Chase for IndyCar Se­ries ti­tle ends at Sonoma Race­way

Manteca Bulletin - - Sports - DALE BOSOWSKI

The 2017 Ver­i­zon IndyCar Se­ries sea­son reaches its con­clu­sion this week­end with its an­nual trek to the wine coun­try for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma at Sonoma Race­way.

For the 12th straight year, the cham­pi­onship will be de­cided at the fi­nale, and with dou­ble points on the line seven driv­ers remain in con­tention for the 2017 crown.

Josef New­gar­den, who re­placed Juan Mon­toya at Team Penske this sea­son, sits atop the IndyCar stand­ings by a mere three points (560 to 557) over vet­eran Team Ganassi driver Scott Dixon. New­gar­den’s Penske team­mates He­lio Cas­tron­eves and Si­mon Pa­ge­naud, the de­fend­ing 2016 cham­pion, also remain firmly in the ti­tle hunt with 538 and 526 points, re­spec­tively.

Although New­gar­den’s other Penske team­mate Will Power (492), 2016 Indy 500 win­ner Alexan­der Rossi (476) and Gra­ham Ra­hal (466) are math­e­mat­i­cally alive in the chase, their odds of win­ning the 2017 cham­pi­onship are about as good as the New York Jets’.

With six years of IndyCar rac­ing un­der his belt, New­gar­den has posted four vic­to­ries this sea­son and seemed to have a solid grasp on the cham­pi­onship un­til he slid into the wall while ex­it­ing the pits at Watkins Glen two weeks ago. Although he was able to con­tinue af­ter mak­ing re­pairs, he fin­ished the race well back in 18th place opening the door for his pur­suers to gain sig­nif­i­cant ground.

“You’re al­ways learn­ing, as evi-

denced by Watkins Glen,” he said philo­soph­i­cally. “Hope­fully that turns into a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me and not just an er­ror.”

Many pun­dits feel Dixon now has the ad­van­tage head­ing to Sonoma.

In his 16th year of IndyCar rac­ing, the 37-year-old New Zealand na­tive sits third in all-time vic­to­ries with 40 and has cap­tured four (2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015) cham­pi­onships. In 12 races at the 12-turn, 2.385-mile Sonoma road course, he has amassed three vic­to­ries and six top­five fin­ishes.

“I wouldn’t say that it makes me feel any more re­laxed or any more con­fi­dent,” Dixon said re­cently. “There’s still a lot on the line, and it takes a lot to beat the com­pe­ti­tion that we have in the Ver­i­zon IndyCar Se­ries. It’s good to be in the hunt and have a tight gap, but we’re still go­ing to have to do our best to beat four of the clos­est com­peti­tors right there.”

While New­gar­den and Dixon are the odds-on fa­vorites, He­lio Cas­tron­eves is definitely the sen­ti­men­tal fa­vorite.

The pop­u­lar 40-year-old Brazil­ian has won the Indy 500 three times and has been the se­ries run­ner-up in four sea­sons, but amaz­ingly he has never won the cham­pi­onship. He also won “Danc­ing with the Stars” in 2007 and proudly dis­plays the mir­ror ball from the com­pe­ti­tion in his home along with his rac­ing tro­phies.

It may also be his fi­nal crack at the ti­tle with ru­mors swirling that Roger Penske wants to shift Cas­tron­eves to the team’s sports car pro­gram (with Mon­toya) and bring in a younger driver to his IndyCar ride.

For now, Cas­tron­eves is un­con­cerned about his fu­ture and think­ing only about the cham­pi­onship within his grasp.

“We’ve just got to keep bring­ing what we’ve been do­ing the whole sea­son,” Cas­tron­eves said. “We’re not here at this position by luck. We’re here be­cause we per­form as a team, in a con­sis­tent way, in a com­pet­i­tive way most of the time, and that’s what we’re go­ing to have to con­tinue do­ing.”

Prac­tice and qual­i­fy­ing for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma and sup­port di­vi­sions will take place on Fri­day and Satur­day while Sun­day’s race will be­gin at 3:30 pm with TV cov­er­age live on NBCSN. For more information visit www.sono­marace­way.com.

Scott Speed Tan­ner Foust led the Volk­swa­gen An­dretti Ral­ly­cross Volk­swa­gen Bee­tles to a clean sweep of last week­end’s Red Bull Global Ral­ly­cross dou­ble­header at Ev­er­green Speed­way in Seat­tle.

Although he didn’t stand at the top of the podium, it was also a win for Foust’s team­mate Scott Speed. By fin­ish­ing sec­ond in both races, the Man­teca na­tive now holds a com­mand­ing 30-point edge over Foust in his quest for his third straight cham­pi­onship as the se­ries heads to the sea­son fi­nale in Los An­ge­les on Satur­day, Oct. 14.

“We came out of here with loads of points and plenty of gap for the last race of the year,” said Speed with his eyes on the prize. “The cars are clean, they’re not bro­ken, and it’s ex­actly what we wanted to come out of here and do. We just need to keep the wheels on it for a cou­ple of heat races.”

99 Speed­way

The 99 Speed­way will con­clude its reg­u­lar sea­son with Cham­pi­onship Night this Satur­day, Septem­ber 16th in which will de­ter­mine the 2017 sea­son ti­tle win­ners. Lodi’s Ar­ron Shankel holds a nar­row lead over four other driv­ers in the Stock­ton Late Mod­els while Stock­ton’s Ben Lewis II leads the Bomber Divi­sion and Stock­ton’s Andrew Rum­sey heads the B-4s stand­ings.

Photo by DALE BOSOWSKI

He­lio Cas­tron­eves is among the IndyCar Se­ries ti­tle con­tender head­ing into the sea­son fi­nale at Sonoma Race­way this week­end.

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