Fast Facts-Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

From Indycar. Look for my preview tomorrow.

Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey Fast Facts

Race weekend: Friday, Sept. 17 – Sunday, Sept. 19

Track: WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, a 2.258-mile permanent road course in Monterey, California

Race distance: 95 laps / 214.51 miles

Media Links: Entry List (PDF) | Driver Video Quotes 

Push-to-pass parameters: 150 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 15 seconds per activation.

Firestone tire allotment: Six sets primary, four sets alternate. Teams must use one set of primary and one new set of alternate tires in the race. (Note: A seventh set of primary tires is available to any car fielding a rookie driver.)

Twitter: @WeatherTechRcwy@IndyCar, #IndyCar #FirestoneGP

Event website: www.WeatherTechRaceway.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2019 race winner (most recent): Colton Herta (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda)

2019 pole winner (most recent): Colton Herta (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda), 1 minute, 10.1405 seconds, 114.867 mph

Qualifying record: Helio Castroneves, 1:07.722, 118.969 mph, Sept. 8, 2000

NBC television broadcast: Race, 3 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 19, NBC (live). Leigh Diffey is the lead announcer alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy.

Peacock Premium Live Streaming: This weekend’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice sessions and qualifying will stream live on Peacock Premium, NBC’s direct-to-consumer live streaming product.

INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes will be the lead announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query, Nick Yeoman and Michael Young are the turn announcers. Dan Rusanowsky and Alex Wolff will report from the pits. The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will air live on network affiliates, SiriusXM 205 and 211, indycar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA. All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practices and qualifying are available on SiriusXM 205, indycar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, Sept. 17

2:30–3:15 p.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice 1, Peacock Premium (live)

Saturday, Sept. 18

10:45–11:30 a.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice 2, Peacock Premium (live)

2:05 p.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), Peacock Premium (live)

Sunday, Sept. 19

9-9:30 a.m.– NTT INDYCAR SERIES warmup, Peacock Premium (live)

11:50 a.m. – Driver introductions

Noon – NBC on air

12:23 p.m. – Start engines command

12:30 p.m. – Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (95 laps/214.51 miles), NBC (live)

Championship Facts:

  • Alex Palou leads the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship with two races to go for the first time in his career. Palou has led the point standings after nine of the 14 races this season.
  • Palou leads Pato O’Ward by 25 points with Josef Newgarden (-34), Scott Dixon (-49) and Marcus Ericsson (-75) behind. Palou assumed the point lead following his win at Portland. The lead has changed hands six times between Palou, O’Ward and Dixon.
  • There are five drivers still mathematically eligible for the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship: Alex Palou, Pato O’Ward, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson. Any driver who trails the points leader by 54 points or more following the race will be eliminated from contention.
  • Since the first INDYCAR SERIES race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the winning driver has won the INDYCAR SERIES championship six times: Bobby Rahal (1986 and 1987), Danny Sullivan (1988), Michael Andretti (1991), Alex Zanardi (1998) and Cristiano da Matta (2002).

Key championship point statistic: Since 2008, the driver who has led the championship with two races to go has failed to win the championship five times. Scott Dixon in 2008, 2018 and 2020, Dario Franchitti in 2011, Will Power in 2014, Simon Pagenaud in 2016 and Josef Newgarden in 2017 and 2019 are the exceptions who have won the title after leading with two races remaining.

Don’t call it a comeback: No point lead is ever safe in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Five times since 2008, a driver has made up a deficit with two races to go to win the championship – Dario Franchitti, who trailed Ryan Briscoe by four points in 2009 and Will Power by 23 points in 2010; Ryan Hunter-Reay, who trailed Will Power by five points with two races remaining in 2012, Scott Dixon, who was in third place, 48 points behind Juan Pablo Montoya in 2015 and Power who overcame a four-point deficit to Helio Castroneves in 2014.

CHAMPIONSHIP WITH TWO TO GO (2008-2021)

YEARLEADERSECOND LEADCHAMPION
2008Scott DixonHelio Castroneves78Scott Dixon
2009Ryan BriscoeDario Franchitti4Dario Franchitti
2010Will PowerDario Franchitti23Dario Franchitti
2011Dario FranchittiWill Power26Dario Franchitti
2012Will PowerRyan Hunter-Reay5Ryan Hunter-Reay
2013Helio CastronevesScott Dixon49Scott Dixon
2014Will PowerHelio Castroneves4Will Power
2015Juan Pablo MontoyaGraham Rahal42Scott Dixon (-48)
2016Simon PagenaudWill Power27Simon Pagenaud
2017Josef NewgardenScott Dixon18Josef Newgarden
2018Scott DixonAlexander Rossi29Scott Dixon
2019Josef NewgardenAlexander Rossi35Josef Newgarden
2020Scott DixonJosef Newgarden72Scott Dixon
2021Alex PalouPato O’Ward25?

