Finally a veteran took charge. Ryan Hunter-Reay had the quickest time in Practice 2 for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey this afternoon. Two of the rookies who led the morning practice were right behind him. The morning practice was led by three rookies after Colton Herta led yesterday’s second test period. Felix Rosenqvist finished just 0.02 seconds behind Hunter-Reay and Herta was third, 0.001 seconds after Rosenqvist.
“It’s a very narrow window to get it right,” Hunter-Reay said, “I’m not resting on this one.”
The title contenders had mixed results. Simon Pagenaud finished 4th, Josef Newgarden 6th and Alexander Rossi was 23. Rossi had a software issue this morning.
The only red flag was for Scott Dixon who went off track and stalled between turns 10 and 11.
Rossi led the just completed pit stop/warm-up period. Hunter-Reay was second, followed by Herta. Rossi still feels he will be okay for tomorrow and Sunday.
You can see almost the entire track from the top of hill near the Corkscrew. The cars carry a lot of speed into the top of the Corkscrew turn.
Hunter-Reay’s livery looks as if his nose was damaged and was replaced by one they just happened to have around. I love tribute liveries but this one has just gone halfway. It’s my least favorite livery this weekend.
For the second year in a row Alexander Rossi enters the NTT Indycar Series finale in second place. The September 22 Firestone Grand Prix at Weather Tech raceway Laguna Seca will decide the season championship. Rossi trails Josef Newgarden by 41 points. In a teleconference this afternoon, the driver of the number 27 NAPA Auto Parts car talked about his season thus far, and how 2019 compares to last year.
Rossi described his season so far as “Generally good. We made a lot of improvements on areas where we struggled. Some things have been out of our control.” He went on to say that “the 2 car has been better. Josef has had a sensational year.”
The venue for the final race has a lot of unknowns, Rossi said. Andretti Autosport tested there in February. Rossi declared the test inconclusive due to the weather and some other factors. He thinks everyone is entering the weekend on an equal footing. Rossi began going to races at Laguna Seca when he was three years old. It is where he fell in love with racing.
“Laguna Seca is where I cut my teeth in racing,” Rossi said.
The race could be decided in qualifying. “the driver who makes no mistakes in qualifying and wins the pole, if he is one of the championship contenders, his job will be that much easier.,” Rossi said. He described the track as having a low grip surface with the braking zone in turn 2 likely being the best passing area.
While Rossi is disappointed to not be closer to the top of the standings, he feels that it actually puts less pressure on him. he knows this year he needs to win the race. “When you’re closer you start worrying about positions and finishing ahead of the other guy. being this far back, I just need to win.”
Rossi felt in 2018 the team left too many points on the table with silly mistakes. This season he believes the team has improved although ‘We maybe cost ourselves by being too conservative. We had some bad luck in the second half of the season. ”
The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey is September 22 on NBC. The green flag is at 12:15.
Photo: Rossi in his dominant Road America win in June
Andretti Autosport put an end to Silly Season this afternoon, announcing that Alexander Rossi will be driving for the team in 2020 “and beyond.” NAPA will continue to sponsor Rossi in nine races next year. Auto Nation will sponsor the number 27 car in seven 2020 races. Honda will continue to power Andretti cars. The announcement ends the rumors that Rossi might sign with Team Penske and the Andretti was switching to Chevrolet engines for 2020.
“It feels good to continue with Andretti Autosport,” said Rossi. “Over the past four years, we’ve built a very strong team with great chemistry and I believe that we have the tools necessary to win races and championships. I’m looking forward to not just calling this my team, but my home in the IndyCar Series. Michael [Andretti], J-F [Thormann], Doug [Bresnahan] and the entire team have been working very hard to put all the pieces of this deal together and it’s definitely a relief to have the future settled and be able to focus on the championship fight ahead of us.
“It’s fantastic to have NAPA AUTO PARTS, AutoNation and Honda supporting the 27 program. I’ve had the pleasure of developing a great relationship with both NAPA and Honda and couldn’t imagine not having them in my corner. AutoNation has always had a strong partnership with the team through Ryan [Hunter-Reay] and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to represent the Drive Pink campaign and getting to know the AutoNation team better.”
