Simon Pagenaud Wins Race, Championship at Sonoma

Simon Pagenaud was winless last year, in his first season with mighty Team Penske. Today, he gave Roger Penske his 14th open-wheel championship

The entire weekend was a celebration for Pagenaud and the No. 22 Penske team. The Menards sponsorship announcement on Saturday was wonderful. Simon then grabbed another championship point by winning pole position for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Today, he dominated the race, leading 76 of 85 laps en route to earning his fifth win of the season. In all, he had 8 podium finishes, 7 poles, and led the most laps (406) during the 2016 season.

Graham Rahal once again led the charge for Honda, and finished second on Sunday. Juan Montoya joined them on the podium, in what is likely his last race driving for Team Penske. Andretti Autosport drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five at Sonoma.

GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma Box Score

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Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Marco Andretti, Charlie Kimball, and Sebastien Bourdais all managed to finish the season with a top-ten finish. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates Mikhail Aleshin and James Hinchcliffe came home 11th and 12th respectively. Both Hunter-Reay and Rossi finished the year with a top-five, but this is the first season since 2009 that Hunter-Reay failed to win a race.

It wasn’t the day or the weekend that Chip Ganassi’s team had in mind. Tony Kanaan started and finished in 13th position, while Scott Dixon had radio issues that forced him to change helmets in the middle of the race. Dixon was aiming for his 10th straight top-three finish in the championship, but went the wrong way. His 17th place finish in the race dropped him to sixth place in the final standings. The last time he didn’t finish in the top-four of the standings was 2005.

Newgarden finished 4th in the championship, and Rahal’s strong finish earned him the 5th spot. For Team Penske, it was a 1-2-3 finish in the standings, only the second time it has ever been done. That was also Penske, in 1994 with Al Unser Sr, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Paul Tracy. It was very fitting as Roger Penske’s team celebrates 50 years of racing.

The one driver that had it worse than anyone on Sunday was Will Power. The 2014 champion still had a decent shot at the title heading into today, but that all disappeared on lap 36, when a gearbox issue ended his hopes. Power was able to get back on the track, but finished 20th in the race. Even without the issue, it didn’t appear as though anyone had anything for Pagenaud.

The 2016 season is now in the books, and the off-season can begin. That means months of silly season and speculation. One driver that won’t be involved in those conversations is Hunter-Reay. Today he announced a three-year contract extension with Andretti Autosport, which will keep him (and sponsor DHL) there through the 2020 season.

The next race for the Verizon IndyCar Series is the season-opening race at St Petersburg on March 12, 2017. Until then, there will be plenty of testing, negotiations, and rumors. Congratulations to Simon Pagenaud and Team Penske on what can only be described as an incredible season.

Race Photos via IndyCar

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Driver Quotes

Helio Castroneves: Congratulations, Simon. Well deserved, no question. Throughout the entire season, he was not only an amazing driver but a champion. Really honored to be working with a guy like that. The whole team was a dream to work with and today was the proof of that.”

James Hinchcliffe: “It wasn’t a terrible day but it wasn’t a tremendous day. From where we started, I think coming home 12th was a reasonable gain but we were certainly hoping for more coming into the day. The Arrow Electronics car was good. We just kind of wavered back and forth about which strategy to use and went with the three-stopper, which might have been the right call. It’s tough to tell until we sit down and look at it. Either way, we brought the car home and the crew was great in the pits. The car was better in the race than it has been all weekend. Like I said, it was not the finish that we wanted but it was still a great season overall. A big thanks to SPM and Arrow Electronics for a great 2016 and we’ll be back stronger than ever next year.”

Mikhail Aleshin: “The team did a fantastic job. (Sebastien) Bourdais did what he always does but I’m not going to worry about it. I’m satisfied with the finish and happy to be here in the SMP Racing car driving for this team. Thank you to SPM for the opportunity and also to my fans for cheering for me this season.”

Max Chilton: “It was a really up and down race for the Gallagher team today. It started with an overboost problem which left us a sitting duck out there unfortunately. I was trying to hang on and then we pitted to fix the problem and tried to get back in the fight. Then for a stint and a half we were doing the same pace as the leader and was actually catching him so I thought we were in good shape. I thought the last stint was going to be great for us with all the overtakes we had left but the last set of tires didn’t feel right for some reason on the car. We were still quick compared to the others and just did our best at the end.”

