Pagenaud Wins, While Newgarden Seals Title and Place in IndyCar History at GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma

16C 6114-1-min

September 19th, 2017
By: Christian Ryan

Drivers came into the final round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series with no promises. In the 17th weekend of competition, any of six drivers could leave the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with the series title. Despite a masterful win by Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden coasted home second to claim the title in his first season with Team Penske and cement himself as the shining star of IndyCar.

With four of the six cars in contention coming from Penske, the team had already been favourites to claim the title before they swept the top four positions in qualifying. A hectic opening lap saw Newgarden pull away and Castroneves push ahead of Pagenaud in his hunt for the title. Contact between cars frequented the narrow twists of Sonoma, seeing Canadian driver James Hinchcliffe run off the track to cap off a difficult season.

The first title contender to fall was last race’s winner, Alexander Rossi, as mechanical issues forced the Andretti Honda behind the pit wall. Dixon remained closest to Newgarden in the points battle, until a risky dive pass saw him fall behind Castroneves for good. With a Team Penske wall between him and the lead, Dixon would be unable to gain ground on the track or in the points.

As Pagenaud took the lead, Newgarden remained rooted in second place. A second place finish, despite a Pagenaud win, would be enough to keep Newgarden in the points lead. After an on-track dispute between the teammates at Gateway Motorsports Park, Newgarden would keep his distance in order to keep himself in championship position.

Pit stops briefly saw Newgarden have a chance to retake the lead, but Pagenaud’s four-stop strategy and race high lap times would see him reclaim his spot in a close battle with Newgarden. While Newgarden aggressively looked for a way around his teammate, he would not risk another incident between he and Pagenaud. Particularly after his near-championship losing accident at Watkins Glen.

With distance between Newgarden and Pagenaud after calming direction by team strategist Tim Cindric, Newgarden spent the final laps coasting through the track without incident. His second place finish behind Simon Pagenaud saw him claim his first series title in his sixth season of competition.

While the title came in his first year with Penske, it has been the culmination of years of hard work for Newgarden. Now with the young, talented, easy-going, and popular driver looking at the reality of being the face of a sport, he maintains focused on the future.

“I think everything that's happened in my career has made me who I am today,” Newgarden said in the post-race press conference. “It’s made me strong inside the race car and inside a race team. You know, with where we're at now, I'm just really thankful and really happy about it, and the biggest thing that I always want as a driver is just to get better every single season, and if you're continuing to go forward and we've won a championship, then that only means good things to come in the future.”

Newgarden’s arrival as an IndyCar champion marks a new era for a sport that is finding itself again. With the changes the Verizon IndyCar Series is undertaking, it is important to have a leading figure to guide the sport and its fans through this transition and ensure it is for the best. If anything became clear in 2017, it’s that there is no better ambassador for IndyCar than Josef Newgarden.

“I love the IndyCar Series. I think it's got the whole world in front of it,” he says. “It's not one big step, it's going to be little steps at a time, and I think in the next five years hopefully we can be in an amazing place. I think we’re in a good place right now, but we want to be in an amazing place. I'll do my best to carry that flag and help everyone in the Verizon IndyCar Series keep going up.”

All driver quotes sourced from official IndyCar press conference transcripts.

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