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The Last Indycar Race At Sonoma Raceway

The Last Indycar Race at Sonoma Raceway

Every year, Katie and I plan to go to at least one major race. In 2018, when it came time for us to decide what race we wanted to go to – an IndyCar race or the Formula One United States Grand Prix – we needed to give it some thought.  While I’ve enjoyed arguably better racing in IndyCar, the appeal of F1 is still undeniable. But when we found out that 2018 would be the last year IndyCar races at Sonoma Raceway, the decision was basically made for us. 

Unfortunately, the IndyCar race at Sonoma has been a money loser for the track, so starting in 2019 the two will be parting ways.  Katie and I have a long-term goal of going to all of the major tracks in the nation and abroad, and while we could always go to another big race at Sonoma such as the NASCAR Cup Series, it felt like we needed to go so we could see the last IndyCar race there.  Besides, it was an IndyCar race in September near Sonoma, California – what’s not to love?

Even better, the IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma was the last race of the season, which made it that much more interesting. For the last few years in F1 the winning constructor and driver were determined well in advance of the last race, which takes a lot of the fun out of the season finale. By contrast, in 2018 the points in IndyCar shook out so that four drivers could potentially come away with the championship at Sonoma, though most realistically either Alexander Rossi or Scott Dixon.

When we arrived at the track, the beauty of the surroundings immediately took me aback. Our seats were located at Turn 2, which is one of the highest points of the track. This gave us a fantastic panoramic view of most of the track, the rolling hills of California wine country, and San Pablo Bay off in the distance. Of course, the consistent weather patterns of the region yielded a high of 70°F, with partly sunny skies. In total, it was a fantastic setting to enjoy the championship race.

The race itself got off to an exciting start. Since Scott Dixon was ahead in the points by a good margin, Alexander Rossi needed a podium finish with Dixon in the middle of the pack to grab the championship. But, Rossi would also need a strong first lap since he qualified in 6th, compared to Dixon’s 2nd.

When the green flags came out to start the race and the pack was approaching Turn 1, Rossi bumped into the back of Marco Andretti, damaging his front wing and blowing a tire in the process.  This sent Rossi limping to the pit lane, and at the end of the first lap he was in the back of the pack.

Many drivers in this situation would give up and relegate themselves to a bad finish. But this was the last race of the season with the championship on the line, and Rossi was there to fight. 

For the rest of the race he fought valiantly, and carved his way through the vast majority of the pack. However, ultimately it was not enough, and he finished in seventh. Meanwhile, Scott Dixon finished second, and took the Indycar championship.

One of the neat things about the last race of the season is that at the end of the race you can watch not only the podium ceremony for the race itself, but also the championship award ceremony as well. As the race was ending, Katie and I got a head start towards the main grandstand so that we could get a spot to see the ceremony.

We plowed our way past exiting fans only to find that the grandstand was…totally empty. And when I say empty, I mean that I could count on one hand the number of fans that stuck around for the ceremony. Even though it was open to everyone, only the press, and the teams’ friends and family actually came to watch Dixon accept the 2018 Indycar Championship trophy.

An empty Sonoma Raceway grandstand watches the Indycar championship ceremony (left).

How disappointing is that? I can’t think of another major sport in which that would happen. I think it speaks volumes to how the fans experience racing in general as compared to the other major sports.

Regardless, it did mean that we were able to get right up close and get some nice photos of Dixon and his family accepting the trophy.

As we were leaving at the end of the ceremony, I couldn’t help but feel sad that such a beautiful track could be unsuccessful in the Indycar season. Not only is the environment itself beautiful, but the track is too. There are several steep elevation changes that take advantage of the hilly setting, and plenty of challenging (and infamous) corners to match.

But, there aren’t many great passing opportunities, so the quality of open wheel racing ultimately suffers. In the end I understand the decision to move on, and I’m just glad we got the chance to see the last Indycar race there.

Looking to the future, I’m thrilled that the race is moving to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – one of the most legendary tracks in the United States, and one of my personal favorites. I can’t wait to see the cars dance their way down the corkscrew. If it’s as I expect, then the Indycar race there will be one of the best in the entire schedule. Now we just need to figure out how soon we can get out there!

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