The Penske and Ganassi rivalry just got even better. After leading the championship through the first 15 races this year, Juan Montoya came up one spot short in his quest to go wire-to-wire. He and Scott Dixon finished tied at the top of the standings following Dixon’s win on Sunday. The tiebreaker was race wins, which went 3-2 in favor of Dixon. Despite trailing Montoya by 47 points entering the race, the New Zealand driver overcame all odds to win his fourth career Verizon IndyCar Series Championship.
Dixon was joined on the podium by Ryan Hunter-Reay and teammate Charlie Kimball. Montoya needed to pass Ryan Briscoe for fifth on the final lap to become the first driver since Sam Hornish Jr in 2001 to lead the championship from start to finish. He caught Briscoe over the last ten laps, but simply ran out of time. The Indianapolis 500 went to Penske, and the Championship goes to Ganassi.
Speaking of Chip Ganassi, it was IndyCar career win number 100, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The team owner called this, his 11th IndyCar Championship, the sweetest one of them all. Dixon praised his crew after the race, and for good reason. Not only did they get him out in front of the field during pit stops, but they also did something six weeks ago at Iowa that ultimately won them the title. After issues sent the No. 9 car back to the garage, the team was able to get him back out on track just before the checkered flag. Instead of just calling it quits, getting the car back out to turn some laps actually earned them one point in the championship.
It was a bit of sad irony for Montoya, who won his 1999 championship on a tiebreaker with Dario Franchitti. There have only been three championships that have ended in a tie in IndyCar history, and Montoya has been on both sides of two of them. In the end, he only has himself to blame, and well, his teammate too. On lap 39, Will Power made a quick move that did damage to both of their cars, sending them to the back of the field. Not only did he cause trouble for Montoya there, but he only needed to lead a few more laps to prevent Dixon from leading the most laps in the race, which earned him another bonus point.
Dixon began the season with 15th and 11th place finishes before winning his first race at Long Beach. He is the first driver to ever lead the points standings entering the final race of the season, then win the championship. The veteran driver knew what he had to do, and he did it. “You never know until the last lap. That’s what it came down to. You hope for it. We had to do our best job and that’s what we did today and luckily enough it worked out.”
There were ten lead changes among seven drivers, as all four of Ganassi’s cars led at least a lap. They finished first, third, fourth, and 13th on Sunday. Rodolfo Gonzalez had a very good day, finishing in ninth place for Dale Coyne Racing. Oriol Servia turned in a valiant effort behind the wheel of the No. 25 Andretti Autosport car. He finished in 12th, filling in for his late friend Justin Wilson. Mikhail Aleshin was in his first IndyCar race in over a year, and turned in a top ten performance for SPM.
Graham Rahal entered the race just 34 points behind Montoya for the championship lead. He fought a very loose race car all afternoon, and was never able to get into a groove. He was running towards the front late in the race, before he was punted by Sebastien Bourdais entering the hairpin turn. Rahal finished back in 18th spot, and dropped to fourth in the final standings. Bourdais was given a penalty, but Rahal was understandably very frustrated with him after the race. Still, it was an incredible year for Graham and the RLL team, a truly special turnaround year.
It was another disappointing finish for both Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud. It’s been that sort of year for Pagenaud, but neither driver managed to win a race this season. For Castroneves, it’s only the second time in his 17 year career that he finished a season without a win. Josef Newgarden was running in second place for most of the day, but another mishap during a pit stop ruined his day. There was a fire near the fuel tank, but even after that was extinguished, the crew had a very difficult time getting the car started. He finished in 21st on Sunday, in what could have been his last race with CFH Racing, as he is now a free agent.
For the fourth straight year, Chevrolet won the Manufacturers Championship. Overall, they won 10 of the 16 races this year, and doubled-up Honda on podium finishes, 32 to 16. They also started on Pole position in every race in 2015. As far as the teams go, Penske, Ganassi, and Andretti all won three races this season. There were only three full-time drivers (Jack Hawksworth, Gabby Chaves, Stefano Coletti) that failed to record a podium finish this year.
Dixon finished with the most wins in 2015, while Rahal earned the most podium finishes. Power had the most Pole Awards, and Newgarden led the most laps during the 2015 campaign. Hunter-Reay completed the most laps, and Montoya still ended up with the best average finishing position among all drivers. It was an odd year, as only one of the 16 races was won by a driver starting on the front row.
Apparently the rich get richer, as Dixon confirmed that he’ll be sticking around for a while.
The championship has been decided, but the 2015 season technically doesn’t end for another day. Tomorrow will be the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship Celebration at the NOB Hill Masonic Center. The program will begin at 9:30 PM ET, which will be streamed live on the IndyCar website.
