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Dixon Cements Place In History with Fourth IndyCar Title
As the Verizon IndyCar Series season drew closer to its exciting conclusion, everybody knew that the double-points finale at Sonoma Raceway could be the wild card in the championship.
Juan Pablo Montoya entered the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with a 34-point cushion on second-place Graham Rahal and a 47-point lead on Scott Dixon.
But it was Dixon, who started ninth, who departed Wine Country with the INDYCAR championship. Dixon won for the second consecutive year at Sonoma over Ryan Hunter-Reay to claim his fourth series title.
Montoya, who finished sixth, and Dixon finished the season tied with 556 points but won the title on the first tiebreaker by virtue of his three victories, one of which came at the Firestone 600 in June at Texas Motor Speedway, to two for Montoya.
It was the third time the series champion was decided with a tiebreaker. The first came in 1999 when Montoya won his first Indy car title edging out Dario Franchitti, while in 2006 Sam Hornish Jr. won the title over Dan Wheldon.
By recording his fourth series championship, Dixon joins Mario Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais and Franchitti as four-time champions. The win was his 38th Indy car victory, which is one behind Al Unser for fourth all-time.
The champion was somewhat speechless following the race and his coronation as the series’ new titleholder.
“There was still a chance and that’s what I was hoping for,” Dixon said of the double-points race, which gave him a chance to erase his deficit behind Montoya. “I don’t know what to say. This season, we had some big races, and this was the biggest. We were such a long shot.”
The victory delivered Chip Ganassi Racing’s 100th Indy car win and the team’s 10th championship since it was formed in 1990. That milestone makes them the second INDYCAR team with 100 victories, joining Team Penske with 178.
“I think (Scott)'s arguably the driver of our generation,” Ganassi said following the race. “He is the IndyCar driver of our generation for sure. I think his stats speak for themselves. His numbers against the other all”‘time winners and what have you, he's up on the list there. There's not anybody I'd rather have driving our cars, I can tell you. I mean, he's just a quality ”‘”‘ obviously a quality driver but a quality person, a father, a husband, just the kind of guy you want in your organization. It's that simple. All around, on the track, off the track, he's the complete package.”
Dixon has driven 14 years for the team and knows it was an all-around team effort for them to win the title in 2015.
"We win (championships) as a team, and I feel very blessed to obviously do what I do,” he said. “I love IndyCar racing. "I think the Verizon IndyCar Series is one of the best series in the world. We put on amazing races, and the talent that we have here, the depth, is fantastic. I feel blessed and love waking up being an IndyCar racer as a champion and hope to do so for many more years.
“My teammates (Tony Kannan, Charlie Kimball, Sage Karam and Sebastian Saavedra) this year have been phenomenal,” he added. “They've been fantastic, very good to work with, and sharing ”‘”‘ we share everything, to obviously push the program forward. Obviously we would have liked to have gone into this last race leading the championship and having a few more points, but you know, as Chip said, this is definitely one of if not the most sweetest championships we've had, especially to come in and finish it the way we did.”
The turning point in the title race happened when Montoya made contact with his Penske teammate Will Power, who was also eligible for the championship. Montoya was on the inside of Power entering a corner and Power came down on him. The impact spun Power around and Montoya had front wing damage. He was forced to pit for a new nose and lost valuable track position while Dixon's pit strategy worked like a charm up front.
Montoya got back to the front of the field and was eighth after the race's final restart. He gained two positions after Graham Rahal, who was in sixth, was spun by Sebastian Bourdais. The spin ended any chances of Rahal getting the title and Bourdais was penalized for avoidable contact. Montoya moved up to sixth with four laps to go but had too much ground to make up on fifth-place Ryan Briscoe before the checkered flag fell, finishing just 1.2 seconds out of fifth place. That interval cost him the title.
The 35-year old New Zealander previously won the 2003, 2008 and 2013 championships. Montoya, in his second INDYCAR season since he last raced full-time in American open-wheel racing in 2000, was looking for his first American open-wheel title since 1999.
While the celebration was on-going for Dixon, the race was run a week after the passing of INDYCAR driver Justin Wilson following head injuries he sustained at Pocono Raceway the weekend prior. Several drivers competed with T-shirts bearing Wilson’s name and logo, and pre-race festivities included a video tribute, a moment of silence and the playing of “God Save the Queen.Wilson, 37, will be laid to rest in his hometown of Sheffield, England, this week.