Simon Pagenaud secured the pole position for the Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Sonoma Raceway on Saturday, and set the new track record. The Go Pro Grand Prix pole is the 7th of the 2016 season for Pagenaud. When we go green today, it will mean that he has led the field to the start for half of the current season – since he started from P1 in St. Petersburg even though he qualified P2. This was due to Will Power not receiving clearance to drive on race morning due to health.
With Verizon P1 Award number 7 this year, Pagenaud joins the likes of Bobby Unser, AJ Foyt, Tom Sneva, Bobby Unser, Michael Andretti, Juan Pablo Montoya, Cristiano da Matta, Sebastien Bourdais, and Helio Castroneves in this achievement.
The most poles ever earned in a single season was 10, and that was done by the incomparable AJ Foyt in 1965. Pagenaud is the first to earn this many poles in a year since his teammate and championship contender, Will Power, earned 8 in 2011.
The championship probabilities were narrowed down yesterday with the first bonus point of the weekend going to the points leader. As long as Pagenaud finishes P5 or better in today’s contest, he is guaranteed the championship. His best finish at Sonoma Raceway was on podium with P3 in 2014. That was the only other season that he was in contention for the championship going into the final race. He faced Will Power and Helio Castroneves while he was still driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The three battled at Auto Club Speedway to settle things, and Power was the driver to hoist the Astor Cup at the end of the day in Fontana, CA. Pagenaud ended up fifth in points overall.
A LOOK BACK AT 2016
Certainly, he hopes that things end differently today, and the odds do seem to be in his favor. We already spoke about the season opener in St. Pete for both drivers, but didn’t mention that Pagenaud ended up finishing P2 there.
Pagenaud’s career-making season really gained momentum with the following race when he grabbed the points lead at Phoenix International Raceway thanks to another P2 result. Power was also on the podium with P3.
The initial victory of 2016 for Pagenaud came on the Streets of Long Beach, and that put wind in his sails because he followed it up with two more consecutive victories at Barber Motorsports Park and the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis – both of which he started from the pole position. Power continued to chase him, with a P7 in Long Beach, P4 at Barber and struggled a bit at Indy, finishing back in P19 at the GP.
The Month of May started out prosperous for the points leader, but unfortunately it was now his turn to grab the P19 finish at the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 while Power had a Top 10 finish. The 19th place result left much to be desired for the French driver, and it drove his passion to get back on track with his strong season.
That proved to be good motivation because he has yet to fall that low on the final results boards since. The Belle Isle doubleheader in Detroit yielded two Verizon P1 Awards for the No. 22 crew and a P2 finish for Race #2. The winner? His teammate Will Power, constantly with his sight set on Pagenaud and those championship points numbers.
They continued to push each other to perform at their absolute best but this point in the season was Power’s chance to have a streak. The series return at Road America allowed Power to get his second win in a row and second win of the year while it was a mediocre result for Pagenaud, with a P13 finish.
Never distracted by setbacks however, he was back on an upswing with a pole position at Iowa Speedway and a P4 result. Power made the podium with P2 and then grabbed the win in Toronto, with much thanks to a perfectly timed yellow during his pit stop. For the majority of the field though, including Pagenaud, it was a terribly-timed and Pagenaud went from fighting with Dixon for a win to focusing on pulling out a Top 10 result, which he did with P9.
At Mid-Ohio, Pagenaud was back on his game and he went from pole to checkered for the third time this season, all the while battling a back injury. The next race was at Pocono Raceway and he suffered his first DNF since New Orleans in 2015 when he made contact with the wall and finished P18. Adding insult to injury, Power went on to win the race, his fourth win in 6 races and his 6th podium celebration in a row! Pretty impressive right there.
The completion weekend in Texas was a thrilling finish with the last restart pushing all the drivers up front to fight in very close quarters, even going four-wide until Pagenaud bowed out as if to say, I’m aiming for the championship and I’m not risking another DNF. It was a smart move as he just missed the podium with P4 but maintained the points lead and finished ahead of Power who was P8.
The lucky number 7 thing started in Watkins Glen apparently because he started and finished P7 on a beautiful weekend that welcomed the Indy car racing back to the historic upstate New York venue. The beauty of the weekend was lost on Power though, who suffered a hard impact with the wall after a tangle with Charlie Kimball left his No. 12 relatively destroyed on the left side. The points lead was 43 at the checkered and it was around that time we also found out that Power had not been cleared to drive due to concussion-like symptoms after his accident.
Thankfully, he was cleared to drive prior to the Sonoma test later that week. He seems to be back in top form for this weekend’s finale and that’s exactly what we want – two elite athletes ready to leave it all out on the track without outside forces having an effect on the championship title outcome. Both drivers agreed on Saturday it’s great to already know they are bringing another IndyCar Series Championship to Roger Penske, so at this point, it’s just about racing. And I have a sneaking suspicion that we are in for one hell of a showdown.
Verizon IndyCar Series track times for the Go Pro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway:
Friday, September 16th:
Practice #1 – 11:00 – 12:15 p.m. PT / 2:00 – 3:15 p.m. ET
Practice #2 – 2:45 – 4:00 p.m. PT / 5:45 – 7:00 p.m. ET
Saturday, September 17th:
Practice #3 – 11:00 – 11:45 a.m. PT / 2:00 – 2:45 p.m. ET
Qualifying: 3:05 – 4:20 p.m. PT / 6:05 – 7:20 p.m. ET (NBCSN live)
Sunday, September 18th:
Warm Up – 11:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. PT / 2:30 – 3:00 p.m. ET
Go Pro Grand Prix – 3:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. PT / 6:30 – 9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN live)
All three practice sessions will be livestreamed.
Practice #3 will be broadcast on NBCSN on tape delay at 2 p.m. PT / 5 p.m. ET.
Qualifying and the race will be broadcast live on NBCSN.
All links to livestream and IndyCar radio coverage is available here.