Sunday’s IndyCar season finale in Sonoma, Calif. (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) has seven drivers mathematically eligible for the championship. In reality it’s a fight among four Team Penske drivers (leader Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Will Power and defending series champ Simon Pagenaud) and Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing.
The title tussle is coming down to the finale for the 12th year in a row. Here’s what to look for in California’s wine country:
Double the possibilities
Thanks to IndyCar’s format of awarding double points at the finale, all four Penske drivers could still win the championship. Power, 68 points behind Newgarden, would otherwise have been eliminated. Also still in contention, though they would have to win and get a lot of help, are Alexander Rossi (84 points behind Newgarden) and Graham Rahal (94 points out). Castroneves (22 points out), the popular veteran seeking his first title in his 20th and perhaps final IndyCar season — though maybe not — is the sentimental pick. He’s my pick too, but not just for sentiment. His 442 laps led this season are second to Power (443) and he’s a previous winner at Sonoma.
Teams conducted an open test on Thursday at the 2.385-mile, 12-turn natural road course. Pagenaud had the best lap in the four-hour afternoon session at an average of 112.014 mph (1 minute, 16.6511 seconds). Pagenaud enters the finale 34 points behind Newgarden, who in turn is just three points ahead of Dixon.
“We have a new Firestone tire, so we have to forget a little bit about what we did last year and be curious and try things,” Pagenaud said.
Indy Lights driver Zachary Claman DeMelo will make his IndyCar debut, driving the No. 13 entry for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. DeMelo, 19, won at Road America in IndyCar’s top feeder series this season.
“Since I made the move to cars from karts, I always knew that I either wanted to get a chance to race in the IndyCar series or F1,” he said. “So to get this opportunity is a big deal for me.”
Silly season rumblings
A lot of seats for 2018 are still to be settled, but a few more things have become clear in the two weeks since the last IndyCar race. Zach Veach will drive the No. 26 car for Andretti Autosport, replacing Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato. Spencer Pigot, who has been racing just in road and street course events for Ed Carpenter Racing, will run the full schedule next season.
Did you know?
Power and Dixon are both three-time winners at Sonoma, but Pagenaud holds both the race record in its current 85-lap format (101.181 mph) and the qualifying record (1:16.2530). He achieved both last year on his way to clinching the championship.