RACE NOTES:

  • There have been nine different winners in 14 NTT INDYCAR SERIES races this season. Alex Palou (Barber Motorsports Park, Road America, Portland International Raceway), Colton Herta (Streets of St. Petersburg), Scott Dixon (Texas Motor Speedway-1), Pato O’Ward (Texas Motor Speedway-2, Raceway at Belle Isle Park-2), Rinus VeeKay (Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course-1), Helio Castroneves (Indianapolis 500), Marcus Ericsson (Raceway at Belle Isle Park-1, Streets of Nashville), Josef Newgarden (Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, World Wide Technology Raceway) and Will Power (Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course-2) have all won in 2021. The modern record (1946-present) for most different winners in a season is 11 in 2000, 2001 and 2014.
  • There have been seven different winners in the last 10 NTT INDYCAR SERIES races (Rinus VeeKay, Helio Castroneves, Alex PalouMarcus Ericsson, Pato O’WardJosef Newgarden and Will Power) The only repeat winners in that stretch are, Ericsson (Raceway at Belle Isle Park-1 and Streets of Nashville), Newgarden (Mid-Ohio and WWT Raceway) and Palou (Road America and Portland).
  • The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be the 24th INDYCAR SERIES race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, but just the second since 2004. Teo Fabi won the first INDYCAR SERIES race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in 1983. Colton Herta – who won the most recent race at the track in 2019 – and Helio Castroneves -who won at the track in 2000 – are the only former winners entered in this year’s race.
  • Thirteen drivers have won at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca from the pole – Teo Fabi (1983), Bobby Rahal (1985), Danny Sullivan (1988), Rick Mears (1989), Danny Sullivan (1990), Michael Andretti (1991 and 1992), Paul Tracy (1994), Alex Zanardi (1996), Bryan Herta (1998 and 1999), Helio Castroneves (2000), Cristiano da Matta (2002), Patrick Carpentier (2003) and Colton Herta (2019).
  • Team Penske has won six times at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Penske’s winning drivers are Danny Sullivan (1988 and 1990), Rick Mears (1989), Paul Tracy (1993 and 1994) and Helio Castroneves (2000). Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has three wins with Bryan Herta (1998-99) and Max Papis (2001). Chip Ganassi Racing has two wins with Alex Zanardi in 1996 and Jimmy Vasser in 1997.
  • Eighteen drivers entered in the event have competed in past INDYCAR SERIES races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Helio Castroneves has four starts, most among the entered drivers, but hasn’t raced at the track since 2001. Five entered drivers have led laps at the track (Colton Herta 83, Will Power 6, Scott Dixon 2, Sebastien Bourdais 1 and Simon Pagenaud 1).
  • Four rookies – Romain GrosjeanCallum IlottJimmie Johnson and Scott McLaughlin – are expected to compete. The four rookies, along with veteran drivers Oliver AskewDalton KellettPato O’WardAlex Palou and Rinus VeeKay, will all be making their first INDYCAR SERIES at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Another Oval on the Endangered Species List?

The signs were there and yesterday I was able to confirm through several sources that World Wide Technology Raceway will host a NASCAR races June 5, 2022. I have many feelings about this announcement, which becomes official this morning. First, I am insulted as an Indycar fan at the post WWTR put out the other day about the track’s local announcement. To paraphrase, the track said the announcement would be the biggest in the track’s motorsports history.

Second, I fear for Indycar’s future at the track as well as how modifications NASCAR will inevitably want to make will affect the racing. NASCAr has a history of pushing Indycar off of track schedules and modifying the track to make tgheir racing better. The modifications usually are at Indycar’s expense. The first turns at Phoenix and Texas were changed to accommodate NASCAR. Indycar no longer races at Phoenix, and Texas may soon be off the schedule. Eddie Gossage, who remained loyal to Indycar throughout the split and reunification, is stepping down at Texas.

Indycar just signed a three year extension plus a two year option at WWTR. At the race last month, track management treated it as a five year deal. I’m wondering about the option years now.

Curtis Francois and Chris Blair have been model promoters for Indycar. They have sent a team to IMS during test days and have tirelessly promoted the event. The race sponsor, Bommarito Automotive Group, has also boosted the race well. I wonder how much the Indycar promotion will change now.

