2016 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma Analysis: 3 Things We Learned

Simon Pagenaud won the 2016 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma (and everything else), but here’s what we took away from IndyCar’s season finale.

The 2016 IndyCar season is now part of the history books, with Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud celebrating his first league championship after leading all but nine laps of Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

It wasn’t just about whether Pagenaud or Will Power would be the new champion, or even who won the race. There were so many different stories coming out of the final showdown, many of which had a little something to teach us about the year as a whole.

From the No. 22 car literally driving away with the victory to the little things that could have been all throughout the field there were plenty of talking points by the end of the 2016 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma.

Here are the three takeaways we had from IndyCar’s final race of the season:

1) Sometimes you have to lose, to win

Congratulations to Pagenaud on winning his first championship. But hey, remember last year when he was the most ballyhooed free agent coming over to Team Penske, and got roundly criticized because he couldn’t win even one race? Seems like we’re talking about a totally different guy, doesn’t it?

But we’re not. And if the Simon Pagenaud of 2015 hadn’t happened, then we wouldn’t be cheering the Simon Pagenaud of 2016. That’s what Pagenaud himself told us in our most recent interview with the new champion. The struggles he went through in his first year with Penske enabled him to rise above in the next. So perhaps when we evaluate IndyCar drivers we shouldn’t judge them by one line on the scorecard. Maybe, possibly, they’re just one year away from breaking through.

2) We need to stop with the ‘old’ talk already

Speaking of IndyCar fans being a little harsh, we need to immediately cease all suggestions that the series’ veteran drivers should consider retirement. Juan Pablo Montoya, he who does not like being asked such a question, quietly finished third on Sunday.

His fellow statesman Helio Castroneves came in seventh at the race but captured third place in the IndyCar championship standings as a result, while Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan earned the seventh spot in the league even though his race day was upended by early contact with Mikhail Aleshin.

Are these really the results of drivers who should retire? Top 10 finishers in the championship, still capturing podium places, and we’re saying they should hang it up? Some people should be eating their words today.

3) There’s a glimmer of hope for Andretti Autosport

The struggles of Andretti Autosport have been well-documented this year; the team’s only win came at the Indianapolis 500 and they otherwise seemed to be permanently cursed, Ryan Hunter-Reay particularly.

But Sunday was a bit of a reprieve for the third of the Big Three IndyCar teams, as both Hunter-Reay and Indy 500 champ Alexander Rossi finished in the top five at Sonoma. It can’t erase a season full of hardship but at least it’s something positive for them to end 2016 on, and especially as Andretti ponders its future, it’s nice to see that they can still climb their way up with the powerhouses of Penske and Ganassi. Now how many of their drivers will be here in 2017?

What were your takeaways from the 2016 GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma?