SONOMA — Ryan Hunter-Reay won the battle and Scott Dixon won the war as the Verizon IndyCar Series concluded its 2018 season at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday.
Hunter-Reay (#28 DHL/Andretti Autosport) dominated the weekend, setting the fastest time in qualifying to win his first pole in over 4 1/2 years on Saturday then totally controlling Sunday’s race by leading 80 of the 85 laps. He only relinquished the lead as positions jockeyed during pit stop windows.
“This is just a tremendous win for our team. What a great way to finish off the season,” exclaimed Hunter-Reay of his 18th IndyCar victory. “It seemed like the race lasted forever, but I guess that is what happens when you are out in the lead the whole way.”
It was Dixon’s fifth Indy championship.
Dixon’s workmanlike drive was equally flawless. The 18 year series veteran qualified second and locked on behind Hunter-Reay for the entire race, avoided all trouble to finish in second place, 2.275 seconds behind Hunter-Reay, to clinch his fifth series championship. Only the legendary AJ Foyt has more championships with seven.
“Man this is so awesome. It is mega! We tried to make sure we never got into a position that would allow them (Rossi) to capitalize on it,” said Dixon. “I want to thank everyone involved. To be able to do this takes a total team effort. I am just the lucky one who gets to drive it across the line.”
Dixon (#9 PNC Bank/Ganassi Racing) entered the race with a comfortable 29 point lead over Alexander Rossi which gave him enough cushion to clinch the title with a third place finish even if Rossi won the race.
Starting the race from the sixth position Rossi (#27 NAPA Auto Parts/Andretti Autosport) tried to make things happen early when he attempted to move through the field on the opening lap. Unfortunately, the 2016 Indy 500 winner clipped the back of his teammate Marco Andretti climbing the hill after turn #1 which forced him to the pits for a new front wing.
“It was unfortunate because we had a great start, but it was just a case of two cars going for the same spot at the same time,” explained Rossi. “I wish I could replay that, but that is just the way it is.”
Rossi’s crew was able to make repairs to get him back out on the lead lap, but he now sat dead last in the 25 car field.
Rossi would spend the rest of the race desperately trying to make up ground on the leaders. He was able to methodically climb back to 4th on lap 65, but that proved to be his high water mark as he faded in the final laps to 7th after running short on fuel.
Rossi was quick offer his congratulations to Dixon who is one of the most respected drivers in the series.
“There is a reason he is a five time champion. It has been a pleasure to compete against him all year and we will do our best to one up him next September.”
Will Power, the 2018 Indy 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud and Marco Andretti rounded out the top five finishers. In all, 20 of the 25 starters were able to finish on the lead lap in a race that saw only a single yellow-caution.
For many drivers and fans the race was bittersweet. After 14 years of racing in the wine country the series will be moving its 2019 finale from Sonoma to Weather Tech Raceway at Laguna Seca, which last hosted the Indy cars as part of the CART series in 2004.
“I am really going to miss this place. It’s unbelievable that after all these years of trying to win at this place that we finally do it and now we are not coming back,” lamented Hunter-Reay. “We finally discovered the secret to the right setup and now we can’t use it.