Thursday, August 27, 2015

Track Walk: Sonoma 2015

We cannot move on to Sonoma without mentioning Justin Wilson. A lot has already been said this week but a few more words wouldn't hurt. I went back and found this podcast Wilson did with More Front Wing just over four years ago. Just weeks after his back injury at Mid-Ohio, Wilson spent nearly 50 minutes talking IndyCar, going over the New Hampshire race and giving insight on race control from a drivers point-of-view. He did it in such a conversational way that we rarely hear in any other interview with a professional athlete. And he did that podcast despite being short of breath from talking so much and not having talked that much since his accident. But he said it was fine, which seemed to be a phrase he used often as he did so much for so many people.

I am going to miss that voice and listening to that podcast made me feel as Wilson was still here. If you are feeling down, you are not alone and if you need something to pick yourself up, I encourage you all go back and listen to that podcast.

While Justin Wilson's presence at Sonoma will be in that of spirit and Sonoma was one of Wilson's better tracks. He completed 484 of 485 possible laps in six starts. He finished second after leading 10 laps in 2013 Sonoma race and had five top tens with his worst finish at the track being 11th. Since 2005, Wilson was tied with Scott Dixon for second-best average finish (7.3) at Sonoma among drivers with at least three starts behind only Will Power (6.7).

It all will be decided at Sonoma
Sonoma is the 2015 season finale for the Verizon IndyCar Series. Six drivers will compete for the Astor Cup and the honor of being the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion. Three drivers are looking to add another championship to their résumés while three drivers look to break through and etch their name into the history books. It will all be decided after 90 laps, 196 miles.

Time: Coverage begins at 4:00 p.m. ET on Sunday August 30th. Green flag at 5:07 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will all be in the booth with Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt, Marty Snider and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

Championship Picture
Juan Pablo Montoya enters leading the championship with 500 points. Graham Rahal is second, 34 points behind Montoya. Scott Dixon trails Montoya by 47 points with Montoya's Penske teammates Will Power and Hélio Castroneves 61 points and 77 points behind respectively. Josef Newgarden is the final challenger, 87 points behind Montoya.

Montoya will be guaranteed the championship if he finishes third and scores at least one bonus point.

The tiebreakers go as follows:

Juan Pablo Montoya has two victories but zero runner-ups and three third-place finishes.

Graham Rahal has two victories, two runner-ups and two third-place finishes.

Scott Dixon has two victories, zero runner-ups and one third-place finish.

Will Power has one victory, two runner-ups and zero third-place finishes.

Hélio Castroneves has zero victories, three runner-ups and two third-place finishes.

Josef Newgarden has two victories, two runner-ups and zero third-place finishes.

If anyone of Rahal, Dixon or Newgarden win at Sonoma and finish tied with any of the five championship contenders they will be champion based on amount of victories.

If Rahal finishes tied with Montoya, Rahal would win the championship based on runner-ups.

If Dixon finishes tied with Montoya and finishes second, Dixon would win the championship based on runner-ups.

If Dixon finishes tied with Montoya and finishes third or worse, Montoya would win the championship based on third-place finishes.

Will Power could join the four drivers with two victories but if he wins the race, he will not necessarily be champion.

If Power does win and finished tied with Montoya, he would hold the tiebreaker with two runner-ups to Montoya's zero.

If Power wins and finishes tied with Rahal, Rahal would win on tiebreaker based on third-place finishes.

If Power wins and finishes tied with Dixon, Power would win on tiebreaker based on runner-ups.

Hélio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden must win at Sonoma to be champion.

If Castroneves wins and finishes tied with Montoya, Rahal and/or Dixon, he will not be champion.

If Castroneves wins, it is not possible for him and Power to finish tied, regardless of where Power finishes and how many bonus points Power accumulates.

The most drivers that could finish level on points would be four and can happen on two occasions. The first is if Hélio Castroneves wins and does not score maximum bonus points, Scott Dixon finishes third with as many bonus points as the Brazilian, Graham Rahal finishes fifth or sixth with two or three bonus points and Juan Pablo Montoya finishes 17th with no 0-1 bonus points, 18th with 0-3 bonus points, 19th with 2-4 bonus points or 20th with maximum bonus points. In this four-way tie, Rahal would be champion, as he would have more victories than Castroneves and more runner-ups than Montoya and Dixon.

Newgarden has to win to be champion and if he scores the minimum 101 points then he would need Montoya to finish 23rd with no bonus points or 24th with no more than two bonus points, Rahal to finish 8th or worse with no bonus points and Dixon to finish 5th or worse with no more than one bonus point.

Here is a full chart of all the possible points totals for each of the championship drivers.

Driver Changes
There will be four driver changes and one additional driver on the grid at Sonoma.

Oriol Servià will replace Justin Wilson in the #25 Andretti Autosport Honda. Wilson had been contracted to run the final five races for Andretti Autosport after running the two Indianapolis rounds for the team. This will be Servià's fifth start at Sonoma. His average finish at Sonoma is 12.8 and his best finish was sixth in 2009.

Luca Filippi returns in the #20 Fuzzy Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet. This will be the Italian's 12th start of the season. He finished 21st in his most recent start at Mid-Ohio after running out of fuel on the final lap while running in the top ten. This will be Filippi's debut at Sonoma.

Sebastián Saavedra is back in the #8 AFS Racing Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing. The Colombian has made fours starts this season and finished tenth at Long Beach. His last appearance was at Toronto in June. Saavedra has made four starts at Sonoma with his best finish being 14th in 2011. His average finish is 16.5 at the track.

Rodolfo González steps into the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, substituting for Pippa Mann. This will be González's sixth start of 2015. His best start this season was 21st at his first start at Barber and his best finish was 18th at Toronto.