Fans in the area now have to make a choice of which race to attend. Entertainment dollars only go so far. As we have seen at other tracks, Indycar attendance seems to suffer when NASCAR joins a track’s schedule. Texas had great crowds when Fans had to buy a season ticket to the track,. When Indycar was no longer a part of the season package, attendance dropped.

I understand that tracks need all the income they can get, and NASCAR is a cash cow. Still the diminishing of Indycar at This particular track is very hard to take. The promoters have been great for Indycar. I hope I’m wrong, and the track continues to boost Indycar as they have in the past. Francois and Blair have broken new ground in Indycar promotions. Let’s see if they will break new ground in treating Indycar as an equal to NASCAR.

Portland Finish Makes Monterey Grand Prix Key for Palou

The keys to the kingdom lie just beyond Alex Palou’s grasp. Another good result at Weather Tech Raceway this coming weekend could make Long Beach a little easier for the second year Spanish driver. There are some clinching scenarios for next Sunday, but they all involve Palou getting maximum points. I don’t think that is likely to happen. His main goal is just to finish ahead of his two main competitors.

Scott McLaughlin led the first laps of his Indycar career yesterday. Photo: Joe Skibinski, Indycar

The Rookie of the Year is still up for grabs. Scott McLaughlin finished ninth and lead five laps yesterday to increase his lead over Romain Grosjean to 38 points. Grosjean had closed to within seven points in August. Grosjean sat out the first three ovals of 2021. This race is much closer than it should be, since one of the races Grosjean missed was the double points Indianapolis 500. The French driver has looked forward to Laguna Seca all year, and I suspect he will do well there. The Rookie award will not be settled until after Long Beach.

Entrant Points- The Race for 22nd

Two full time entrants will miss receiving Leaders’ Circle money for 2022. Car 7, Felix Rosenqvist currently sits 23rd with 189 points, Followed by the 59 of Max Chilton at 144 points and the number 4 of Dalton Kellett.

A strong final three races by Felix Rosenqvist will secure the Leaders’ Circle for the 7 car

Car 45. driven by Santino Ferrucci, Christian Lundgaard, and Oliver Askew. in 2021, lost the 22nd spot yesterday with a 24th place finish. The car has 171 points, but my understanding is that it is not eligible for the Leaders’ Circle because it did not run the full season.

Final Thoughts on Portland

For a track with no elevation changes, yesterday’s race had quite a few ups and downs for several drivers. Credit to the top three starters, who fought back to finish where they started.

Alexander Rossi’s first podium of the season may give him the momentum to score well in the final two races. In 2018 and 2019 he dominated at Long Beach, winning the last race there by 20 seconds. I think he breaks his winless drought in the season finale.

Good results at last- Jack Harvey and Felix Rosenqvist ended a season of with top 10 finishes Sunday. Harvey finished fourth, finally having a trouble free race. Rosenqvist crossed the line sixth. He has struggled at times this season, and has been unable to give much help to teammate O’Ward in his battle for the championship.

Callum Ilott had a respectable debut. The 2020 F2 runner up qualified 19th but finished 25th due to a mechanical issue.

Chip Ganassi Racing has won six of the 14 races this year. Scott Dixon is third on the team in number of victories. I can’t believe I had to write that.

Engine count– Palou, O’Ward, and Newgarden have all reached or exceeded their engine allowance for 2021. Scott Dixon has one engine remaining.

Quick Thoughts- Portland Grand Prix- Invert, Reset

Alex Palou celebrates his third win of the year and retaking the points lead. Indycar photo by Chris Owens

Pit strategy and cautions can make or break your race. They hurt Graham Rahal, who arguably should have won the race, and Pato O’Ward, who lost the lead in the points standings They helped Alex Palou, Alexander Rossi, and Scott Dixon, who ended the day on the podium. Palou’s team waiting an extra lap to call him in on lap 44 was the winning move today.

The podium. Photo from my friend Brad Proctor

Why can’t Indycar drivers get through the first turn at Portland cleanly? Today’s melee wasn’t as destructive as the first two years after Indycar’s return, but it turned the race on its head, especially with the way Race Control reordered the field. It took a later caution to reverse what happened at the beginning.

Is Alex Palou the next Scott Dixon? Nothing seems to faze this kid-neither two consecutive finishes in the 20s, nor being shuffled to the back of the field after winning the pole. He just does what he needs to do in order to win the title. Today was a big step in that direction.

