Dixon outlasts field at Sonoma after leaders falter

Dixon outlasts field at Sonoma after leaders falter

25 August 2014 – Scott Dixon came from third on the grid to outlast the field in the closing laps to win the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sunday. With Graham Rahal and Mike Conway running out of fuel in their final stints, Dixon patiently waited to inherit the lead before challenging Conway up the hill into Turn 2, then never looking back.

The race originally looked like it was Will Power's to lose with the Australian leading most of the first 40 laps, but as strategies diverged and his Penske machine fell back into the pack, an untimely spin at the hairpin ruined his chances of a win. Instead, he would fall back more than seven spots with over half of the race remaining.

His championship rival Helio Castroneves fared no better, though, as he was caught up in a first lap incident when the field bunched up heading into the second turn. Several other cars and he ended up making contact, forcing the Brazilian into the pits for a nose change way ahead of his scheduled pit stop time. The early deficit proved too difficult to overcome, and more contact later in the race would relegate him to P18.

With Helio finishing so far back, Power (who finished in tenth) now takes a 51-point lead into the final race of the year next week at Fontana. The final leg of the IndyCar Triple Crown, the MAVTV 500 is worth double points, meaning 104 points are still available. This also means that only three drivers are still mathematically in contention for the title – Power, Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, who finished third on Sunday but still trails Power by 81 points.

Takuma Sato finished a season-high fourth on the day ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya, Josef Newgarden (who started second), rookie Mikhail Aleshin, Marco Andretti, Justin Wilson and Power.

Up front, the differing pit strategies allowed Mike Conway and Tony Kanaan to lead the field, but after a while Graham Rahal found his way to the front, chasing Conway with a handful of laps remaining.  When the young American challenged for the lead, Conway's Sarah Fisher Hartman team told him not to fight it since they believed Rahal would be short on fuel anyway.

It turns out they were right, but it didn't end up mattering.  Rahal soon gapped the field but was forced to pit for more petrol with just four laps to go. Team owner Bobby Rahal noted on the radio that they had 'swung for the fences' but didn't quite make it.

Conway charged ahead, but his fuel situation wasn't much better. As he fell into the grasps of Dixon, Conway went into fuel saving mode, meaning his race was run. With a couple of turns to go and the chequered flag in sight, Conway's engine went dry, and cars began to stream past. The Briton would just coast across the line before stopping but not before falling to P14.

In the meantime, Dixon took the lead with confidence, knowing he had made his penultimate stint last a lap longer than his competition. He crossed the line 1.1359s ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay to win his 35th career IndyCar race, tying him for fifth with Bobby Unser on the all-time wins list.

In the end, nearly a quarter of the field would run out of fuel either on the last lap or on the cooldown lap, but Dixon had just enough to do celebratory donuts after crossing the line. With his victory, the Kiwi also becomes the only driver ever to complete every lap in the ten IndyCar races at Sonoma.

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