In the season finale of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series, the teams made their way to the Sonoma Valleys of California with six drivers still battling to win the championship.
Josef Newgarden led the field to the green flag, side-by-side with Will Power before clearing him in Turn 2.
At Turn 4, James Hinchcliffe was spun by Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot, putting him off course for a brief moment. Ahead of them, Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato were battling for sixth side-by-side in Turn 5. Sato drove his two left tyres into the dirt, giving Rossi and Graham Rahal the chance to overtake him. Ryan Hunter-Reay attempted to pass Sato on the outside but he also put his car into the sand at the NHRA drag strip straightaway, losing some ground.
Coming to Turn 9, Tony Kanaan had a tyre going down. As Jack Harvey was avoiding the slowing Kanaan, Zachary Claman DeMelo got into the back of him, damaging both cars. Kanaan was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop on the first lap for his cut tyre.
On Lap 6, Sato was slow coming out of Turn 4 due to a cut tyre potentially related to the contact between him and his teammate, Rossi. He eventually got to pit lane to put on new rubber.
Simon Pagenaud made an early pit stop on Lap 11 as part of his 4-stop strategy.
Rossi made his first pit stop on Lap 15 to put him on the black primary tyres. A lap later, Dixon, Rahal and Hunter-Reay all made their first stop of the day.
Newgarden surrendered the lead to Conor Daly as he and teammate Power made their stops on Lap 17.
A dramatic turn of events came on Lap 18 as Rossi returned to the pits for his crew members to remove the engine cover from his car. He came back in again on the next lap to fix the electrical system, resulting in him going a couple laps down and mathematically taking him out of the championship battle.
Race leader Daly finally made his first stop on Lap 21, giving the lead to Pagenaud.
After stops, Daly and JR Hildebrand battled for position in Turn 7. Hildebrand pushed Daly into the kerb, forcing both drivers to wheel hop and giving Charlie Kimball both positions.
Pagenaud made his second pit stop on Lap 30, giving the lead back to Newgarden.
Castroneves, Dixon and Hunter-Reay all came in to make their second pit stops on Lap 39. On the next lap, Newgarden also came in to make his second stop with Power. He won the battle off pit lane and was able to get out ahead of Hinchcliffe who was a couple laps down.
Newgarden retook the lead as Pagenaud made his third stop on Lap 48, coming out in third place. Meanwhile, Sato lost control of his car on the exit of Turn 9 and spun around. There were no reports of any damage.
Hinchcliffe’s day went from bad to worse as he was forced to retire from the race on Lap 52 due to an electrical problem. He was classified 22nd.
Dixon made his final pit stop on Lap 61 from fourth position. Newgarden made his final stop on the next lap along with Castroneves and Hunter-Reay.
The championship battle was on the line for Pagenaud as he came in from the lead to make his final stop on Lap 64. The fast 7.2 second stop helped Pagenaud keep the lead but with Newgarden on his tail on fresh red tyres.
Sato parked his car off course at the end of the drag strip straightaway on Lap 67, retiring out of the race.
With 8 laps to go, Pagenaud got caught in traffic, allowing Newgarden to close the gap and Power to catch the two leaders as well.
Meanwhile behind them, there was a four-car battle for fifth between Castroneves, Rahal, Marco Andretti and Hunter-Reay.
In the end however, Pagenaud’s 4-stop strategy worked out as he took the chequered flag to win the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. However, Penske teammate Newgarden stole the headlines as second place was enough to claim his first IndyCar Series championship, beating Pagenaud by 13 points.
Power rounded out the podium whilst Dixon came home to finish fourth and Castroneves finished in fifth place.
Newgarden becomes the first American IndyCar driver to win a championship since Hunter-Reay back in 2012, giving Team Penske their 15th IndyCar title.