Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dixon/Ganassi Triple-Down & Double-Up To Wrest Control At The GoPro GP of Sonoma

Target Chip Ganassi Racing owner, Chip Ganassi, and Verizon IndyCar Series 2015 season champion, Scott Dixon share some GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma race and 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season championship winner's circle euphoria before official GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma race trophy presentations begin. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

Dixon/Ganassi Triple-Down & Double-Up To Wrest Control At The GoPro GP of Sonoma

In the media room, around the paddocks, and campgrounds around Sonoma Raceway at Sears Point, there were speculations as to who would win the Verizon IndyCar Series 2015 season finale race and, due to a double-points award, potentially win the season championship.

At no point in the lead up to this final race was there a story line that included Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon, who sat at P3, 47 points behind Penske's Juan Pablo Montoya (JPM), not just winning the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma ... but further, the 2015 American open-wheel racing championship.

Almost all of the pre-race chatter centered on "just who" had what it would take to get the most points through qualifications, bonus points, and win the race (obviously, Will Power) ... or who had the charge to grab the championship and maybe the race from Penske Racing and JPM (obviously, Graham Rahal).

Scott Dixon, and the PR Department of Target Chip Ganassi Racing were the consummate ghosts. Little was being speculated about in pre-race press releases and interviews from this organization about their chances at the Sonoma Raceway finale and the IndyCar season.

However, at race's end and at post-race press conferences - the floodgates of strategic possibility thinking opened up ... and a few folks were surprised at the final tie-breaking results.

Target Chip Ganassi's race strategist, Mike Hull in the Winner's Circle with race winner and 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series Astor Cup winner, Scott Dixon. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

Post Race Press Conference:

THE MODERATOR: The mindset going in, [describe] what you needed to accomplish today.

MIKE HULL: I'm sorry, I can only do two things at once. We knew we had to win the race. We knew that before we arrived here. We did get the opportunity to come, IndyCar extended the opportunity with the rule book for us to come here and test two weeks ago. We spent half a day with Scott on the racetrack, and Friday we used all day and we virtually wore the tires out trying to understand what we would need today, and that's what we did today, and we worked on what we call the mechanical balance of the race car to achieve what we achieved today.

It just really is important when you have a driver like Scott as an owner like Chip and people that work for us and a sponsor like Target that you do get the most out of every day, and I think that's what we did today, but it started well before today in terms of having a race-able product.
Q. Mike, a couple of drivers told me it's very difficult to overtake here. Was your strategy before the race built on pit stops to bring Scott to the front?

MIKE HULL: [Mike pulls out a sheet of graph paper - and waves it - with three pitstops noted on it] ... Pit on lap 61, that's what ‑‑ well, we came in on 62, so even we make a mistake.

We wanted it to be a three‑stop race, so what we did was we worked really hard from the very beginning of the weekend to create a three‑stop event for us this weekend, and we knew we had to get to 61. If we could get to 61 as everybody thinned out on the racetrack with the track position gained throughout the stops, we thought we had a chance to win the race. We didn't think it would turn out quite the way it did in terms of we thought there would be two or three other guys there trying to make it hard on us, and at the end it was a little easier than what we thought to be honest about it, but it was still very difficult. I think what you do as a race team when you deal with strategy is you look at what you have. If you know you have a driver and car capable of winning the race, then what you simply do is work for the pit windows that you need to have to achieve something at the front.

But the bottom ‑‑ the denominator is we had to win. We had to win the race.
(ht: VICS)

During the race broadcast on NBCSN, Mike Hull was interviewed at the TCGR pit box immediately after the second round of pitstops where Scott Dixon was able to leap-frog pass from P3 (behind P1 - Will Power and P2 - Josef Newgarden) to the lead of the race on a 6 second timed pit stop - (paraphrased) "All I asked from our pit crew before the race was 18 seconds of work. We train for hours and hours for just this circumstance and I needed for them to give me three pitstops at 6 seconds apiece - two down, one to go!"

Now that's a Triple-Down.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal as he follows TCGR's Tony Kanaan up the drag strip straight after exiting the Carousel turn during the early part of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)  

This excerpted and edited from Tribute Racing -

Dixon takes victory and championship after wacky race in Sonoma
By: Josh Farmer - AUGUST 30, 2015

After a two hour Wild West showdown, Scott Dixon eventually emerged as the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion after taking the win in the GoPro Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway.

Pole sitter Will Power picked up from where he left off in qualifying yesterday as he jumped into an early lead over Josef Newgarden. The drama started early as the leaders made their first pitstops on lap 15. Newgarden came in right behind Power but was blocked by Power’s Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud as stopped right in front of Newgarden. Newgarden sped out through Pagenaud’s pit stall and only lost a small amount of time to Power.

Meanwhile, a few teams including Sebastian Saavedra and Marco Andretti, elected to roll the dice on strategy and stretch their fuel longer than the lead contenders before the lead cycled back around to Power on lap 25.

