This week-end, Sonoma Raceway is set to hold the last round of the IndyCar Series Champiosnhip. As it happened the last two years in which the Californian track hosted the finale, the title is yet to be decided, and the fight for being the one who takes home the Astor Cup is likely to be thrilling.
IndyCar Series has often been a championship in which titles are decided in the last round. The equality between teams, as well as the double scoring in the last race have been essential to keep the fight for the crown alive until the last moment. This year is no exception and there are six drivers that have mathematical options.
Josef Newgarden: 1st – 560 points
Newgarden has been a solid driver since the year started but, in the second half of the season he’s been the strongest on the entire field. The driver has performed well on his debut in Team Penske and he can win the championship on his first year driving for The Captain.
He started the season in a quite decent way, and it only took him three rounds to win his first race for the team but, a bad month of May and poor performance on ovals left him away from his more constant drivers.
However, this changed dramatically in Toronto, where he took his second win of the season and started a superb four-race streak (three wins and a second place), including a magnificent win in Gateway beating one of his team mates. This put him in a great position to take the title but, an unlucky Pit exit in Watkins Glen has complicated a bit his options.
Despite that, Newgarden is still the leader and depends on himself to take his first crown. He just needs to be ahead of his rivals, specially Dixon and Castroneves, to become champion, and he could even lose a few place to his furthest rivals and still winning it. His previous results at Sonoma, however, haven’t been the best, with tho sixth places in five participations as his best result.
Scott Dixon: 2nd – 557 points
If Dixon‘s season this year had to be summed up in one word, this would be constancy. Despite having won only once, he has got seven podium finishes and has been in the Top 10 at every single round but the Indy 500, where he took the Pole Positsion but was unluckily involved on a frghtening incident with Jay Howard.
With those results, he’s in a good position to claim his fifth IndyCar Championship as he also depends on himself. If he wins, he will be champion no matter what his rivals do. The kiwi is also known for having a cold temper and managing important situations without making mistakes.
If he wins, it wouldn’t be his first time claiming the title in Sonoma without arriving there on top. He did it in 2015, on a race that he won avoiding getting involved on trouble and gained the title to Juan Pablo Montoya on the tie-break. Apart from this one, he was two more wins and has four podiums a this track.
Hélio Castroneves: 3rd – 538 points
Castroneves is another driver whose options are alive thanks to the lack of mistakes. His season has been very similar to Dixon‘s one, with only one win, three podiums, and every race but one in the Top 10. He’s also the last contender that depends on himself to get his crown. He needs to win and get the bonus points for leading the most laps and he’ll win the champion no matter what Newgarden does.
The Brazilian driver, however, has never managed well when he had to fight for the title on the last race, as he has arrived to the finale with chances of win the championship and has never achieved it (in some of these ocassions, his chances were actually minimum). This track isn’t also one of his best ones, since he has only won there once and his last podium was in 2011.
But there’s a different feeling this year. Meeting Victory Lane in Iowa for the first time in more than three years, and with an outstanding Indy 500 that left him very close to his fourth win at the Brickyard; it feels like something could be different this week-end, and the 42-year driver could get his crown after so many frustated attempts in what could also be his last season drving full-time in IndyCar Series.
4th: Simon Pagenaud – 526 points
The reigning champion, despite not having performed as good as last year, can still win back to back titles. With four podiums and one win, his first one in an oval course, his season has also been very constant, but a little bit weaker than Castroneves‘ and Dixon‘s one. His weakest moment was the Indy 500 and the first race in Detroit.
With these results, he will need to push a little bit harder and expects his rivals not to be on top. If he gets all possible points (104), which he did last year in an easier situation to win his first title, he’ll need both Newgarden and Dixon to finish 3rd or worst to claim his second one. As he shown last year and in his times in SPM, he’s able to do well in Sonoma, but he needs even more than a perfect week-end to have the number 1 on his car in 2018.
5th: Will Power – 492 points
Power‘s season has been marked by lots of ups and downs. He has won three races, has been strong on ovals and has shown again that he’s the best qualifier on the grid with six Pole Positions.
However, his bad results, some of them caused by his own mistakes (Long Beach, Gateway) and others due to external circumstances (St. Pete, Indy 500); have left him as the worst of Penske drivers and his chances to get his second title are actually low. If he gets all the points, he needs Newgarden to finish 13th or worst, Dixon 12th or worst, Castroneves 6th or worst and Pagenaud 3rd or worst.
Knowing that, the Australian can only push to win the race without trouble and hope that there is a messed-up race behind him that puts his rivals on trouble, a very difficult task knowing that there are four drivers in front of him.
6th: Alexander Rossi – 476 points
If it’s going to be difficult for Power to be crowned champion, it’s almost impossible for Rossi to do it. With one win and three podiums, his second season in the Series has been really good, and arriving to the last race with mathematical options is already a great achievement.
Rossi‘s chances are, basically, winning the race and that the 5 drivers ahead of him have problems and finish on the last positions, which is probably an unreachable dream. However, he’s been strong on road courses this season and can try to do his best and hope that luck is on his side.
But this race it’s not only about the title fight, Indy Lights driver Zachary Claman De Melo is set to make his Series debut with RLL. On the other hand, with the Silly Season still going and many places to confirm, it could be the last race (or, at least, the last one drving full-time) for Tony Kanaan, Castroneves and JR Hildebrand. All of this is set to happen on what should be an epic finale, on Sunday 17th at 3:30 PM local time.