Thursday, September 15, 2016

Track Walk: Sonoma 2016

After 15 races, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power battle for the Astor Cup
The final round of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Sonoma Raceway for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Simon Pagenaud and Will Power are the last two drivers standing in the battle of the Astor Cup.  Pagenaud leads Power by 43 points after the Frenchman held on for seventh at Watkins Glen while Power's race ended in the barrier after contact with Charlie Kimball. Pagenaud is chasing his first title while Power looks for his second in three years. Last year, Power finished third in the championship behind Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya while Simon Pagenaud finished 11th.

Time: Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday September 18th. Green flag at 6:50 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Jon Beekhuis, Kate Hargitt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 2:00 p.m.-3:15 p.m. ET (75 minutes).
Second Practice: 5:45-7:00 p.m. ET (75 minutes).
Final Practice: 2:00-3:15 p.m. ET (75 minutes. NBCSN will show the session tape-delayed at 5:00 p.m. ET).
Qualifying: 6:05 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have live coverage of this session).
Warm-Up: 10:30-11:00 a.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race: 6:50 p.m. ET (85 laps).

The Scenarios
If Simon Pagenaud finishes fourth-place or better, he will be champion regardless of what Will Power does and how many points he scores.

If Simon Pagenaud finishes in fifth-place and Will Power wins the race, he will need Power to score at least three bonus points to be champion.

Will Power must finish in the top five to have a shot at the championship or finish sixth while scoring maximum points if Pagenaud finishes in last place and gets no bonus points.

Simon Pagenaud currently holds the tiebreaker. Both drivers have four victories but Pagenaud has three second-place finishes to Power's two. If Power finishes second and ends up tied with Pagenaud on points, Power would be champion with both drivers equal on victories and second-place finishes and Power having one third-place finish to Pagenaud's zero.

Pagenaud vs. Power – Tale of the Tape
Simon Pagenaud started the season with five consecutive podiums including three consecutive victories heading into the Indianapolis 500. He became the first driver with five podiums to open the season since Sébastien Bourdais in 2006. After engine problems in the Indianapolis 500 held Pagenaud to only a 19th and running out of fuel in the first Belle Isle race dropped him to 13th, he rounded out the first half of the IndyCar season with his sixth podium from eight races after a second in the second Belle Isle race.

Pagenaud's second half of the season started off with an engine blip keeping the Frenchman from what seemed to be a surefire podium to a 13th-place finish. He would recover with a fourth at Iowa and a less-than-stellar but satisfying ninth at Toronto. He got back to the top step of the podium after a hard fought battle with Will Power that saw the teammates touch on what ultimately ended up being the pass for the victory. His streak of running at the finish of 23 consecutive races ended at Pocono in the turn one wall but he was a late charger at Texas and ended up fourth when it appeared he was looking at best a seventh-place finish. At Watkins Glen, Pagenaud failed to make the final round of qualifying for the first time all season but was in the top five before the end of lap one and ahead of Power after the first round of pit stops. He would settle for seventh while Power's race ended prematurely.

Will Power's season started with a pole position but an inner-ear infection kept him from starting the first race of the season and led to Oriol Servià substituting for the Australian. He made his season debut at Phoenix and ended up on the podium in third. At Long Beach, he was stuck in the middle of the top ten all day and fell to seventh. He had a better showing at Barber with a fourth-place finish but took a step back at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis where he started tenth and spun early after being challenged by Alexander Rossi. All Power could manage was 19th. A penalty for unsafe release from the pit lane set him back in the Indianapolis 500 but he went 36 laps on his final stint and finished tenth. A loose wheel nut ended Power's first Belle Isle race prematurely but he rebounded with a victory in the second race.

The Belle Isle victory was the start of six consecutive podiums for Power. He dominated the Road America race, leading 46 of 50 laps from pole position. He charged to second at the end of Iowa ahead of Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud. Power had great fortune at Toronto, pitting just before a caution and it vaulted him to the victory. He couldn't hold off Pagenaud at Mid-Ohio but he held on for second. At Pocono, Power's car improved with each lap and he went from a driver who was looking at an eighth-place finish to race winner. Power's car didn't improve as the race went on at Texas like it did at Pocono and all he could manage was eighth. He started ahead of Pagenaud at Watkins Glen but after falling behind after pit stops, Power was chasing his teammate and ended up falling to the clutches of the rest of the field and ended up in the barrier after contact with Charlie Kimball exiting the esses.

Entering Sonoma, Power is tied with Scott Dixon on victories at the track with three. He has five top ten finishes in six starts at the track and his worst starting position at the track is third. He has won five pole positions at Sonoma. Power has led at least 16 laps in the last six Sonoma races. Pagenaud has five starts at Sonoma with his best finish being third in 2014. He has two top five finishes and three top ten finishes. Last year, Pagenaud finished a career-worst 16th at Sonoma after starting a career-best fourth at the track. He has never led a lap at the track.

Battle For Third
Any driver third through 14th in the championship has a mathematical possibility to finish third in the championship behind Pagenaud and Power and four drivers could actually jump Power for second in the championship. Third through eighth in the championship are covered by 49 points.

