a great job and the Total car was pretty good in the race. We lost power. We had a battery that exploded unfortunately and that cost us everything. It was a very disappointing and frustrating day. I will say this though, we have had a hard year, but I don't think I have ever been as proud to work with a group of guys as I am this year. These guys never quit. They focused on doing the best they could, at all times, and busted their butts. I know this is a great sign of things to come."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): "We had to play the long game. It was a day where the tire degradation was really high and the stints were long. We pitted early when everybody freaked out with some apparent oil on the track, which I didn't see. After that, it was going to be long stints the rest of the way and the tires were struggling. We just did what we had to do. At the end of the day, it worked out and we finished seventh in the championship, which was the goal today. So, I'm really happy with the result. Thanks to the SealMaster guys, thanks to all our sponsors and let's all do it again next year."
PIETRO FITTIPALDI (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): "I'm disappointed with our result. Our No. 19 Paysafe car was fast; we were running in the top eight at one point, but we just pitted too early and we had to save fuel until the end of the race. We lost a lot of positions because of that. We had to go with our biggest fuel save number, so that was unfortunate, but I also gained more experience in fuel saving. We still finished, but I think we had a car to finish in the top 10 today if things had gone differently."
JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "The first couple of laps were uneventful really. I kind of wanted something to happen, but nothing really did. It was really kind of follow-the-leader, which was a bit rubbish. I managed to get past (Max) Chilton, which then kind of started my race really. I was able to catch the group in front of me, but I was still down at the back of the field. We were on blacks (Firestone primary tires), everyone else was on reds (Firestone alternate tires). We short-stopped the first stint and managed to jump a load of people. We had a really good couple of stints on red (tires) to gain track position and made it up to midfield. It was tricky at that restart, we almost crashed into about six people. There was so much going on. There's a couple of war wounds on the car but it was good fun. It was one of those races where you had to dig deep into your box of magic tricks and work out how to drive fast but save fuel, save tires but overtake people, save fuel but not get overtaken. I enjoyed my last few hours of the season! Finishing 13th doesn't look great but considering where had had to come from, the very back around a circuit that's hard to overtake, we did a pretty good job."
SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet): "It was a very unfortunate way to end the season with a gearbox issue that took us out of the race today. We had a pretty solid first half going and were able to make our way up. We had passed a handful of cars and it was looking like another comfortable top 10 for us. Unfortunately, we left a lot of points out there. We definitely learned a lot this year and we'll be putting our heads together in the offseason to come back even stronger next year."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): "Yeah it was a good day: definitely competitive, we definitely unlocked a lot of secrets. I think we cracked the code this weekend on the car and what I needed so we were much more competitive that we've been on the road course and it felt good. It felt fun. We had great battles on track. We played the tire strategy and fuel strategy really well. The team, Kyle Moyer (race strategist) and Ben Bretzman (engineer), did a fantastic job with that. My pit crew were phenomenal again, as they've been all year long. We couldn't have done much better because we were saving fuel midway through to the end of the race. I'm satisfied with it. It was a good race."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): "It's too bad we had a mechanical problem today. I can't complain about the preparation of the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet from the team, the mechanical issue was just out of their control. All year the team has done an incredible job, even today our pit stops were on point. It was a hard day out there today. I think we're still missing something in the grip and platform window, but now we at least have a year's worth of data to learn from and be even better next season. A huge thanks to the whole Carlin team, Novo Nordisk, and everyone who supported us this season."
ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group 1001 Honda): "It was a really tough race for us. We got hit on the start and that damaged our undertray quite a bit, so we were running around with a few hundred pounds less downforce. That made the car very difficult to drive and then trying to make up for that damage - pushed a little too hard and made a mistake. That kind of ended our race, putting us a lap down. I'm frustrated in myself. I should've been a little more patient in what we had."
ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): "Hats off to the whole No. 27 NAPA Team. It was a great day for Andretti Autosport with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) winning. It's very unfortunate what happened in Turn 1 on Lap 1. It's a situation I'm sure we'll all replay a lot of times but, at the end of the day, it's been a good 2018 and I am very appreciative for all the support we've had this year. We came pretty close and we'll work on the things we need to be better on and come back stronger next year. (Scott) Dixon's the benchmark. He's the five-time champion for a reason so he deserves it 100 percent and we'll work very hard to come back and try to beat him next year."
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): "Today was great. I felt like the race just didn't want to end. I guess that's what happens when you spend the whole day out front. Any time I needed the pace to put it down, we leaped out to a lead. I was able to maintain that. Hats off to this team, DHL, AutoNation, Honda - everyone involved. Honda really gave me great drivability, reliability. The Firestone tires were great. Shout out to Kerry Doughty, CEO of Butterball, fighting cancer at home right now. His name was on the side of our car today - this is a special win for him and we're honored to have him with us in spirit. Also, a big shout out to Robbie Wickens - I want to dedicate that win to him and his fight. It was great to see the video message from him today and, hopefully, he will be back with us as soon as possible."
TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): "I think we had a good start and were moving up on the track. We overtook three cars, so it was looking really positive at the start. I felt the car was strong and the strategy looked good. Graham and I were on the same strategy but we both were looking really good, so I was positive but unfortunately, we had a mechanical failure, so we had to stop. It's a pity to finish the season like this especially for the boys who worked so hard the entire season. Of course, we had a good highlight two weeks ago, but we wanted to carry good momentum into 2019. Having said that, it was a good day for myself and the team as we announced we were together again next year. The last race in Sonoma is disappointing but there is a great feeling for next year. We will work hard on development over the winter and come back strong for 2019. Thank you very much to the entire team. I enjoyed the year."
SANTINO FERRUCCI (No. 39 Cly-Del Honda): "That was probably the most difficult race of my career. I can't thank my No. 39 Cly-Del crew enough for giving us what was an unbelievable race car. We drove 85 laps with a throttle to fuel system error that not only made us use excessive fuel, but I also had to figure out how to 're-drive' the car using the clutch in the slow corners because the engine wouldn't idle. The team also did an awesome job with the pit stops, I really wish we got that T\top 10 but this felt like a bit of a win for us today."
MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): "We were obviously hoping for a better result this weekend for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet, but I'm proud of how this team came together this weekend and really all season. This whole weekend has been tough, and the race was a difficult one, but we had much better pace in the second half of the race. That's a big positive that we can take into next season and it's even more data we can use here and at other road and street courses next season. Thank you to Carlin and everyone at Gallagher for making this first season such a good one."
JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation SiriusXM MSR with SPM Honda): "Overall I think that we had a lot of great moments in the year, but I don't think we ever got the result that we potential did have or that the team deserved. This weekend has been a struggle. Even though today clearly wasn't my best day, if you look at the year, as a whole, I really have to thank everyone from Meyer Shank Racing and SPM (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports). And without AutoNation and SiriusXM, neither of us would be able to get to be here, so really the biggest thanks go to them. I'm optimistic and hopeful that next year we will do more races and have more opportunities to get a better result."
COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): "This weekend was a good experience. I'm not too happy with the result, but I'm happy with how my debut went and the pace that I showed. There are sure some things that I can work on going into the offseason. I had an amazing time. Thank you to Harding Racing, Mike Harding, Team Chevy and Firestone. Can't wait to see if we can do it again in St. Pete."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): "I'm very pleased to be this quick on a road course here. Not a bad finish for the last race at Sonoma, I would've liked it to have gone a bit better. I think if we went with (Firestone) reds early on I think we could have kept (Simon) Pagenaud behind us. (Alexander) Rossi was amazingly quick and we tried to make it easy on him out of the pits and give him a shot. It was pretty cool of them, they knew I gave them the position, and they gave it back there at the end, so we were able to come out with a top five. Congrats to Ryan (Hunter-Reay) for closing out the year with a win. We're ready for 2019."
Results Sunday of the Verizon IndyCar Series event INDYCAR Grand Prix of Sonoma on the 2.385-mile Sonoma Raceway, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):
1. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
2. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
3. (7) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
5. (4) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
6. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
7. (6) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
8. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
9. (5) Patricio O'Ward, Chevrolet, 85, Running
10. (14) Ed Jones, Honda, 85, Running
11. (20) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 85, Running
12. (18) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 85, Running
13. (25) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 85, Running
14. (10) Zach Veach, Honda, 85, Running
15. (15) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
16. (13) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 85, Running
17. (16) Jack Harvey, Honda, 85, Running
18. (22) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 85, Running
19. (23) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 85, Running
20. (19) Colton Herta, Chevrolet, 85, Running
21. (21) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 84, Running
22. (24) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 76, Running
23. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 66, Running
24. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 38, Mechanical
25. (12) Takuma Sato, Honda, 15, Mechanical
Winner's average speed: 99.440 mph
Time of Race: 2:02:19.1667
Margin of victory: 2.7573 seconds
Cautions: 1 for 5 laps
Lead changes: 5 among 3 drivers
Hunter-Reay, Ryan 1 - 15
Newgarden, Josef 16
Power, Will 17 - 18
Hunter-Reay, Ryan 19 - 61
Power, Will 62 - 63
Hunter-Reay, Ryan 64 - 85
Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Dixon 678, Rossi 621, Power 582, Hunter-Reay 566, Newgarden 560, Pagenaud 492, Bourdais 425, Andretti 392, Rahal 392, Hinchcliffe 391.