Scott Dixon: “Obviously not the day we wanted here at Sonoma in the Target car, but my congratulations to Simon (Pagenaud) and Team Penske on a job well done. I wish we could have finished on a higher note for the season finale here this weekend but it wasn’t meant to be. Thanks for all the support from Target over the last 27 years and all of the vendor partners as well and all they’ve done for this team. We’ll be back fighting hard next season with the No. 9 team and can’t wait to get started again.”

Tony Kanaan: “Today was just completely out of our control and it’s unfortunate that we had to end the season this way. The No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet was much better today than it had been the rest of the weekend and we felt good about moving up through the field quickly, but that contact on the first lap put us down quite a bit and it was really difficult moving back up through the field. We’ve had a lot of unlucky breaks this season, but I’m proud of the guys and all of NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing for sticking with it and huge congratulations to Simon (Pagenaud) and Team Penske.”

Sebastien Bourdais: “It was a tough day for the Plantronics – KVSH Racing Team. Not the way we wanted to finish the season. It’s a top 10, but boy that was hard work. A lot of fuel saving, just a boring race. It’s too bad it finishes like that, but definitely we didn’t have the tools to fight this weekend. We tried our best and seemed to be able to make an illusion on one lap during qualifying on the red (alternate tire), but everything else seemed to be pretty average. We tried to stay clean and make it to the end. We had quite a few issues during the race with fuel consumption, burning more fuel than we thought we were and things like that, which really threw us a bit behind the eight ball. After that I really didn’t trust the numbers, so I was saving more fuel and we still almost came up short. I am glad I did, but definitely not the kind of race where you feel like you are a factor or try to fight for it. You’re just very passive, which is never a great feeling. We’ll move on.”

Will Power: “It was obviously disappointing to have that gearbox problem. I think Simon (Pagenaud) was going to be tough to beat as far as the championship goes. Maybe we could have beaten him for the win, but I doubt it if everything just played out as it was. That was that. But honestly it was still a very strong year. Four race wins, I won a 500-mile race. Not the right one, but still a 500-miler. It’s a 1-2-3 for the team, which is really good, considering how it finished last year. I think the team is really strong now. Another second place (laughter).”

Takuma Sato: “First of all a big thank you to AJ Foyt Racing, ABC Supply, Honda, Alfe and all of the sponsors supporting us. It’s been a tough season. It started out well but then we had some bad luck. Today the strategy didn’t work out as we wished. We were not quite there in terms of speed but we were fighting hard. I’m very proud of the No. 14 pit crew – they did an outstanding job on the pit stops today.”

Graham Rahal: “For Steak ‘n Shake, United Rentals, Hyatt, PennGrade, all our other sponsors, and especially everyone we had here this weekend supporting us, it was a great way to finish the season. That means a lot. They have been supportive through thick and thin and they came out to support us today. It was also cool to have Sergeant Rose with us. He is paralyzed and he stood for the national anthem with us which was pretty awesome. We would have liked to get another win but we were struggling with the rear (of the car). Overall we had our ups and downs (this season) but I’m really proud of this team and proud to be the top Honda once again. We led the charge for them the last couple of years and they did a great job. I wanted to get (Simon) Pagenaud for the win but when I would get close, my car would get massively loose. I thought at one point that it was just best that I salvage a second place than do something stupid. We’re a one car team and obviously today we were fighting with the big boys – with Penske – who is the standard. To run like we did means a lot. It feels great to go into the off-season like this. Once again we proved that with the quality of the people we have in this organization, keeping their heads down and working hard puts us in the position to fight for wins. I’m proud and honored to work with these guys. We will be better next year.”

Conor Daly: “Sadly we had our worst weekends on the double points weekends. It’s been our luck lately it seems but I think that overall we can be super proud with what we did this year. We led a lot of laps for Honda, we led a lot of different races, we had many top-six finishes, we were on the podium and we almost won a race. I think we can be super pleased with that. Compared to other people’s first years this is a pretty solid one. I’m super lucky and happy to have had this year and to compete and drive for this team because it’s been a lot of fun and it’s been a dream of mine. Hopefully we can do more.”

RC Enerson: “It was looking really good for a while but then we had a mishap on a stop that put us barely a lap down, so that was disappointing. The team gave me a good car, we were consistent, we had the pace. It was a big struggle, a lot of fuel saving to try to get back on the lead lap but we couldn’t quite do it. It’s pretty tough to come away from the last race like this but we’ll pick up the pieces and see what we can do to put something together for next year. Looking back at the three races I did, I have to say Watkins Glen was the best because we had a top 10 but this track (Sonoma) is definitely fun, probably the most challenging out of the three and I’m happy with how were with pace wise. We didn’t have the best qualifying but we had the race pace and I hope everybody sees that.”

Spencer Pigot: “We struggled a little bit on red tires at the beginning, but once we got onto blacks the car was pretty good. We were catching up to the guys in front when we unfortunately had an issue with the driveshaft failing coming out of Turn 11. The guys did an awesome job not only this weekend but also all season. I can’t thank Ed Carpenter Racing, Samsung, Fuzzy’s Vodka and Rising Star Racing enough for the opportunity this year and now I’m looking forward to the off-season.”

Josef Newgarden: “We needed one more car in front of us (to finish 3rd in the championship), but we were a little too far back – 6th just didn’t get it done. I did everything I could to keep Helio (Castroneves) behind me to see if it would shake out our way but it just didn’t. There’s nothing for us to hang our heads about, we had a phenomenal year in our own right. We have a great team, great sponsors, great crew, so we’re not going to go into the off-season hanging our heads about anything.”

Simon Pagenaud: “It’s unbelievable. I think I will realize it more tomorrow. What a race. There is so much emotion right now, to be honest, I don’t know if you can see it. I can’t find the words. My whole career has been about this, about today and getting to this point and to this level. When you can perform 100 percent under pressure like this is amazing. It’s such a good thing. It’s me winning but it’s the whole team, the No. 22 team and Team Penske.”

Carlos Munoz: “A little disappointed with the result. I know a car took the front off our wing. He just broke too late and broke off the wing. We had to come in to change it and lost two seconds there. We finish the season 10th in the championship. I have to thank everyone, all the sponsors from this year; UFD, Magneti Marelli, hhgregg. I have to be proud after this year. Thank you to the whole team, it has been an amazing year and everything so were going to work hard and see what happens for 2017.”

Marco Andretti: “It was a tough year for the Snapple team, I’m going to do whatever it takes to improve for next year – put in the time and whatever I need to. This ties for the worst year of my career, when it needed to be my best. We’re definitely up against it for next year. Thanks to Snapple, UFD and Mutual of Omaha for hanging in there with me this season. It’s a bit of a blessing after a nightmare year for hhgregg to come on (as co-primary sponsor) for two years (starting in 2017). I can now shift my focus on trying to fast and the season opener in St. Pete.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay: “Fourth was a decent finish, but we still have work to do before 2017. We’ve had a lot of missed opportunities this year, and we need to work on minimizing those weekends when we’re in the back of the field. It’s nice to be in the top five, but if we’re not stepping on top of the podium, we’re not doing our job. We were able to announce today that DHL and I will be back with Andretti Autosport until 2020, and that means the absolute world to me. We’ve had such a great past together and they’ve had great confidence in me and the team. And this is my home. When it’s all said and done, I’ll have been here for 11 years and potentially even more.”

Jack Hawksworth: “Long, long afternoon. We really struggled with the car which was really, really loose. Ever since we got to this track, especially with the 41 car, the trend has been that I could do one or two quick laps and then the tire degradation was big. We haven’t had a car that was good on old tires and that’s what we saw in the race. I couldn’t make the tires last and I was fighting a loose car the whole race. It’s been a very, very tough season. The guys worked hard. Thanks to ABC Supply for their support the past two years and to everybody on the team. All the best for everybody going forward.”

Charlie Kimball: “Yesterday we qualified 12th, but we knew we had a fast race car for today so we really just wanted to stay in clean air. Man, some of our lap times when we were in clean air were really quick. We thought we might be able to make something work with those times. I think we hamstrung ourselves by starting on scuffed reds – they didn’t hang on nearly as long as we thought they might. I think we had a really fast car and the guys did an awesome job in the pits. I can’t thank the Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing crew enough for the job they’ve done all year – they’ve really stepped up to challenge. Every year we keep moving up in the points, so we just need to figure out what we need to do in the off-season to make sure we come back even stronger next year.”

Alexander Rossi: “Today was good until the last corner. It’s heartbreaking to [run out of fuel] at the end. But it’s weird how this sport works; we won the biggest race of the year the same way. It’s just the way it goes sometime. Huge credit to the team for what we accomplished from St. Pete – where we struggled to stay on the lead lap and with a lot of other things – to where we are now and being at the front, legitimately. It was a pleasure to work with these guys and it’s easier to look back at things that could have been different, but that’s racing and I hope to show what I’m capable of in the future.”

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