Penske Racing's Juan Pablo Montoya is running P4 on Lap 9 with Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon closing in from P5 to track him down in the Bus Stop complex of turns. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

A yellow flag for Luca Filippi’s throttle failure on lap 33 brought the field down down pit road. At this point, Scott Dixon’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing pit crew saw that it was time to go to put their driver in position to take the championship and performed a trademark Ganassi pitstop to get the Kiwi to the front of the queue.

A number of drivers on an alternate strategy stayed out which put the drivers had been leading the race down the leaderboard. The race would get dramatic as Juan Montoya rear ended Power, damaging his front wing and bringing out a yellow while Tony Kanaan would take the lead.

Kanaan held the lead on the restart but the same strategy that put him in the lead took him out of it when he pitted on lap 51, which handed the lead over to Dixon.

With Montoya burried in the field, Dixon assumed the points lead and would need a clean final pitstop and no mistakes on the track. On lap 63, the crew did exactly that and was perfect while his closest rival Newgarden stalled on pit road, taking him out of contention.

With Dixon up front, Montoya’s efforts were beginning to shrink but drama involving his season long championship rival, Graham Rahal.

Rahal had been struggling to find the handle on his car for much of the day but found himself in seventh place, his hopes still alive.

His hopes came to an end when Sebastien Bourdais rear ended him at the end of the dragstrip and spun him out. With Rahal out if the picture and Bourdais assesed a penalty for avoidable contact, Montoya soon found himself in a tiebreaker scenario with Dixon.

He would still need to pass one more car to get the points lead: Ryan Briscoe.

Montoya’s black tires would seem to prove better than Briscoe’s red tires and he chopped a few tenths a lap off his lead while Dixon was smooth sailing up front.

Dixon crossed the line 6.1115 ahead of Ryan Hunter Reay and it was enough to take the championship as Montoya couldn’t get to Briscoe.
Hunter-Reay claimed his second straight podium while Charlie Kimball capped of the season with his third podium of the year.

Tony Kanaan claimed fourth and Ryan Briscoe completed his fill in duties for James Hinchcliffe with a fifth place finish.

Montoya would have to settle for second in the championship, followed by teammate Power and Rahal, who entered the race second in points. Helio Castroneves made it three Penske cars in the top five. A strong end to the season lifted Ryan Hunter-Reay to sixth in the standings while Josef Newgarden’s pit miscue dropped him to seventh in points.
(Reference Here)

The transporter for Penske Racing's Juan Pablo Montoya was located right across from the garage station of Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon. Here, Montoya is sitting on the stoop, watching the garage across the way (see reflection in mirrored door behind JPM). Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

Sour grapes flooded the wine country racetrack's paddock area with the talk about the influence of having this race be awarded with twice the number of points given out for the results of the season finale race.

This excerpted and edited from STUFF -

IndyCar runner-up Juan Pablo Montoya questions Scott Dixon's series triumph
By: - Last updated 11:20, September 1 2015

IndyCar series runner-up Juan Pablo Montoya has questioned whether Scott Dixon was a deserved winner, saying the Kiwi had a "s**t" season.

Montoya was furious the crucial final race at Sonoma on Monday carried double points.

Dixon won, and his Colombian rival finished sixth at Sonoma, so lost the championship on countback [tie-breaker] after leading all season.

Montoya did not take it in good humour, lashing out at the post-race press conference.

"Dixon had a s**t season all year and had one good race, and we paid the penalty."

Montoya wants the double-points system reconsidered, though he holds little hope that it will be changed.

"We'll see if they [IndyCar] change it, but they like the excitement for the last race," he said.

"Is it fair? No, but we go into the last race of the year knowing it's a double‑points race.

"Is it fair for a normal championship? No, it's not fair, but it's the rules they want to play with, and if you don't like the rules, don't race."
"It sucks, but when you make the last race double-points on a road course and you change the tyre and you do everything you did for this weekend and you put so many variables, it doesn't even matter what you do all year."

Dixon, who was one of six drivers still in with a title chance, won the 2003, 2008 and 2013 series.

He has finished runner-up in the series twice and has been third four times in a 13-year IndyCar career.


Actual championship standings

1 Dixon 556
2 Montoya 556
3 Power 493

Standings without double score for Sonoma

1 Montoya 528
2 Dixon 506
3 Rahal 478

Standings with no double scores at all *

1 Montoya 478
2 Dixon 474
3 Rahal 448

* Montoya got double points for winning the Indianapolis 500
(Reference Here)

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Graham Rahal had a season for the ages. Driving the troubled Honda-powered and aerodynamically outfitted Steak 'N Shake Dallara, he entered the race just 34 points behind Juan Pablo Montoya in P2 and finished P4 in the season championship after his car was pushed off of the track by four-time champion Sebastien Bourdais. Here, Rahal finishes the Bus Stop complex of turns on his way to finishing P4 in the VICS championship. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

For Graham Rahal's part, he agrees with JPM on the assessment about double points being awarded for any race (from post-race transcript):

Q. Graham, Juan came in here and not a fan of the double points. He was not, at least. But aside from that, how do you think the championship from that standpoint is going?  Should they drop them from Indy or keep them just at Indy and drop them from the end?

