The Three Headed Race – Laguna Seca Preview

It seems as if we get to the NTT Indycar Series finale sooner every year. St. Pete was just three weeks ago, wasn’t it?  Yet, we enter this weekend with a race to decide the series championship.  Three drivers have the most reasonable chance to win the Astor Cup thanks to the double points awarded for this race.

The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey marks the return of Indycar to Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca after 15 years away. CART raced here from 1983 -2003, and Champ Car sanctioned the final race in 2004. Only four active drivers, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Tony Kanaan have raced here in an Indycar series.  Bobby Rahal won four straight races from 1984-1987 and was also  the winning car owner a couple of times.

The entire field’s lack of experience on the 2.258 mile track makes this race a wildcard as far as picking a winner. It’s probably not the best place to determine a champion. A February test was not helpful because of the very different weather conditions.  The six hours of testing today could give us an idea of what the weekend holds.

There are three races contained in this one event. Besides the battle for the championship, there is the race itself and the fight for rookie of the year. Josef Newgarden leads Alexander Rossi by 41 points and Simon Pagenaud by 42. Newgarden needs a fourth place finish Sunday to win the title no matter what anyone else does. The lower that Rossi and Pagenaud finish, the lower Newgarden can finish and stay safe.

Felix Rosenqvist leads Santino Ferrucci by 26 points for Rookie of the Year. Ferrucci has completed the second most laps this season, but natural road courses have not been his strength. The rookie class has been outstanding this year. I’ll talk more about their great year in my season review.

And we have the race itself. I feel sorry for the raqce winner of the season finale because of the focus on the championship. The winner usually gets a quick celebration and then is whisked away so the season championship can be celebrated. I don’t mean to take anything away from the series champion, but a race win deserves proper honors.

Qualifying Key, Passing at a Premium?

In past Indycar races here, passing was difficult. Other than the infamous Alex Zanardi pass on Bryan Herta in 1996, there has not been much passing to talk about. I have maintained from the time it happened that the  pass was illegal.

Tire degradation may help make passing possible. the IMSA drivers said last week that tire degradation was the worst they had seen.

Qualifying may determine how the race goes. Staring position could determine a contender’s chances at the title. I look for a great battle for the pole on Saturday. The bonus point for starting first may turn out to be valuable on Sunday.

Down to the Final Race Again

2019 is the 14th straight year that the championship has not been decided until the final race.  Since 2013, only once has the points leader entering the season finale not won the title. In 2015, Juan Pablo Montoya came into the final race at Sonoma with a 34 point lead over Graham Rahal. Scott Dixon,  42 points behind as the race started, won the championship on a tiebreaker over Montoya by winning the race.

Newgarden is in a very good position. He needs to avoid the mistakes he has made at Detroit in Race 2 and at Mid Ohio this year. Rossi has been good but not great this season. He almost needs another race like he had at Road America in June to have a chance. Pagenaud has been mainly a steady top ten finisher this season and will need to contend for a podium. I think Newgarden will do enough to take his second title in three years.

For the actual race, I think either Rossi or Dixon will win.  Dixon needs for Newgarden to have a very bad day to even have a sniff at repeating last year’s title. A Rossi win will just narrow the margin but not be enough for him to overtake the points leader.

Season Ending Goodbyes

The end of the season marks the end of ABC Supply Co.’s 15 year association with A. J. Foyt Racing. The company will still sponsor the number 14 car at the Indianapolis 500, but that is all. I want to thank them for their support of Indycar for more than a decade.

Could this be Tony Kanaan’s last drive as a full time participant in the series? Kanaan wants to run one more season, but will he get that opportunity? I could see him driving a one off for the 500 for a few more years.

Harding Steinbrenner racing may be no more after Sunday.  Colton herta is expected to join Andretti Autosport next year in a fifth car. George Steinbrenner is expected to come with him to Andretti.  Will Mike Harding still field a car? We might get some answers this weekend.

Reminder- the race is on NBC. If you have set your DVR to record the series on NBCSN, you need to set it to record the race on NBC. You’re welcome.

I will be on site beginning Friday with reports on all sessions and any news that happens.