SONOMA, Calif. Aug. 30, 2015-The day began in tears and ended in tears. A touching tribute to Justin Wilson, the popular British IndyCar driver who passed away Monday from injuries sustained at Pocono Raceway, left steely eyes moist at Sonoma Raceway.
Two hours later, when Scott Dixon edged out season-long point leader Juan Pablo Montoya by winning the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma to snare the Astor Cup and the Verizon IndyCar Series title right out of Montoya's hands, there were tears of joy in victory lane.
Dixon, who entered the race third in points, capitalized on the double point bonus in the season finale which allowed him to tie point leader Montoya who finished sixth in the race. The tie breaker - the driver who won the most races - went to Dixon who claimed three victories to Montoya's two.
In a much quieter celebration in the ABC Supply pits, Takuma Sato emerged from the No. 14 cockpit, elated with his ABC Supply team's performance. Sato, who started 18th, finished eighth through a combination of smart driving, consistently fast pit stops and an off-sequence pit strategy to gain track position.
Sato pitted early - on lap six and again on lap 22 - so when the full course yellow came on lap 33 for a tangle between Will Power and his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya resulting in Power spinning out, strategist Larry Foyt told Sato to stay out to gain track position which he did, jumping from 19th to seventh on lap 35 when most of the field pitted. Sato pitted twice more, with the final pit stop coming on lap 62. He dropped back to 18th but several cars still had to pit.
Meanwhile Jack Hawksworth had climbed from his 25th starting slot to eighth by lap 51 as he too was using an off-sequence fuel strategy. When he pitted for his final stop on lap 62, he fell to 19th but as others pitted, he climbed back to 15th. A full course yellow on lap 65 for James Jakes off track excursion closed up the field. The drivers who hadn't pitted ducked into the pits for their final stop which allowed Hawksworth and Sato climb to 10th and 13th respectively.
A few laps later, Hawksworth was running ninth when, by his own admission, he made an aggressive move past Carlos Munoz resulting in their both spinning and bringing out another full course yellow on lap 72.
Hawksworth pitted for a new nose while his teammate moved from 12th to 10th. Sato gained a couple more spots when Sebastien Bourdais tangled with Graham Rahal vying for sixth on lap 77. Rahal, a championship contender, dropped to 20th and then Bourdais joined him after serving a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact.
With four laps to go, Power charged past Sato (nearly taking him out) to take seventh on the track. The move gave Power enough points (three) to overtake Rahal in the standings for third place in the championship. Sato finished 14th in the drivers' standings.
SONOMA, Calif. Aug. 29, 2015-"It was a tough qualifying session for us," Takuma Sato said after climbing from his car.
And so it was. Sato will start 18th while Jack Hawksworth will start 25th. Hawksworth lost power and oiled down the track as he made his way back to the pits before he could lay down a lap on the faster, alternate (red) tires.
Sato posted a time of 1 minute, 17.55 seconds (110.702mph) around the picturesque 2.3 mile road course. "We struggled for speed throughout the practice session but then the car was improved after the first run in qualifying, so I had a positive feeling," Sato said. "Unfortunately there was a bit of traffic on course when we were on our quick lap, so we weren't quick enough to get through to the second segment. Last year we made a good improvement in the warmup session on race day, so I guess we have to do that again."
Indeed, after qualifying 14th last year, Sato was able to snare a fourth place finish in the event through a combination of an improved car set-up and savvy race strategy.
Hawksworth also struggled for speed this weekend. The team made changes to the car for qualifying but never got the chance to see whether it would be fast enough to break through to the next segment. He posted a time of 1 minute, 19.04 seconds (108.627mph).
"We went out there, did a couple laps on the black tires, came in for the reds [tires] and made some changes," Hawksworth said. "It felt a bit better but then we had an engine issue and lost power. It was not a good day. We'll try and have a good one tomorrow."
Will Power won the Verizon P1 award with his time of 1 minute, 16.25 seconds (112.589 mph). Rounding out the Firestone Fast 6 were Josef Newgarden, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Simon Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya and Graham Rahal.