Highlights from Sunday’s race can be seen below, courtesy of IndyCar.
Chip Ganassi: “Scott (Dixon) is obviously, I think, he’s arguably the driver of our generation– the Indy car driver of our generation, for sure. I think his stats speak for themselves. His numbers against the other all-time winners and what have you, he’s up on the list there. There’s not anybody I’d rather have driving our cars, I can tell you. I mean, he’s just a quality driver, but a quality person, a father, a husband, just the kind of guy you want in your organization. It’s that simple. All around, on the track, off the track, he’s the complete package.”
Will Power: “Unfortunately, the yellows came at the wrong time for the Verizon Chevy, which has been the case all year for us. It is an absolute lottery. I feel horrible for Juan. Josef (Newgarden) went up on the inside and I went to switch back off of him and I damaged Juan’s wing. Then the yellow started and that set the day there. Before that we were all in good shape there. But I want to say congratulations to Scott (Dixon) and obviously a very close finish there. But most importantly, I want to say that the Verizon Chevy boys did a great job this year and we’ll look forward to coming back next year and going for the Championship again.”
Juan Montoya: “The No. 2 Verizon Chevy team had a great season. We just had a disappointing finale. There was a lot to be proud of this year, from winning the season opener to giving Roger Penske another Indianapolis 500 title. Unfortunately today we gave one away but we will come back stronger next year. I have to thank everyone at Verizon, Chevrolet, Hawk Performance and PPG for their great support. I’m looking forward to even more success with them.”
Helio Castroneves: “First of all, it was a good season for the No. 3 Team Penske Chevy team. We finished in the top five in the championship and to battle down to the last race of the year was great. We know we did have a fast Hitachi Chevy today but because of a bad qualifying we put ourselves in a tough position. I’m disappointed for everyone at Team Penske and especially for Juan Pablo (Montoya) and the No. 2 car team, leading the championship up until the end. To have the team finish second just doesn’t seem right. But this team is strong. We’ll come back even stronger next year. A big thanks to Hitachi, AAA, Shell-Pennzoil and Chevrolet for all their support this year.”
Sebastian Saavedra: “It’s really cool to be a part of such a big day for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams and Scott (Dixon) is so deserving of today’s win and the championship. We were having a pretty good run and we were actually running in the lead for quite a while, but we had some bad luck with the way that last yellow fell. It just completely messed up our strategy. Regardless, it was a good day for the team and I’m happy I was here to be a part of it.”
Scott Dixon: “Obviously we won it on a countback (tiebreaker). It’s was tied for points and to get it, obviously, winning three races, you know. I can’t thank Chevy enough. I can’t thank Target. Huge weekend here in Sonoma for all the Target guests, 400-500 people. It’s a partnership. My teammates were phenomenal. They helped all year and we won this together. There is no one person that achieved this on their own and I just thank everybody so much.”
Tony Kanaan: “I’m just so excited for Scott (Dixon) and I couldn’t be happier to be part of Chip Ganassi Racing Teams. We worked really hard all race to make it up the field and the car felt really good. Once we got up there behind Charlie (Kimball) and Scott, we knew we just needed to be consistent and be a good teammate to Dixon. Again, so happy for Scott and Team Target and I’m glad we were able to bring the No. 10 NTT DATA Chevrolet home with a top-five finish.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “A disappointing end to the season for the Hydroxycut – KVSH Racing team. I ran a pretty strong race, came back from 16th to seventh. I made a couple of good moves, passed a bunch of people. Unfortunately, at the end there, Graham (Rahal) was struggling a little bit and I got a run out of turn six. He kind of stayed in the middle of the track. Then I tried to cross, he moved with me and I couldn’t get out of the wake. It sucked my car in, we touched and I spun him around. We got a penalty for it, which ended his race and mine. It’s disappointing, but we will keep on fighting and come back stronger next year.”
Takuma Sato: “First, big congrats to Dixie and the whole Ganassi organization–they did a great job to achieve winning a championship as well as the last race. It’s fantastic to see them on top. It was a tough start for us from 18th so we had to try a different strategy from the leaders – different pit stop sequence – in order to move forward. Indeed we did. The crew did a fantastic job on all the stops getting me into position to be able to fight on the track. Had a couple overtakings which I really enjoyed. Thank you to the fans for their great support and of course ABC Supply for the whole season, and of course Alfe for their support. A top 10 is a good way to finish off the season and we learned so much because we had a two car team this year which helped this team to move forward. Thank you to the team for all their support!”