Scott Dixon is level on points with Hélio Castroneves for third in the championship on 451 points. Dixon owns the tiebreaker with two victories while Castroneves is approaching two and a half seasons since his most recent IndyCar victory. Dixon has won the last two Sonoma races and won last year's race from ninth on the grid, the furthest starting position on the grid a Sonoma winner has started from. Dixon and Power are tied for best average finish at Sonoma of drivers that have made at least three starts at 6.7. Castroneves' average finish at Sonoma is 9.1 but his last two finishes there is 18th and 15th. He has led 51 laps at the track and all those came in his 2008 victory.

A second-place at Watkins Glen has moved Josef Newgarden into fifth in the championship and he looks for a career-best finish in the championship. He trails Dixon and Castroneves by five points He has four podiums this season and he finished in the top ten on all natural-terrain road courses except for the IMS road course where he finished 21st. In four Sonoma starts, Newgarden's best finish is sixth and he has three finishes outside the top twenty. He has started on the front row the last two years. Tony Kanaan has 427 points after he suffered his second-worst finish of the 2016 at Watkins Glen after suspension issues. He won the 2005 Sonoma race and his average starting position and average finish are equal at 9.3. His fourth-place finish last year came after two consecutive 13th-place finishes.

One point separates Graham Rahal and Carlos Muñoz for seventh in the championship with Rahal on 403 points. All seven of Rahal's top ten finishes have been top five finishes while Muñoz is level with Rahal on top ten finishes but has two podiums, which are his only top five finishes this season. Rahal finished in the top ten in four of his first five Sonoma starts but he has finished outside the top ten in the last three Sonoma races. Muñoz's two finishes at Sonoma are 19th and 22nd but has completed 169 of 170 laps.

Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe, Alexander Rossi, Sébastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Juan Pablo Montoya are covered by 26 points. Kimball has six top tens in the last nine races but hasn't finished in the top five since Indianapolis. Hinchcliffe had five consecutive top ten finishes before running out of fuel at Watkins Glen and stopping on track on the final lap. Rossi leads the Rookie of the Year standings and finished eighth at Watkins Glen. Bourdais and Hunter-Reay are tied on 364 points. Bourdais has two top fives in the last three races. Hunter-Reay has one top ten finish in the last six races. Montoya hasn't finished on the podium since his third at the first Belle Isle race.

Rookie of the Year Battle
The 2016 IndyCar Rookie of the Year will either be Alexander Rossi or Conor Daly. Rossi sits on 370 points with Daly sitting on 295 points. If Rossi doesn't start, Daly needs to finish first or second to surpass Rossi in the championship. If Rossi starts at Sonoma, Daly has to win the race to pass him in the championship. If Daly does win the Sonoma race, Rossi has to finish 15th or better if Daly scores the maximum 104 points or 103 points. If Daly only scores 102 points or 101 points, Rossi will have to finish 16th or better.

Last Chance Saloon
This is the final chance for a driver to tally a victory in 2016. Castroneves, Kanaan, Muñoz, Kimball, Hinchcliffe, Hunter-Reay and Aleshin are all the drivers in the top fifteen of the championship who have yet to win this season and three of those drivers won a race in 2015.

We know about Castroneves' drought but Kanaan has gone over two years since his last victory (Fontana 2014). His Sonoma victory in 2005 is his only victory on a natural-terrain road course while his only street circuit victory was Belle Isle in 2007. Kanaan is coming off a 19th-place finish at Watkins Glen. Only two of Kanaan's 17 IndyCar victories have come in races after finishing outside the top fifteen. His first career victory at Michigan in 1999 came after an accident at Toronto dropped him to 17th. His Indianapolis 500 victory in 2013 followed a 21st-place finish in São Paulo.

Like Kanaan, Muñoz has two podiums this season, one on an oval and the other on a natural-terrain road course. He led three laps at Watkins Glen, the first laps he has led on a natural-terrain road course and the second time he has ever led on a road/street circuit, the other time of course being his victory at Belle Isle last year. Kimball could fail to finish on the podium in a season for the first time since his rookie year in 2011. He finished third last year at Sonoma after his previous best finish at the track was 20th.

Hinchcliffe has two top ten finishes in four Sonoma starts and he had started in the top ten in all four of those starts. He did finish third at Sonoma in Indy Lights in 2010. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has won at least one race in the last three seasons. Hunter-Reay is in danger of having his first winless season since 2009 when he split it between Vision Racing and AJ Foyt Racing. His best finish that year was second in the season opener at St. Petersburg. Hunter-Reay has finished second at Sonoma the last two years and he was fastest in the test at Sonoma last week. Aleshin has made two starts at Sonoma and has finished seventh and tenth in those respective races. Pocono is the only other tracks the Russian has multiple top ten finishes.

Conor Daly, Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato, Max Chilton, Jack Hawksworth, Spencer Pigot and RC Enerson are all also looking for their first victory of the 2016 season. Andretti and Sato are the only two of those seven drivers with IndyCar victories. Andretti is the only driver to score his first career victory at Sonoma.

