Laguna Seca Postscript-An Improved Finale

Photo; Turn 2 of lap 1.

I went to Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca with low expectations. When the race was announced as the season finale replacement for Sonoma, I thought it was just a lateral move. We would see the same processional race on another narrow track. The only similarity between the two is they are both in northern California. I was wrong on all counts. I was very impressed with the track. The racing was great. I was not anticipating any kind of decent crowd, but again I was pleasantly surprised.

The Track

Not since my first time at Road America have I been so impressed with a track at first glance. The top of the mountain was daunting as I entered the track grounds. My jaw dropped at my first glimpse of the Corkscrew. As massive as the track seems, it is really rather easy to navigate. The layout is actually quite simple.  Walking to the top of the corkscrew is quite a hike. There is a path to walk down from there to turn 10. It’s an easier walk down than up.

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Turn 9, 170 feet down from the Corkscrew

There are several vantage points from which at least 80% of the track can be seen. From the top you can see all of the track except for turn 6 and part of the front stretch. I watched the race from the outside of turn 2. I could see up to turn 5, the run to turn 10, and a bit of turn 11.

Another difference from Sonoma is the greenery.  Sonoma is green in the spring, but when Indycar came in September the scenery was brown. Laguna Seca has lots of evergreen trees and green grass.

The Crowd

I questioned the wisdom of the Indycar scheduling the  finale at this track  a week after the IMSA race. I thought for sure it would hurt attendance.  It was a pleasant surprise to see a good crowd there. I talked to several local fans. One fan told me he had attended every Indycar race at the track and was very happy the series had returned. Several fans were wearing vintage shirts.

A younger couple in the RV camping area told me when they called to reserve a spot the first day tickets went on sale, they each called on their own phones and were on the phone for three hours before one of them got through.

I have seen estimates of 25,000 on race day. I believe that is a credible number. So many fans are hidden from view at the Corkscrew, that it is difficult to gauge the size of the crowd. Sunday’s attendance is a good baseline to grow this event from.

The Race

I was expecting Sonoma 2.0, a race where position changes came about because of pit strategy. Fortunately, it was a good race with challenges for the lead all day, passing through the field, and fights for position in the top ten. Felix Rosenqvist and Sebastien Bourdais carved their way into the top ten from mid-pack. Colton Herta had his hands full holding off Scott Dixon after pit stops.

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Colton Herta leads Will power in the closing stages of the race

The brief yellow in the middle of a stint didn’t allow for pitting, which kept the caution shorter.  I hope this yellow period can serve as a model for the future, where the caution time isn’t extended to allow drivers to pit. I’ve always thought cars should pit under caution at the risk of the green coming back out at any time. IMSA has short yellows. It is something I’d like to see Indycar adopt as well.

It’s Still Not the Finale I’d Like to See

While the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey was a major improvement over the recent finales at Sonoma, I would still prefer the NTT Indycar series end its season on an oval and without double points. An oval provides more chances for drivers behind in the standings to overtake the points leader. If a driver is far enough behind that their only chance to win the title is to dominate a double points race, he or she likely doesn’t deserve the championship.

I’ll be back next week with a full season review and coverage of the aeroscreen test at IMS.

Quick Thoughts- Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

I always wish that that there is still one more race after the season ending event. This year it seems I wish that even more. After a race like that, I’m really sad to see this year end.

If it’s September, a Herta is succeeding at Laguna Seca.

I’m not sure what the race looked on television, but here at the track there was lots of action and intrigue. There were great battles at the front of the field all day.

A masterful job by Colton Herta, who has learned how to manage tires. He should be in the conversation for the title next year. It was a nice way to end the season for  his current team.

Great rebound for Felix Rosenqvist after his qualifying penalty. His fifth place finish sealed Rookie of the Year.

Four poles and two wins is an outstanding record for this rookie class. More on the rookies next week.

All seven winners this year won multiple races.

I saw lots of action from my viewing spot in turn 2. It’s another spot here where most of the track can be seen.

Josef Newgarden has two titles in three years. Could he be the next Scott Dixon?

Simon Pagenaud said, “Do not repave the track. Leave it as it is. It creates the perfect racing. I hope nothing changes. It is the perfect format.”

I don’t remember a season when the contenders going into the final race had all had finishes below 15th at some point in the year.

It will be nice to see a car carrying the number 1 again next season. I think it should be mandatory for the champion to carry it on his car the following year.

 

I have lots of people to thank for making this season  a great one for The Pit Window. I will expand on that next week. But today I will thank everyone for reading all season. I still have some big things coming the next few months.

Some photos from today.

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For the Last Time- Race Day

Good morning from Laguna Seca on the  NTT Indycar Series’ final race day of 2019.  It was a foggy drive in this morning, but the sky was clear by the time I got to the track. A decent line of cars was at the gate. The track is expecting around 20,000 fans today. I’m not sure if the attendance would be better if this race wasn’t a week after the IMSA event. I’m hoping attendance can grow from here.

The race is on NBC. Coverage starts at 2:30 Eastern Time.

