IndyCar Sonoma Report: Hunter-Reay wins race, but Dixon walks away champion

The 2018 season finale promised much but delivered even more, bringing a thrilling race that rounded off an altogether amazing season. Scott Dixon proved why he’s regarded as the best all-rounder on the grid, taking his fifth championship to go equal in the record books with the great AJ Foyt. However, Alexander Rossi’s day was largely defined by lap one. But amongst all that was going on, it was easy to lose sight of the fact that Ryan Hunter-Reay took only his second win of the season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay at the Sonoma GP, California. Image courtesy of Hondanews.eu

Really, it was a perfect weekend for Hunter-Reay. The #28 Andretti driver took pole and led 80 of the 85 laps (only not leading for short periods during the pit stop sequences) to beat Josef Newgarden to fourth in the championship. Realistically, Dixon had the pace to put up more of a challenge than he did to Hunter-Reay but there was no need as Rossi was behind him and that was all that mattered. He was quite happy to leave Hunter-Reay to take the glory of the race in return for a safe championship. The Andretti driver dedicated the win to Robert Wickens, who continues his recovery. He released this video message shortly before the race started.

Dixon’s nickname around the paddock is ‘The Iceman’; always cool, calm and collected, even in the most frantic of situations. Dixon’s always the one to keep his head while those around him lose theirs, but he ran a very clever race at Sonoma. Always making sure he wouldn’t get caught out by a caution and bringing the car home in one piece. After the madness of Portland, Dixon was probably relieved to have a calm race and, having finished in the top two, he left Rossi no opportunity to even think of taking the championship.

Scott Dixon, takes 2nd place at Sonoma Gp, but wins the 2018 IndyCar Championship. Image courtesy of Hondanews.eu

Rossi was clearly kicking himself over the first lap in the post-race interviews – it was the last thing he needed, especially at Sonoma. The #27 Andretti driver started sixth and was eager to make up positions from the moment the flag dropped. Rossi tried to pass teammate Marco Andretti but ended up running into the back of the #98, gaining a puncture, broken front wing and a long drive back to pit road.

The American got back out into the race and, after briefly being a lap down, was clearly on a charge, overtaking five cars after the one and only caution, brought out by Graham Rahal stopping on track, played into his hands. However, it wasn’t enough and Rossi was unable to withstand late race pressure from Sebastien Bourdais, eventually conceding the position after running out of fuel and finishing the race in seventh. Rossi was clearly downbeat after the race but he’ll be determined to take his first championship next season, having missed out this time.

The Team Penske duo of Will Power and Josef Newgarden mathematically could have a shot at the title. However, neither were in a position to win the race and when Spencer Pigot’s car was pulled behind the pit wall, they both slipped out of contention. Power still managed to finish third while Newgarden’s race was less fruitful, finishing eighth after stalling on his first pit stop. In the other Team Penske, Simon Pagenaud finished fourth after trying, but failing, to make his 2017 race-winning three-stop strategy work again.

Things didn’t get any easier out on track for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) with their three cars finishing fifteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth respectively. This rounded off what has been a dreadful end to a promising season. SPM will be happy to see the back of this season, ready to start afresh in 2019, albeit without Wickens.

On a much lighter note, Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward had a brilliant weekend; stunning in qualifying and he followed it up in the race, having initially struggled with tyre wear. After qualifying fifth, the race was a baptism of fire for the Mexican who had quite a lot of cars behind him at one point. He had dropped as low as fifteenth but soon found the confidence to overtake and make his way back into the top ten in his very first IndyCar race. Fellow debutant Colton Herta was rather overshadowed by O’Ward all weekend, eventually finishing as the last runner on the lead lap in twentieth.

Ryan Hunter-Reay wins the Sonoma GP. Image courtesy of Hondanews.eu

That concludes what’s been a stellar first season for the new universal aero kits but, while some things change, others don’t… Dixon is still the man to beat. We’ll have reviews and features for you over the off-season but, for now, it’s over and out.

Full Race Results:

  1. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  2. Scott Dixon
  3. Will Power
  4. Simon Pagenaud
  5. Marco Andretti
  6. Sebastien Bourdais
  7. Alexander Rossi
  8. Josef Newgarden
  9. Patricio O’Ward (R)
  10. Ed Jones
  11. Santino Ferrucci (R)
  12. Tony Kanaan
  13. Jordan King (R)
  14. Zach Veach (R)
  15. James Hinchcliffe
  16. Pietro Fittipaldi (R)
  17. Jack Harvey
  18. Carlos Munoz
  19. Matheus Leist (R)
  20. Colton Herta (R)
  21. Max Chilton
  22. Charlie Kimball
  23. Graham Rahal

DNF – Spencer Pigot, Takuma Sato

Championship Results:

  1. Scott Dixon
  2. Alexander Rossi
  3. Will Power
  4. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  5. Josef Newgarden
  6. Simon Pagenaud
  7. Sebastien Bourdais
  8. Graham Rahal
  9. Marco Andretti
  10. James Hinchcliffe

Rookie of the Year – Robert Wickens (11th)
Manufacturers Champion – Honda

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