Scott Dixon wins GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma,title on tiebreak
By Dave Lewandowski of Indycar.com
SONOMA, Calif. - As the Verizon IndyCar Series season drew closer to its exciting conclusion, everybody knew that the double-points finale at Sonoma Raceway could be the wild card in the championship.
But a 47-point swing?
Juan Pablo Montoya, who stood atop the standings since winning the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., entered the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with a 34-point cushion on second-place Graham Rahal and 47-point lead on Scott Dixon.
But it was Dixon, who started ninth in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, who departed Wine Country with the title. Dixon won for the second consecutive year at Sonoma Raceway -- by 6.1115 seconds over Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda -- which was his first goal to challenge for the championship.
Montoya, who finished sixth, and Dixon -- who picked up the 100 base points plus bonus points for leading a lap (one points) and leading the most laps (two points) -- tied with 556 points. Dixon won on the first tiebreaker with a field-high three victories to two for Montoya, who earned his first Indy car title in 1999 on a tiebreaker over Dario Franchitti. The 2006 Verizon IndyCar Series championship also was decided on a tiebreaker, with Sam Hornish Jr. prevailing over Dan Wheldon.
Dixon, 35, delivered the 100th Indy car victory for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams and the team's 11th championship. He joins Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Franchitti as four-time champions. Dixon earned his 38th Indy car win, which is one behind Al Unser for fourth all time.
"There was still a chance and that's what I was hoping for," Dixon said of the double-points race. "I don't know what to say. This season we had some big races, and this was the biggest. We were such a longshot."
Added team owner Chip Ganassi: "We went over the scenarios all week and we knew we had the car to be at the front, but you know you need a lot of other things to happen and they all seemed to happen for one reason for another."
With Dixon in the lead following a Lap 74 restart and Montoya running eighth in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, the scenario for the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion was clear. He had to move into fifth place to claim the title. A drive-through penalty assessed to Bourdais for avoidable contact on Rahal's No. 15 Steak 'n Shake Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing on Lap 80 helped, but the laps were running out. He crossed the start-finish line 1.2 seconds behind the fifth-place car of Ryan Briscoe.
Contact between Montoya's car and Will Power's No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in Turn 4 on a Lap 39 restart was a key contributor to Montoya having to frantically attempt to move up. The incident sent both title contenders to pit lane for service, with Montoya exiting in 14th place.
"We had a good car. We had a good start and we did everything we needed to do at the beginning," Montoya said. "Will overshot and I was fighting with (Josef) Newgarden, we shot the corner, we got inside and he cut across and I was there, and we touched and that was it. We came from behind and do our best, just wasn't enough."
Two other Chip Ganassi Racing Teams entries -- Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan -- finished in the top five, and the fourth car driven by Sebastian Saavedra led 12 laps early on and finished 13th.
"My teammates were phenomenal. They helped all year and we won this together," Dixon said. "There is no one person that achieved this on their own and I just thank everybody so much."
Dixon's season started with 15th- and 11th-place finishes before he won at Long Beach in mid-April. He also recorded a win in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway in early June and closed with six top-10 finishes in the succeeding seven races.
Dixon inherited the lead for good on Lap 63 on a pit stop exchange and withstood several challenges by Hunter-Reay in the closing laps on the technical racetrack.
"I knew the car was strong. We were getting fuel mileage so easy, which was key," Dixon said. "We could roll the car through the corner and obviously get the mileage. You never know until the last lap. That's what it came down to. You hope for it. We had to do our best job and that's what we did today and luckily enough it worked out."
Power, the 2014 series champion who had won three of the past five races at Sonoma Raceway and reset his year-old track record in earning the Verizon P1 Award for the pole, led 26 laps and finished seventh. He wound up third in the standings (-63 points). The contact with Bourdais relegated Rahal to 18th place, and he finished a career-best fourth in the championship (-66 points). Helio Castroneves finished fifth in the standings.
Hunter-Reay, the 2012 series champion, won twice and had two other top 10s in the final four races.
"It was a good finish to the season, that's for sure," said Hunter-Reay, who advanced five positions in the standings in the finale to place sixth. "It's been a great run and it's great that it ended on a high note like this headed into a busy offseason."