Graham Rahal: “Unfortunately our car was pretty terrible today from the start. The guys did a great job in the pits to kind of keep us in it, frankly, because we didn’t really deserve to be in that position. Other guys had issues. (Scott) Dixon was pretty much dominant; we didn’t have anything for him. I can’t thank this team, Steak ‘n Shake, D-A Lubricant, Maxim and everyone that gave us the opportunity to be here. Honda has done a great job and I’m proud to lead the charge for them. Obviously the (Sebastien) Bourdais thing hurt us from third to fourth in the championship. What can you say though? It’s been a great year, we have nothing to be ashamed of and have a lot to be proud of. We definitely wanted to go out better than this. The car has been like this all weekend, it’s been an animal. I wasn’t worried so much about the championship from the start. I knew it looked like Dixon would pretty much dominate. We proved to people that this team can contend and we belong in a championship hunt. I just wanted to maintain third and it was looking good until Bourdais punted us. Finishing fourth in the championship is not the worst but obviously we hoped for better. This team did a tremendous job all season and obviously they deserved better than fourth. I feel like I drove pretty well this year. I feel like I improved a lot in areas that I needed to improve. We won a couple of races and we were in the hunt a lot. We were in the hunt today until we got punted and today was a bad day, but we were still running sixth which was a miracle. I’m proud of the effort the team put in and I’m proud of the effort I put in and we have a lot to improve on yet.”
Rodolfo Gonzalez: “I am really happy with the result. I think we got absolutely everything out of the car and the team today. I think we had a perfect race from where we started and I’m so happy we got the points needed to earn the prize money. It got a bit difficult toward the middle because I had to save some fuel with some really good guys behind me. I knew I just had to make the fuel numbers and after the last stop, I was able to go racing. I did get a few spots because of others mistakes, but that is racing. I want to give a big thanks to the team and to Dale Coyne Racing. They have made me feel at home all season and helped me adapt and learn as much as possible about the series. A special thanks goes out to Dale (Coyne) because he is a dream maker and he made my dream of being an INDYCAR driver come true.”
Simon Pagenaud: “With the season we’ve had, I’m disappointed for the team. Team Penske did win the Indy 500 and that’s obviously the biggest race of the year and we had three cars in the championship, so we should feel good about that. Our guys do such a good job on the cars and we tried with the Avaya Chevy today, but it wasn’t meant to be as we just had too many issues. Congratulations to Scott Dixon on the championship. I also want to thank Avaya, HP, Hawk, Carlisle and Devilbiss, PPG, Chevy and Penske Truck Rental for everything. We’ll be working hard in testing this offseason and build on what we started this year for 2016.”
Oriol Servia: “We obviously wanted to finish better. If the last yellow would have not gone against us, we would have been top five, top six – which, I think, considering where I was not even Friday, where I was Wednesday, it’s almost impossible to believe. Very proud of the whole team, the effort everybody put in. When you think it was just last weekend that we lost Justin (Wilson) and everyone just pulling together and focusing on the job and hoping to make him proud, make his family proud. I think, at least, we gave it all. I hope he had fun watching us. He left a huge void for everyone that ever met him and I hope it serves to at least inspire us to be a little closer to the way he was and all be better humans.”
Marco Andretti: “A very, very depressing ending to the season. If we hadn’t broken a nose on the (Dale) Coyne (Racing) car – it totally caught me off guard, I thought he was gone – broke the nose and ended up not the highest in points on the team. I’m very bummed about that. I was striving to be the top in points on the team and we let that slide in the end. Big thanks to everyone at Snapple, Honda, Mutual of Omaha and the whole sponsor list for sticking with us and cheering us on.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “It was a good finish to the season, that’s for sure. We won two of the last four races – we finished second today, so it’s been a really good streak. Today we jumped a few spots in the championship… we finished sixth which is crazy coming from 11th in the championship this morning. It’s been a great run and it’s great that it ended on a high note like this headed into a busy off season.”
Josef Newgarden: “It was a good day in a lot of ways. We definitely had a podium car. You never know, we may have even had a winning car. We had to fight through a little bit of an issue with our first stop after clipping Pagenaud. I really sealed our fate when I stalled the car and we just weren’t able to get it re-fired. It put us pretty far back and pretty much ended our day. It was hard to throw away a podium car, maybe even a winning car. I am proud of our effort all year. I feel really bad for putting us in a bad position at the end there.”
Charlie Kimball: “It was a heck of a race. Way to go for the Team Target guys. It’s so nice to see Dixon win the championship. He works so hard. Such a class act. I know he was there for the Wilson family Sunday night and Monday. So to be able to come out, get a win, and be part of the Chip Ganassi Racing team — be on the podium and fill out the cars needed so he can win the championship. You know, Chip loves winners and to be able to put the NovoLog FlexPen up on the podium. It’s a pretty good day at the office.”
Race Photos via IndyCar