Josef Newgarden became the first American to win the IndyCar title since Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012. Taking his first championship as teammate Simon Pagenaud won the final race of the year
Newgarden took pole on Saturday in a Penske 1-4 and was the favourite going into the race, despite his slender lead over Scott Dixon in the championship. The young American lead the majority of the 85 lap race, which was unusually caution free despite there being so much at stake with five men in with a shout of taking the crown.
Newgarden lead the field away from pole and looked set to secure his first title in his first year at Penske with a dominant win, but teammate Pagenaud went off sequence in a bold attempt to wrestle the championship from Newgarden’s control.
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Pagenaud went onto a four stop strategy, that would require aggressive, fast driving throughout every one of the races 85 laps. Each pitstop saw him close up on the net lead of Newgarden, and after his rivals had made their final stops he was over 30 seconds clear off Newgarden, more than enough to make a pitstop and emerge in the lead of the race.
“It was all year and it took a lot to make it happen. Thank you to my teammates. They were giving me a lot of help to make sure we got this done.To finally get it done is a dream come true.”
As he came out of the pits Newgarden came bearing down on him through turn one and the pair engaged in the only wheel to wheel battle for the lead of the race as they went through Sonoma’s carousel. The Frenchman, however, wasn’t deterred and his tyres were soon up to temperature – giving him the edge he needed to pull away from his rival. Sadly, it still wasn’t enough to secure the title.
Newgarden refused to give up and hounded his teammate until the very end. Pagenaud took a well earned and emotional win as Newgarden took the title in his first year driving for Penske. America’s next big superstar had arrived, and he will surely be a big championship challenger for years to come along the likes of Alexander Rossi.
The man who had fought so hard to win the title over Newgarden, Scott Dixon, couldn’t manage any higher than P4, as he was stuck behind Helio Castroneves for much of the race.
Dixon has still further stamped his status as an IndyCar legend and will surely be back stronger next year. Still, the rest of the grid will have a hard time usurping Newgarden. His season has been as perfect as he could ever hope for and he impressed many who were thankful Penske had given him this opportunity.
America has a new hero, and his name is Josef Newgarden.