Heading into Sunday’s Indycar series finale at Sonoma Raceway the championship was all but decided. The last race of the 2016 season was the fitting end to a fantastic season for Simon Pagenaud and his Penske teammates. Pagenaud led nearly every lap after starting on pole to claim his fifth victory of the season and his first series championship. The Frenchman led a sweep of the top three positions in the overall standings for Roger Penske’s outfit.
Only teammate Will Power had a chance to overtake Pagenaud but when he suffered mechanical issues that put him many laps down any chance of a title fight was over. However there was other business to finish. There was still the goal to have three Penske drivers take the top three spots in the standings and that wouldn’t be settled until the very end.
Despite his troubles, Power managed to gain just enough points to remain second overall. Helio Castroneves, who used a very different strategy than his other two teammates, also collected enough points to finish third.
What could be more fitting than for the IndyCar series mainstay Penske Racing to claim the top three spots during their 50th anniversary season.
Their attention to every detail is what makes them such a powerhouse.
When Pagenaud knew he’d clinched the title his first thought was to do whatever he could to help Power and Castroneves secure their positions. Penske drivers are allowed to race each other, but more so than any other IndyCar outfit they are about the team, that always comes first.
It wasn’t the dramatic finish to the season we saw a year ago when Scott Dixon snatched the title from Juan Pablo Montoya in the final race of the season. This year Pagenaud finished second in the first two races and then ripped off three consecutive victories serving notice he was the man to beat in 2016.
When Power got hot late in the season and it looked like he might just overtake his teammate, Pagenaud and company didn’t panic. They refocused their efforts and came away with a solid result at Watkins Glen two weeks ago putting them in the drivers seat. And with yesterday’s victory at Sonoma put an exclamation mark on a spectacular season.
There were high expectations when Pagenaud joined Team Penske at the start of 2015. Knowing what both brought to the program it seemed certain they’d be a force right out of the gate. But like any sports team or other group in life, chemistry takes time and can’t be rushed. It took time, but it was worth the wait and now the question is immediately being asked, how many titles can Pagenaud and Penske win together?
Canadian James Hinchcliffe had a difficult weekend at the season finale. A crash in practice and then a disappointing qualifying effort illustrated the struggles for the Schmidt Peterson team. During the race the Mayor of Hinchtown did manage to move forward, in fact he gained five spots right off the start. The Oakville native said afterwards, “The car was better in the race than it had been all weekend.” Hinchcliffe would finish 12th. Not terrible, but not great.
Hinchcliffe’s season of competition isn’t over, however. He’s back in L.A. to continue with the latest season of Dancing with the Stars. After a great opening week he’s got to be considered one of the front-runners.