With heavy hearts, the IndyCars head to California for the final round of the 2015 season. Following the death of the ever-popular Justin Wilson at the last round at Pocono, there will be a subdued feeling around the paddock during the weekend. However, the championship finale goes ahead as planned, and due to a completely unnecessary use of double points, no less than six drivers could walk away as IndyCar champion and with the Astor Cup on Sunday night. Hopefully the 2015 Grand Prix of Sonoma will be a classic, and for all the right reasons.
104 points are on the table for the final event – 100 points all the way down to 10 (assuming 25 starters) for your finishing position, with one point allocated to the polesitter and to anybody who leads a lap; with a further two points to whoever leads the most laps. There are three Penske drivers in the fight, as well as one driver from RLL, CFH and Chip Ganassi Racing each. Of those six, three are past winners of this event.
The wonderful Sonoma circuit is fast-flowing, undulating and has a couple of tricky slow corners. Even some of the very best can be caught out here, and the very fast first sequence of corners always makes for dramatic starts and restarts. The past winners in the field are Tony Kanaan (2005), Helio Castroneves (2008), Ryan Briscoe (2012), Will Power (2010-11, 2013) and Scott Dixon (2007, 2014). [Onboard]
There are a couple of changes in the field: following the events of Pocono, the number 25 Andretti Autosport car will be run by veteran Oriol Servia this weekend. Luca Filippi takes over from Ed Carpenter in the number 20 CFH Racing car as per the norm at that team, Sebastian Saavedra takes over from Sage Karam at Chip Ganassi Racing, Rodolfo Gonzalez takes over from oval-specialist Pippa Mann at Dale Coyne Racing and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports will field a third car this weekend, with last season’s driver Mikhail Aleshin makes his first appearance since his horror crash at Fontana last year.
Here are your six championship contenders and who to look out for on race day, and what those behind need to do compared to the current points leader to overhaul them assuming Juan Pablo Montoya finishes dead last in 23rd position with no bonus points:
Juan Pablo Montoya (points leader)
Montoya must enter the race as the championship favourite despite not winning since Indianapolis. His ability to deliver a result which will help him towards the final championship standings this season has been very good. Mid-Ohio aside, he has consistently looked strong on the road courses, but needs a strong qualifying result, and not a repeat of Pocono, where he qualified just 19th.
Graham Rahal (34 points behind) – must finish at least ninth or tenth with four bonus points
In the event that this goes to countback, Rahal would be victorious. Rahal has been mighty on the road courses this year, notching up that win at Mid-Ohio and achieving a few other podiums. Despite being taken out at the last round, his form has been very strong in general, so expect a charging race from Rahal. Should he guide his team to championship glory, beating the likes of Penske and Ganassi, it would well and truly be an underdog story.
Scott Dixon (47 points behind) – must finish at least fifth or sixth with four bonus points
For Dixon to win the championship it is very much down to whether the guys in front have a terrible race and he has a clean one to take what will probably need to be his third win here. He’s been consistent as of late but he has not really been delivering the really strong results when it has counted, although he was looking very strong at the last road course at Mid-Ohio.
Will Power (61 points behind) – must finish at least third
Now we get to the outside shots at the title. Despite an awful run of form by his standards which has seen only a trio of fourths being his best results since Detroit, reigning champion Power has a chance at snatching a second title. Usually being the hunted as opposed to the hunter, it will be interesting to see what he can do when there is no pressure on him. If he dominates from the front (remember Power has more poles than anybody this season) and chaos ensues behind, who knows what will happen?
Helio Castroneves (77 points behind) – must finish first
To win his first championship title after many near-misses, Castroneves would need to do something he hasn’t done all season and that is win. He also needs Rahal and Dixon to have poor results. Qualifying has been Castroneves’ strong point this season but his chances of finally achieving championship success is somewhat slim. However, he isn’t as unlikely to win as Newgarden is.
Josef Newgarden (87 points behind) – must finish first
Newgarden needs a miracle to walk away as Champion on Sunday. He would need the above to happen and for the other four championship rivals to all have a poor day at the office – especially Rahal and Dixon. Conversely, due to the vast array of points on offer and due to how tight the series is and the completely unnecessary usage of double points, Newgarden could finish the season in 12th!