Pirelli World Challenge
The penultimate round of the Pirelli World Challenge season takes place this weekend at Sonoma Raceway.

In GT, Wright Motorsports Porsche's Patrick Long took the championship lead by 23 points over K-PAX Racing McLaren's Álvaro Parente after Long scored a pair of third-place finishes in Utah while Parente failed to finish in the top ten at either race. Cadillac's Michael Cooper trails Long by 65 points and Cooper's teammate, four-time defending PWC GT champion Johnny O'Connell is 162 points behind Long in fourth. RealTime Racing Acura's Ryan Eversley rounds out the top five in the championship, 202 points behind Long.

Nissan's Bryan Heitkotter swept the Utah weekend and jumped up to sixth in the championship, 36 points behind Eversley. CRP Racing Audi's Kyle Marcelli is 100 points behind Eversley and Team Absolute Bentley's Adderly Fong is eighth in the championship, nine points behind Marcelli after a pair of second-place finishes at Utah. James Davison returns to competition after being suspended for Utah. He is ninth in the championship. Gainsco/Bob Stallings Racing McLaren's Jon Fogarty rounds out the top ten in championship. K-PAX's Austin Cindric and Calvert Dynamic Porsche's Michael Lewis are just outside the top ten.

There will be two additionally entries in GT as Alex Job Racing has entered two Porsches for Gunnar Jeannette and GT-A's Cooper MacNeil. This team is moving over from IMSA after displeasure in balance of performance in the GT Daytona class.

The first GT race will be at 4:45 p.m. ET on Saturday and with the second race at 4:15 p.m. ET on Sunday.

In the GTS class, KTM driver Brett Sandberg leads the championship with 1,280 points, 66 points ahead of Blackdog SpeedShop Camaro's Lawson Aschenbach. Ginetta driver Parker Chase is 135 points behind Sandberg. Roush Racing Ford's Nathan Stacy is the final driver in championship contention, 167 points behind Sandberg. Lotus driver Scott Dollahite rounds out the top five in the championship on 980 points.

SIN driver Scott Heckert won the most recent race at Utah and he is now sixth in the championship ahead of Jack Roush, Jr., who has withdrawn from two of the last three rounds. Maserati driver Mark Klenin, Blackdog's Tony Gaples and KTM driver Martin Barkey round out the top ten of the championship. KTM driver Anthony Mantella won the first race from Utah.

GTS will race at 7:50 p.m. ET on Saturday and 1:15 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Fast Facts
This will be in first IndyCar race held on September 18th since 2011 when Scott Dixon won the final race at Twin Ring Motegi and the only time IndyCar used the road course at Twin Ring Motegi after the oval was damaged from the earthquake that hit Japan earlier than year.

Chevrolet has won all four Sonoma races since returning to IndyCar in 2012.

Since the Sonoma race was extended to 85 laps in 2012, all races have taken over two hours to complete.

Team Penske will win its 13th driver championship this year.

Simon Pagenaud became the 11th driver since 1946 to open a season with at least five consecutive podium finishes. Of the previous 10 drivers to do it, only Bill Holland in 1947 failed to win the championship. Holland finished second in the 1947 championship to Ted Horn by 310 points.

Will Power has led 276 of 567 laps at Sonoma.

Scott Dixon has completed 884 of 885 possible laps since Sonoma returned to the schedule in 2005.

Since returning to the IndyCar calendar in 2005, all 11 Sonoma races have been won by Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing or Andretti Autosport.

Juan Pablo Montoya won at Sonoma in 2007 driving in the NASCAR Cup Series. He could join Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt and Tony Stewart as the only drivers to win at a track in the NASCAR Cup series and IndyCar. Gurney won in both at Riverside, Foyt at Ontario and Stewart at Loudon. Sam Hornish, Jr. won at Phoenix in IndyCar and NASCAR's Grand National Series.

Dan Gurney and Marco Andretti are the only American drivers to win at Sonoma in IndyCar.

The average starting position for a Sonoma winner is 2.833 with a median of 2.5.

The average number of lead changes in a Sonoma race is 5.583 with a median of six. The last two Sonoma races have featured a record ten lead changes.

The average number of cautions in a Sonoma race is 3.09 with a median of three. The average number of caution laps is 9.727 with a median of ten.

Possible Milestones:
Simon Pagenaud could become the third French driver to win a IndyCar championship joining Gaston Chevrolet and Sébastien Bourdais.

Will Power could become the 23rd multi-IndyCar champion.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 12 laps to reach the 5,600 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 1 lap to reach the 4,900 laps led milestone.

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

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 43 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Juan Pablo Montoya needs to lead 24 laps to reach the 2,400 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 58 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 59 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Should he take the green flag, Charlie Kimball will be making his 100th IndyCar start.

Simon Pagenaud wins the championship in style with a race victory. Will Power finishes on the podium. Josef Newgarden jumps Hélio Castroneves in the championship standings. Spencer Pigot gets a top ten finish. Sébastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay jump into the top ten of the championship. There will be a caution for an incident in turn two. Both Dale Coyne Racing cars will go off strategy and it will only work for one of the teams. Sleeper: Alexander Rossi.