Montoya leads six-man title fight as IndyCar heads to finale in Sonoma

As Justin Wilson’s condition casts a pall over the Verizon IndyCar Series, it must continue to forge ahead to this weekend’s championship finale at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday. Wilson remains in a coma in serious condition at the Lehigh Valley Health Network Cedar Crest Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania, after he was hit in the head by a piece of debris from Sage Karam’s car after it crashed while leading the race with 21 laps to go in Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.

Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya

On a day like this, even the championship seems trivial but six drivers have a mathematical shot at the 2016 championship and three remain in serious contention for the title.

By finishing third, Team Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya increased his lead over Graham Rahal from nine points to 34 entering Sunday’s Go Pro Grand Prix of Sonoma – a race that will pay double points. Rahal finished 20th after he was taken out of the race in a crash with Tristan Vautier on Lap 93. Scott Dixon remains third in the standings but dropped from 34 out to 47 points behind after finishing ninth in Sunday’s wreck-marred contest that was slowed for caution 12 times for 74 of the 200 laps in the race.

Defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power is 61 points behind, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves is 77 out and Josef Newgarden is 87 behind Montoya. The latter three drivers are mathematically eligible but realistically their chances are very slim.

Montoya can clinch his second series championship if he finishes first or second in Sunday’s race. He can also clinch it by finishing third in the race and collecting all the bonus points if Rahal does not win the race.

“We’re down but we’re not out,” Rahal said. “We’ve had a good year, nothing to be ashamed about. We’ll go to Sonoma in attack mode.”

Dixon’s task is much more difficult. He would have to win the race and Montoya would have to finish fifth or lower. He was confident of making up the deficit on Montoya, who was starting 19th at Pocono.
Update: IndyCar driver Justin Wilson remains in critical condition

“We made a lot of adjustments to the Target car throughout the race and we were really just working with the track changes every time we came in,” Dixon said after his disappointing finish. “I was hanging back a bit to save some fuel so we could move up a bit later. It just never really materialized with the way the yellows fell and with that final yellow ending the race with no chance for a restart.”

By battling his way from 19th starting position to third place, Montoya has never finished lower than third in any 500-mile race that he has entered. He is a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and won at Pocono in 2014.

Montoya is prepared to add the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship to his 1999 CART title next Sunday at Sonoma.

“I approach it the same thing as every week – go out there and do the best we can, see what happens,” Montoya said. “It’s double points, so it’s open for anything. I feel if we run a smart day all day, we’ll be fine.”

After qualifying way back in 19th position – combined with Rahal’s best qualification effort of the season (fifth) the championship race appeared primed for a shakeup.

In the end, it was Montoya strengthening his lead.
Watch highlights from Sunday’s IndyCar race at Pocono

“Our Verizon Chevy was strong all day,” he said. “We ran a smart race. It’s tough. Sometimes you’re racing somebody and you get all excited and you kind of forget why you’re here and what you need to be doing, that it’s a 500-mile race.

“I gained places where I could gain places. Then when I couldn’t, I was like, ‘OK, let’s save some fuel.’ I think that really helped one of the stops right before the caution. It was really good.

“We executed well all day. I felt we had a car to win the race. It was really, really quick. I felt I needed to be smart about it.”