Had Rossi signed with Penske, four of the arguably five best drivers in the series would be on one team. An Andretti switch to Chevy would give the engine seven of the best cars on the grid. With Rossi and Honda staying put, the balance of power in the series is preserved. I’m not sure how Honda would have replaced Andretti in the series. The options are somewhat limited.
The post Road America hangover is becoming as bad for me as the post 500 hangover. This is definitely my second favorite track after IMS. I decided this in 2016 after about the first five minutes I was there. This year was the best year for me of the four Indycar events as experience goes for many reasons.
First, my friends Leigh and Bob were there for the first time. They found some places I had never seen in turns 7 and 10. It was nice to see the track through fresh sets of eyes. We also had a great time visiting establishments in Elkhart Lake. I’m sure they will be back.
I also spent some time in the kink and I was impressed by the speed the cars carry before braking for Canada Corner.
The race behind Alexander Rossi was great. Third through sixth were contested all day. Dixon’s charge from the rear after the turn 5 incident was exciting to watch. His teammate Felix Rosenqvist had an excellent drive moving from 18th to 6th. Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe had steady drives and fought hard all day.
Colton Herta had an eventful day. After losing the lead to rossi in turn 3 of theopening lap, he had contact with both Power and Pagenaud in separate incidents and seemed to spend a lot of time off track in turn 5. Herta’s eighth place finish was his second best result of the season.
Rossi was probably not given any consideration for the drive of the day, but he should have been in the conversation. Winning margins like this don’t happen often in today’s NTT Indycar Series. His drive was a thing of beauty.
The crowd looked to me to be the biggest since 2016. I thought the bowl at the bottom of turn 5 was fuller than it had been the last two years.
I’m about halfway through the NBC broadcast and i am very impressed. The cameras were on the Herta-Pagenaud skirmish all the way, including the point when Dixon blew past both of them. Great work.
So I will say good bye to Road America until next year and leave you with some photos.
Photo: Alexander Rossi had the day’s fastest lap. Photo by Kyle McInnes
Alexander Rossi led the afternoon practice with a quick lap of 1:43.120. Rossi’s lap was the fastest of the day. Will Power was second at 1:43.408. Seven Hondas were in the top ten, one more than in the morning session. Power’s teammate Josef Newgarden and Carlin driver Patricio O’Ward were the only other Chevy drivers in the top ten.
The top ten drivers were separated by 0.953 seconds. The fight for the pole tomorrow should be that close. The entire field is separated by more than 2 seconds.
In the pit stop practice period each car was allowed one hot lap before pitting. Ryan Hunter-Reay had the fastest lap of that session, 1:44.484.
That turned out to be a fun race at the end. It was a pretty tame race for Texas.
Josef Newgarden has three wins already this season. No one had more than three wins in 2018. This puts Newgarden in a great position to win a tiebreaker, although should Alexander Rossi tie him in wins, Rossi has three second places to date.
If Newgarden wins the championship, Tim Cindric should get a big share of the credit. Another brilliant call to pit on the first yellow worked out and brought the car home first. All three of Newgarden’s wins this year can attributed to pit/tire calls by Cindric.
Rossi had a great save to avoid the Herta-Dixon crash. It likely saved his title hopes.
The high line never came in tonight as it usually does. Rossi lost one of his strengths without that second groove.
Graham Rahal had a quiet race, but ends up third. Glad to see him finally have a good result in what has been a frustrating season for his team.
Remember when crew members wore short sleeves and no helmets? A serious injury or worse didn’t happen on pit lane tonight because of the mandated safety equipment for crew members. That was a scary crash in Sato’s pit. Glad to see the crewman was okay.
Dixon has made race ending mistakes two straight weekends.
It’s a shame that James Hinchcliffe crashed. He had the drive of the race going until then.
Colton Herta also had a great run going. He made some incredible moves. A shame his day ended the way it did.
What can we say about Santino Ferrucci? His fourth place tonight at Texas gives him three top tens in the last four races. Ferrucci is now leading the Rookie of the Year standings. He has done this rather quietly. Ferrucci has improved every week.
Zach Veach continues his disappointing season.
Look for my full race report on Wildfire Sports tomorrow. Next week I take a look at the season at the halfway point.