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DIXON WINS IRL SONOMA FINALE AND WITH IT THE IRL CHAMPIONSHIP
Author: Mark W. Theisen
August 30th 2015 -      WEST BEND, WISCONSIN September 1, 2015:     Never higher than third place in the Verizon IndyCar series point standings all season long, Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, kept digging and finally took over first place in the point standings on lap 63 of Sunday’s 85 lap season ending race in Sonoma, California to capture his fourth IndyCar Championship in what he termed “the most sweetest championship we’ve had.”

     Trailing Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya, who had led the series point standings since the season opening race in March, by 47 points going into the finale not many gave Dixon or even second place Graham Rahal (-34) much of a chance to win the title over Montoya and the powerhouse Penske organization but for this year IndyCar officials threw in a wild card, double points for the final race, and yes that played into the final results of the race.

     All Montoya needed to do after qualifying 5th with Rahal 6th and Dixon 9th was stay out of trouble and record solid laps and from early on in the race it looked as though Team Penske had the plan.

     Will Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar champion took the pole position for the race with a new track record and paced the race early on leading 26 of the race’s first 34 laps but it was the initial caution of the race on lap 33 for a slowing Luca Filippi that changed the complexion of the race by altering pit stop strategies and tightening the field on the ensuing restart.

     Contact between Montoya and Will Power on lap 39, while battling Josef Newgarden for position, in turn four on the restart following the caution sent Montoya to pit road to change a front wing assembly and that additional pit stop, despite it being under the second caution of the race retuned him to the track 24th among them 25 drivers on the track.  In the end, that deficit was too much of an obstacle to overcome, but Montoya did all he could to fight back into contention.

     Montoya, ultimately finished 6th to Dixon, but Dixon needed all he had to pull off the incredible championship victory.  Dixon picked up the 100 points for the win, usually 50 but 100 for today’s final race.  He picked up one point for leading a lap and then won the two point bonus for leading the most laps, finishing with 34 laps led to 26 for Power.  All of that left the two drivers, Montoya, who did not lead a lap, and Dixon tied at 556 points – each.

     The title went to Dixon because he won three races this year compared to two for Montoya.  Montoya won at St. Petersburg to open the season and then captured the Indianapolis 500 in May and everyone looked at him as the driver to beat. Dixon won at Long Beach and Texas to go along with today’s win to snatch the title away.

     Then the incredible happened, Team Penske, did not win a race since Indy, despite, having Power, Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, the team was shut out and saw their chances slip away on lap 39 of today’s race.

     “Just threw it away,” was all Montoya could say.  Both Montoya and Power questioned the full course yellow for the slowing car of Filippi and the fact that double points for the final race was “gimmicky” but in the end it was the same for all drivers and teams all season long and they could just not deal with the opportunity placed in front of them.

     “There was still a chance (winning the title) and that’s what I was hoping for,” said Dixon of the double point’s race.  “I don’t know what to say.  This season we some big races, and this was the biggest.  We we’re such a long shot and then it all played our way.”

     “My team and teammates were just phenomenal.  They helped all year and we won this together,” Dixon stated.  “There is no one person that achieved this on their own, and I just thank everyone so much.  This is so incredible.”

    Dixon’s 2015 campaign started out very inauspicious with a 15th and 11 place finishes in the first two races before winning at Long Beach.  He then had the car to beat in the Indianapolis 500, leading very handily at times, until overheating became a major issue and he had to back off his torrid pace, finishing fourth.

     Even when Dixon inherited the lead for good on lap 63 he was not without challenge.  Ryan Hunter-Reay tried everything he could to win his third race of the year battling with Dixon throughout the final 20 laps ultimately settling for second.  Charlie Kimball, of Ganassi Racing finished third followed by Tony Kanaan, in yet another Ganassi car.  Ryan Briscoe, a former driver for Ganassi subbing for the injured James Hinchcliffe, finished fifth holding off Montoya in the closing laps that played huge into the final result of the championship.  To me, it looked as though the Ganassi drivers had a plan and the Penske plan went away.

     Dixon went on to say that it did come down to luck but he also said you have to make your own luck.  “I knew the car was strong today,” said Dixon.  “We were getting good fuel mileage, another key.  We could roll the car through the corner and that gives you that extra mileage.  You never know until the last lap, and it did come down to that.  We had to do our best job and that’s what we did today and it played out for us.”

     Hunter-Reay, the IndyCar champion of 2012, finished 2015 very strong.  “It was a good finish to the season for sure,” said Hunter-Reay, who advanced five positions in the standings in the race to finish sixth at season’s end.  “It’s been a great run and it’s great that it ended on a high not like this heading into a busy off-season.”

     Struggling with a very different aero package at the start of 2015 put Andretti Autosport and all Honda drivers at an early season disadvantage but at season’s end Honda recovered to finish with 6 wins but lost the manufacturers’ title to Chevrolet, who won the title for the 4th straight year.

     Dixon picked up One Million Dollars for the series title, his fourth and Ganassi Racing’s 11th overall IndyCar title.  Dixon’s win at Sonoma was the teams 100th and for his remarkable consistency Dixon was awarded and new contract extension with the team.

     “There’s not anybody I’d rather have driving our cars, I can tell you,” said team owner and founder Chip Ganassi.  “He (Dixon) is arguably he IndyCar driver of our generation.”

     A.J. Foyt leads all drivers with seven IndyCar titles.  Dixon joined Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti (a former Ganassi driver) at four titles each.  With the Ganassi association and a new multi-year deal it is not inconceivable that Dixon could add to his record but as 2015 has shown, anything can happen.

     Oriol Servia flew into Sonoma to drive the #25 car of Andretti Autosport at the request of the family of Justin Wilson, who lost his life a week earlier in an accident at Pocono International Raceway.  The Wilson family wanted to honor his memory by his car being in that final race and Servia brought it home in 12th place.  The funeral for Wilson will be in England on September 10th.
2016 NOTES:

     The Verizon IndyCar series will have a 6 month season in 2016 with the series returning to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin on June 26th, the first time since 2007 that the series raced on the historic 4.048 mile road course.

     As soon as the 2016 season is announced, you can look to find it here.

     The series still has to replace Derrick Walker, who resigned his position at president of competition and operations of IndyCar at the end of this year.  

     Between that selection and the new schedule a lot is expected to come forth from IndyCar in the weeks ahead.