Palou not only leads O’Ward by 25 points, he now owns the first tiebreaker with his third win of the year. I really didn’t think we would see a driver win three times this season.

The points chase realistically is down to three-Palou, O’Ward, and Josef Newgarden. Dixon is 49 points behind, essentially a full race in arrears. Marcus Ericsson was barely hanging on, and losing 15 more points to the leader pretty much ends his title bid.

I hope in their new television deal that indycar has forbidden NBC from using the “Points as They Run” graphic. It is pointless and meaningless. Drivers don’t earn point as they run. They earn points when they finish. This graphic was displayed at least five times in the first 28 laps, a time in the race where it is totally not necessary.

Points as They Finished

It seems that the Team Penske drivers have had a lot of contact with each other during races this season.

Nice to see Alexander Rossi finally get on the podium in 2021. I think he will win one of the next two races. Rossi dominated two years in a row at Long Beach.

Palou’s repeat win means the series can only tie the record for most different winners in a season with a maximum of 11.

I will be back tomorrow with more on today’s race. Thanks for following along this weekend.

Race Day at Portland

Alex Palou looks to take another step toward the mountaintop today. Indycar photo by Chris Owens

Good morning and welcome to race day at the Grand prix of Portland. Alex Palou has a golden opportunity to retake the points lead and possibly whittle down the number of realistically eligible challengers by a couple.

Today’s Schedule: All times Pacific. Race coverage begins on NBC at pm Eastern.

A few thoughts:

His teammate Scott Dixon lead the final warmup session yesterday evening, and could be a factor in the race. It’s hard to believe, but Dixon is third on the team as far as wins this season.

I would not count out Graham Rahal for the win. He definitely should end up on the podium.

If these last three races are indeed an audition for Oliver Askew in the RLL car 45, he is off to a fine start with a ninth place grid spot.

Callum Ilott acquitted himself well by qualifying 19th. He has two more races with Juncos Hollinger Racing. Lets look at his overall performance after Long Beach, but yesterday was a decent start.

While many are rightly concerned about turn 1 at the start, which has been a challenge in 2018 and 2019, later in the race the final corners are a place to watch. Yesterday saw numerous spins and barrier contacts there.

David Malukas won the first Indy Lights race and is on pole for today’s race. Malukas leads Kyle Kirkwood by 10 points.

They might have said this all season, but yesterday the NBC announcers kept using the term “championship points.” I find the term annoying. Are there other types of points drivers earn?

9/11

Yesterday the paddock held a moment of silence at 10:28 Eastern time. The entire paddock lined the pits and front straight.

All cars and AMR Safety Team vehicles bore a special sticker

Indycar photo by Matt Fraver

The stickers on the safety vehicles are especially poignant as some members of the team were at the Twin Towers that day.

Enjoy the race. I will be back later today with some quick thoughts and have a larger wrap up tomorrow.

Palou Puts Other Contenders on Notice with First Career Pole

Alex Palou celebrates his first career pole. Indycar photo by Joe Skibinskii

Anyone worried about Alex Palou fading out of the championship hunt can breathe easier now. Palou backed up his top speed in practice with his first career pole, nipping Alexander Rossi by 0.087 of a second.

The day did not start well for Palou with a spin and a light tap of a barrier about halfway through the practice session. He rebounded to finish with the fastest time in the practice and in Round 2 of qualifying.

The biggest surprise of the day was that title contenders Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward did not advance. Newgarden will start 18th and O’Ward will start 7th. Scott Dixon starts 3rd. The irony for O’Ward is that teammate Felix Rosenqvist knocked him out of the Fast Six as round 2 ended.

Takuma Sato took a six place grid penalty for an engine change and will start 24th. Ryan Hunter-Reay did not participate in qualifying as his team could not repair the car in time. Hunter-Reay had an unspecified electronics issue.

Notes

Graham Rahal had a great day making the Fast Six. i would not be surprised to see him on the podium tomorrow.

Max Chilton qualified a career best 11th.

Meyer Shank cars driven by Helio Castroneves and Jack Harvey were second and third in the morning practice, but had no pace in qualifying. Castroneves starts 17th and Harvey 20th.

Simon Pagenaud continues to not qualify well. He starts 26th.

Tomorrow is Alexander Rossi’s best chance for a win in 2021. The series still has a chance to set a record for the most different winners in a season, but it will take a different new winner in each of the last three races to accomplish it.

I believe this is the first all Alex front row in Indycar history.

Thanks for following along today. I’ll be back tomorrow with a race preview and a post race recap.