GRAHAM RAHAL: I don't think any race should have double points.

Q. What about the double‑header part?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Those are two races. Just like Indy, why there's points for qualifying is stupid. I know what they're trying to do, trying to make it more interesting, trying to get everybody ‑‑ but everybody is already hanging out on the line, and all you're doing is benefiting the big teams. Like for instance, us, it killed us this year. Definitely is not to our advantage.

Obviously there's two sides to me here on this weekend because obviously if it had been single points or normal points, I'd have been in trouble. I think it made it interesting, you know, at the end. If I look, I finished fourth. If I'd finished one more position up, I think I would have tied Power for third and fourth, and obviously the No. 1 and 2 tied, and I think we would have beat Power on a head‑to‑head on a tiebreaker, I think. But it was interesting.

However, I don't think any race should be valued above another. I know people will say the Indy 500 should, but I think every race is equally important if you're looking at a championship. Anyway, just my take.

Just like we tried the double‑file restarts and all that stuff. We don't need gimmicks in this sport to make it exciting I don't think.
(ht: VICS)

The No. 98 Bryan Herta Autosport Honda Dallara driven by soon to be 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie-Of-The-Year Gabby Chaves as it negotiates the Bus Stop complex of corners (with wheel up) at Sonoma Raceway during the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale race. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

Besides that it was a great day for Scott Dixon and the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, it was also a great day for Bryan Herta Autosport and their rookie Mazda Ladder Series driver, Gabby Chaves.

Post Race Press Conference:

GABBY CHAVES (No. 98 Bowers & Wilkins / Curb Honda): "It was a very eventful race for us. We barely made it to the start.

Actually we didn't even make the starting grid, so we started about half a lap back. We had a battery problem so that was unfortunate. We think we had the right strategy and had the right pace, but once we started being it was just like we didn't really know where to go and it was hard to get rhythm behind other cars that we were much faster than.

Twice we got caught out by a yellow flag, right as we were pitting and had to bail out from pitting. We obviously lost position trying to do that and screwed up our strategy.

It was just a rough day all around, but I think our pace is good and we have to work on a few things.

I am happy with the way our Bryan Herta Autosport team worked out this year and we couldn't do it without our sponsors, Bowers & Wilkins, Castrol Edge, Deltro Electric,, and of course having Honda in our car. It was a fun season and I look forward to what 2016 has to bring." (ht: VICS)

Scott Dixon signs a hat during the post race - post championship press conference. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2015)

Post Race Press Conference:

Q. You made both championship, first Champ Car and then IndyCar later on when it was founded. Is there anything in those championships from the technology point of view, you're very impressed, aero package, engine, whatever?

CHIP GANASSI: Well, I mean, all of it is. It's a matter of ‑‑ I think from our point of view, we're just the race team. I mean, we look at the rule book, this guy to my right and I, you look at the rule book each year and you figure out what the rules are, and you go out and try to win races with what the sanctioning body gives you, what the drivers give you, what the engine manufacturers give you, what the tires give you. You've got all these sort of inputs and you've got to take all those sort of inputs and you have to make something of it, and whoever makes the best of that package, whatever it is, is going to be the champion at the end of the year. And that's how it's been for every championship.

Each one ‑‑ none are the same. None of the championships are the same because the rules are different, a little different each year. The points systems are different. You know, the technology is different. We've done it with different engine packages, we've done it with different tires, we've done it with different cars and we've done it with different drivers.

My hat's off to Mike here on my right for putting the team together so many times over the years that just takes all these inputs that you have from different constituencies in the sport. In actual fact we have very little control ‑‑ teams have no control over the sanctioning body, we have no control over the rules, we have no control over the engines, we have no control over the tires.

We give our opinion, but I think rarely ‑‑ if we give our opinion, they do the opposite, you know. But it's just a matter of taking all those things that they give you and putting them in a ‑‑ I refer to it as baking the pie.

You put all those ingredients together and you put it in the oven and at the beginning of the season. You hope at the end of the season the pie comes out good, and fortunately it did here today.
(ht: VICS)

What a fitting end to an arguable Top 5 best ever competitive season, in the history of American open-wheel racing championship seasons.

With a "Triple-Down" strategy on 6 second pitstops combined with a "Double-Up" on awarded race points for bonuses and finishing place, we are able to crown and add a rare 4-Time open-wheel series champion through a tie-breaker, based on winning three races, during this 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship season.

BRAVO ... that was one great pie!

... notes from The EDJE

TAGS: GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, Scott Dixon, Sonoma Raceway, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Mike Hull, Chip Ganassi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power, Graham Rahal, Penske Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, The EDJE, Josh Farmer, STUFF,