Mikael Aleshin returns to IndyCar for the first time since last year's Sonoma race. Aleshin will drive the #77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. The Russian missed last year's season finale at Fontana after suffering multiple injuries in an accident that occurred during final practice at the 2-mile oval. Last year, Aleshin had one podium and seven top tens in 17 starts including a seventh at Sonoma. He finished runner-up at Houston to his then-SPM teammate Simon Pagenaud.

Pirelli World Challenge
The Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS classes will be at Sonoma for what will be the penultimate round of their 2015 season.

Ryan Dalziel leads the GT championship with 1,487 points but he will not be at Sonoma as he is racing for Extreme Speed Motorsports in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Dutchman Renger van der Zande will substitute for the Scotsman. Dalziel's lead had been cut to seven points after Johnny O'Connell swept the weekend at Miller Motorsports Park. Olivier Beretta is 65 points back of Dalziel. James Davison has vaulted up to fourth in the championship, 142 points back of the Scotsman. Kevin Éstre rounds out the top five, trailing Dalziel by 360 points. Chris Dyson is 6th with 1,060 points. Mike Skeen is nine points behind Dyson. Ryan Eversley and Michael Lewis are the final drivers with quadruple-point totals. Bryan Heitkotter rounds out the top ten on 859 points.

Last year, Mike Skeen and Anthony Lazzaro split the GT races at Sonoma.

In GTS, Michael Cooper took the championship leader after winning a race at Miller Motorsports Park. Cooper has 1220 points and jumped Andrew Aquilante, who is second in the GTS title race, 32 points behind Cooper. Aquilante's teammate Kurt Rezzetano is two points behind him in third. Dean Martin is fourth, trailing Cooper by 47 points. Jack Baldwin rounds out the top five, 80 points behind Cooper. Mark Wilkins is sixth, 159 points back and his Kia teammate Ben Clucas is four points behind him. Kris Wilson is eighth with 891 points and has won three of his last starts but he has not competed in six of their last eight races. Wilson will be at Sonoma. Jack Roush, Jr. and Andy Lee round out the top ten.

Jack Baldwin and Lawson Aschenbach split the GTS races at Sonoma last year. Sonoma marks the long awaited debut of the Gainsco/Bob Stalling Racing Hyundai Genesis Coupe, which will be driven by Jeff Harrison.

The GTS races will take place Saturday at 4:45 p.m. ET and Sunday at 11:40 a.m. ET. The GT races will be run at 7:50 p.m. ET on Saturday and 1:55 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
For the second consecutive year, the season will end on August 30th. Last year, Tony Kanaan won at Fontana on August 30th. This will be the 14th IndyCar race to occur on August 30th.

The averaging starting position for a Sonoma winner is 2.27. Every Sonoma race has been won from within the top five. Scott Dixon won from 5th in 2007. The pole-sitter has won four times as has third position. Second has produced two winners.

Team Penske has won five of 11 Sonoma races. Chip Ganassi Racing has three Sonoma victories and Andretti Autosport has two.

Juan Pablo Montoya has one IndyCar start at Sonoma. He finished fifth last year. Montoya's first NASCAR Cup Series victory came at Sonoma.

Will Power leads all drivers with three victories at Sonoma. He has an average starting position of 1.7.

Scott Dixon has two Sonoma victories, including last year's race.

Hélio Castroneves has one victory, three podiums, five top fives and seven top tens at Sonoma and an average finish of 8.5.

Graham Rahal has an average finish of 11.7 at Sonoma with one top five and four top tens.

Josef Newgarden has one top ten in three Sonoma starts, which was a sixth last year. His prior two starts saw him finish 24th and 23rd respectively.

Josef Newgarden will end the season as the sole leader in laps led if Scott Dixon or Will Power lead less than 73 laps at Sonoma. If Newgarden does end the season as the lap led leader, he would be the first American to end the season as leader in that category since Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2002.

Honda has not won at Sonoma in the DW12-era.

Last year's Sonoma race saw a record-breaking amount of lead changes with 10 occurring. The average amount of lead changes at Sonoma is 5.1818.

The average amount of cautions at Sonoma is 2.72 for an average of 8.45 laps. The 2013 race saw a record seven cautions for a record 27 laps.

Possible Milestones:
Scott Dixon is going for his fourth championship. He would become the fifth driver to win at least four titles joining A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Sébastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti.

Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya are going for their second titles. If either one of them were to win the title, they would become the 26th driver to win multiple IndyCar championships.

Hélio Castroneves could become the fifth Brazilian to win an IndyCar championship joining Emerson Fittipaldi, Gil de Ferran, Cristiano da Matta and Tony Kanaan.

Graham Rahal or Josef Newgarden could become the 48th American to win an IndyCar championship.

Graham Rahal and Bobby Rahal could become the third father-son combo to each win an IndyCar championship. Mario and Michael Andretti and Al Unser and Al Unser, Jr. are the other pairs to each win a title.

Josef Newgarden could become the first IndyCar champion with a last name starting with the letter "N."

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 48 laps to reach the 5,500 laps led milestone.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 47 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Ryan Briscoe needs to lead 58 laps to reach the 1,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 14 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Hélio Castroneves is one top ten away from 200 career IndyCar top tens.

Will Power is one top ten away from 100 career IndyCar top tens.

Will Power wins the race. Juan Pablo Montoya holds on to win the championship but Graham Rahal finishes ahead of him in the race itself. At least one non-championship contender finishes on the podium. The winner starts within the first three rows on the grid. At least one championship contender does not finish inside the top half of the field. Sleeper: Mikhail Aleshin.