This is part 3 of a 3-part series on Live Full Throttle, looking back on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season as we approach the finale weekend at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California.
Pocono Raceway has yielded some of the worst incidents in recent IndyCar history. After losing Justin Wilson due to injuries sustained in an accident there in 2015, this year’s event had us all just as upset and in the dark about a series favorite driver.
Robert Wickens was involved in a horrifying crash on Lap 7, making contact with Hunter-Reay and launching into the catch fence, subsequently spinning through and along it like a top, missing RHR’s helmet by a couple inches if that, as he flew back across the track in the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda, finally coming to a stop on the inside of the track. This is the first time I’ve written since the event, and it’s not easy to type those words even now.
Wickens was life-flighted to a local hospital and cared for locally until he was stable enough to be transferred home to Indianapolis about 2 weeks later. Wickens sustained numerous injuries, including a spinal injury whose lasting effects are still indeterminate. He is in the thoughts of, and on the minds of everyone involved in this sport every day, without question. His stellar performances since day one has already clinched the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title for him, even without his participation in the remainder of the season. Here’s to him getting Better. Stronger. Faster. #GetWellWickens
The ABC Supply 500 continued on after the terrible wreck, giving Alexander Rossi another race win. He remained second in points, with Dixon joining him on the podium. Will Power finished P2 in the race and 4th in points.
Later that week at Gateway Motorsports Park, Power would remind everyone that he was still very much in the championship battle, when he won under the lights. A much better result than last year when he made contact with the wall no sooner than the green flag could wave. This year, the midwest race under the stars saw Dixon start from pole and finish P3, just behind… you guessed it… Alexander Rossi. The Bommarito 500 race results didn’t change points standings for either of the latter two, but they did move Power up from fourth to third.
The most recent event is also the newest on the schedule, the Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway. This was a very interesting event, as the top contenders were left completely out of the mix – the first domino to fall in that equation was a Lap 1 wreck that involved points leader Scott Dixon. Chaos quickly unfolded when Zach Veach squeezed Hinchcliffe with nowhere to go, sending Marco Andretti careening through the air and landing upside down. A stressful moment for drivers and fans alike, what with everyone still on edge from the Wickens accident. Indy cars are not supposed to be in the air. Period. Thankfully, Marco was okay and the drivers of the cars he skimmed over were also uninjured. Their cars however? Not so much.
Jones’ and Andretti’s cars were significantly damaged and out for the day once the dust settled. Rahal and Hinchcliffe both had work done and came back out on track later with differing results – Hinch finished the event, with only 76 of 105 laps completed while Rahal was only able to put together 4 laps before calling it a day due to the extent of the damage. Pit strategy was ruined with the timing of yellows, ending Rossi’s chances of a strong finish, mustering a P8. Dixon, who somehow came out of that Lap 1 accident unscathed, made his way back up to P5 and maintained the points lead.
Takuma Sato came out the Portland race winner, followed by Hunter-Reay, and finally Sebastien Bourdais, rocking a car that looked like it had been put together by a kid who didn’t have any full Lego sets, so he made due by combining kits. Pink body, black and yellow front wing… it was definitely loud. Most importantly though, it was fast enough for a podium finish!
That brings us to current day. The IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma marks the 13th year in a row that our Series Champion will be determined by the final race of the season. I love that that level of competition is organic as well – no stage racing, no competition yellows. The Verizon IndyCar Series is the most purely competitive championship in the racing world, that’s not an arguable point.
What was that? You want to argue? Okay, then let’s argue over who you think will walk away with the Astor Cup this Sunday. Dixon or Rossi? Yes, Power and Newgarden are both mathematically eligible as well, but they’d need to win and have Dixon finish 22nd or lower and Rossi finish 9th or worse. Dixon has only finished that low 3 times in the past 4 seasons: in that spectacular crash at the 500 in 2017, with mechanical issues at Road America in 2016, and in an accident at Mid-Ohio the same season. Given those facts, the odds are not in Team Penske’s favor this year.
They are however in Honda’s favor, and given that they have clinched the 2018 Manufacturer’s Championship already, they would be over the moon to also have one of their top drivers secure the 2018 Series Championship.