Sunday, August 30, 2015

First Impressions: Sonoma 2015

Scott Dixon is a four-time IndyCar Champion
1. I am still a little stunned Scott Dixon pulled this off. Not that I didn't think he couldn't do it but that of how it happened. Every other championship contender faltered and he didn't. And that shouldn't surprise me as he rarely cracks under pressure. Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power made contact with one another. Hélio Castroneves couldn't overcome his poor qualifying run. Josef Newgarden stalls in the pits and has a small fire. Graham Rahal gets run over by Sébastien Bourdais, similar to what Castroneves did to Dixon on lap one at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Dixon drove to the front and everyone else found trouble on the worst possible day. By the way, Dixon's victory is the 100th victory for Chip Ganassi Racing in IndyCar. That couldn't have come at a better time.

2. Great day for Ryan Hunter-Reay. Great end of his season. This is just like 2011 for him. Poor first half. Great second half and it carried over to 2012. And Hunter-Reay vaulted to sixth in the championship with that second place finish. If Andretti can stay on this wave of momentum into 2016, Hunter-Reay could be in the running for a second championship.

3. A good day for Charlie Kimball as he rounded out the podium. Kimball can put together some good finishes. He still needs to improve in qualifying but he has the talent to win more races and he can pass fellow competitors like crazy.

4. Tony Kanaan was aggressive and selected the right strategy today. He went from 11th to 4th and ran block for his teammate. He knew what he had to do to get Dixon the title and it paid off. No win for him this year but don't rule him out next year. Who knows, it could be his final season in IndyCar.

5. A top five for Ryan Briscoe. He did a great job in relief for James Hinchcliffe. Now come the dilemma for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Do they find a ride for him or do they let him walk? And if they let him walk, will someone pick up Briscoe? He was on the sidelines until Hinchcliffe's accident this year. He is too talented not to be in IndyCar. Someone, give this man a ride.

6. Juan Pablo Montoya is upset he lost the championship after leading from day one. I get it. He thinks it all came down to double points. Let's not forget that he won the Indianapolis 500, which was double points and when a title comes down to one point, any race could have been there reason why he finished second in the championship. What if his suspension didn't fail at Iowa? What if he had a better day at NOLA? What if he didn't let Ryan Hunter-Reay pass him on the restart at Pocono? It wasn't Sonoma that decided the title. Sixteen races decided the title. What you dwell on is up to you.

7. And Will Power blamed closing the pit lane under caution as deciding the title. Both Montoya and Power are incredible drivers. Montoya is an all-time great. But now isn't the time to come up with every reason in the book as to why Team Penske lost the title. How about not running into each other during this race? Or fading at Texas? Once again, Sonoma didn't decide the title. Sixteen races decided the title. What you dwell on is up to you.

8. Takuma Sato finished 8th but too be honest, he was not a factor at all in this one.

9. Rodolfo González finished ninth. I don't know how but he did. Still plenty of other drivers who deserve that ride more than he does.

10. What a comeback to Mikhail Aleshin as he finished tenth. It was nice to see him back in a car. He deserves to be full-time but he is one of about a dozen drivers who will be trying to fill one of the final six cars on the grid. That is the state of IndyCar: Plenty of talented drivers trying to fight to get in but not enough seats for everyone. It is a great problem to have and a terrible one at the same time.

11. Marco Andretti finished 11th. Not a bad year for Andretti. Lots of top ten finishes but can he turn those top tens into top five and then those top fives into victories? If he can do that, he will find himself in championship contention.

12. Twelfth for Oriol Servià. What a race for him considering he wasn't in the best racing shape and he had the emotional task of replacing Justin Wilson. Great day for him.

13. Sebastián Saavedra finished 13th. I don't know what to make of it. Gabby Chaves finished 14th and surely won Rookie of the Year. Hélio Castroneves finished where he started and Simon Pagenaud
finished right behind him. Stefano Coletti finished 17th but was black flagged when running 5th, legitimately running fifth because he had a radio failure. Haven't they heard of the old school pit board with chalk? That is a gut-punch for him.

14. Graham Rahal was punted by Sébastien Bourdais and he went from a top ten finish and at least third in the championship to outside the top fifteen in the race and fourth in the championship. What I didn't like is that it was a mirror image to what Castroneves did to Dixon lap one on the IMS road course. Castroneves wasn't given a drive thru despite the incident occurring on lap one, and wasn't punished until after the race when he had eight points deducted so he would have scored one fewer from that race than Dixon only to have that penalty reduced to three points reduce. Bourdais is given a drive thru despite it occurring in the final ten laps of the final race of the year. IndyCar's inconsistency with penalties needs to be addressed because it nearly decided the title. I don't believe Bourdais intentionally hit Rahal and I believe he is sorry for what he did but the bigger issue is IndyCar not dishing out penalties on a consistent basis.

15. Josef Newgarden finished 21st and fell to seventh in the final championship standings but that doesn't show how good of a year he had. Keep an eye out for him in 2016.

16. And that does it. The 2015 season is in the book. We have no idea when 2016 will begin. We have no idea how many races will make up the 2016 schedule. It isn't even September and the season is over. May this offseason not be as long as the last one. It was a rollercoaster season with the ultimate highs being great on track racing at Indianapolis, Fontana, Iowa, Pocono, Barber, Toronto and Mid-Ohio and the ultimate low being the death of Justin Wilson. This season will go down in the history books as thrilling, frustrating and heartbreaking and as we look to 2016, we have no idea what will come next. Congratulations Scott Dixon on his fourth IndyCar championship.