I talked to Mike Hull this morning. He said that while the math says two stops, he thinks that is unrealistic with the tire fall off. he said reds and blacks are falling off equally. Hull expects a good race because of the tire fall off.

Tire choices for the start are at the end of this post. Only three drivers are staring the race on primary tires.

Here are a couple more photos from yesterday. The first one gives you an idea of the drop from the too of the Corkscrew to turn 9.

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Tire Designations

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Barring any breaking news, I will be back after the race with Quick Thoughts. My full race report will be on Wildfire Sports tomorrow. Enjoy the race.

 

Quick Thoughts- Laguna Seca Qualifying

Photo: Kyle McInnes

It was a strange grouping to have all the title contenders in Group 1. They all advanced.

Felix Rosenqvist may have thrown the pole away with his incident. He had the fastest lap but was not allowed to advance. We may have missed a great battle between two rookies for the pole.

Herta’s pole is to Newgarden’s advantage since none of the drivers chasing him earned the bonus point.

If Herta can win poles with his current team, imagine what he can do with the full force of Andretti behind him next year.

It was nice to see Max Chilton make the second round.

Newgarden just needs to hold his starting position tomorrow to win the championship.

Will Power missed the Fast Six by just 0.0055 seconds.

Herta’s pole continues the family history of poles at Weather tech Raceway Laguna Seca. His fATHER bRYn won the pole in 1997, 1998, and 1999, Bryan also won the race in 1997 and 1998.

Rookies now have four poles this season.

I look for Newgarden to be a bit conservative tomorrow at the start. he doesn’t necessarily have to finish ahead of Rossi to wrap up the title.

Save your liver- don’t make your drinking game word iconic.

Back tomorrow morning with a quick preview. Thanks for following along this weekend.

 

Qualifying Groups

In my haste to publish my qualifying report, I forgot to include the qualifying groups. Here they are, plus another couple of shots from Practice.

Group 1                                                                                         Group 2

Josef Newgarden                                                                          Felix Rosenqvist

Simon Pagenaud                                                                          Will Power

Max Chilton                                                                                    Takuma Sato

Scott Dixon                                                                                     Colton Herta

Alexander Rossi                                                                             Graham Rahal

Conor Daly                                                                                      Marco Andretti

Sebastien Bourdais                                                                       Charlie Kimball

Zach Veach                                                                                      Santino Ferrucci

Ryan Hunter-Reay                                                                           Marcus Ericsson

Matheus Leist                                                                                    Jack Harvey

Spencer Pigot                                                                                    James Hinchcliffe

Tony Kanaan                                                                                     Ed Jones

A couple of my photos from P3

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Rosenqvist Sets Pace in Practice 3; Qualifying Groups; Announcements

Photo: Kyle McInnes

Felix Rosenqvist led the final practice before qualifying this morning as qualifying groups were set. Team Penske cars of Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud took the next three spots. Title contenders Alexander Rossi 10th and Scott Dixon was eighth.

The session ran green the entire way. Takuma Sato led early in practice and ended fifth. Colton Herta, who led a practice yesterday, was seventh this morning.  Ryan Hunter-Reay, leader of Practice 2 Friday, was 18th.

The top 12:

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Qualifying begins at 1:35 Pacific time and can be viewed on NBCSN.

Notes

Rahal Letterman Lanigan officially confirmed that Takuma Sato will return to the team for 2020. Sato has won twice and earned two pole positions this year.

The Road to Indy announced that Exclusive Autosport will field teams on all three rungs of the development series in 2020. They plan to have two cars in Indy Lights. This team will be a great addition to Indy Lights and a much needed expansion to the field.

Back with Quick Thoughts after qualifying.

Qualifying Day Critical for Title Hopefuls

Photo: Kyle McInnes

Good morning from Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Today’s Schedule in Eastern Times:

1:00 pm Practice 3 NBC Gold

4:35 pm  Qualifying  NBCSN

Qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey could be critical to success in the race tomorrow. None of the title contenders have shown enough speed to go for the pole as of yesterday. It would be in Josef Newgarden’s favor for a non title contender to win the pole.  That is one less point for Alexander Rossi or Simon Pagenaud.

I look for an action packed practice and another dramatic qualifying session today. From yesterday the pole favorites are Colton Herta and Ryan Hunter-Reay.  I wouldn’t count out Felix Rosenqvist or Will Power either.

Notes

Per Racer Magazine Colton Herta as expected will drive for Andretti Autosport with backing from George Steinbrenner. Herta will be in a fifth car on the Andretti team.

Some thoughts on the track after a full day here:

The place appears daunting at first, but it is really not complicated. The worst part is it is almost all uphill.  Most of the track can be viewed from the top of the hill near the Corkscrew. There is a walking path from turn 9 back to the paddock. Golf cart shuttles provide transportation up to the Corkscrew.

The views of the mountains and the bay are outstanding from the top of the hill.

Food choices are disappointing after the great choices at Sonoma. Food offerings are somewhat limited and pricey.  Most places are cash only.

I recommend entering the track via South Boundary Road. The route has beautiful scenery along the one and a half mile trip to the entrance.

Back after Practice 3 with a report and the qualifying groups.