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.

 

Hunter-Reay Leads Practice 2

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.

Notes

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.

Some Photos

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From Kyle McInnes

CHERTP1LS

Herta Leads Rookie Parade in Practice 1

Colton Herta continues to be the fastest at Weather Tech Raceway as he led two other rookies in the NTT Indycar Series first practice. Herta’s fast lap of 1:10.7235 was just a tick slower than his fast time yesterday. Felx Rosenqvist was second and Santino Ferrucci was third. Rosenqvist leads Ferrucci by 26 points for Rookie of the Year. Herta is 49 points behind Rosenqvist.

Alexander Rossi completed just 4 laps and had the slowest speed in the session. Simon Pagenaud in 6th was the quickest of the title contenders.  Points leader Josef Newgarden was 9th.

There was one red flag during practice for Tony Kanaan who spun off the track and could not restart. Colton Herta spun in the corkscrew as time expired.

The top 12

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I talked to some local fans this morning who told me they were very happy that Indycar has returned to this track. One said he attended every CART and Champ Car race. The fans reminded me of the fans at Road America in 2016 when the series returned to Wisconsin.

Back after a press conference with Mark Miles and Jay Frye.

 

Good Morning from Weather Tech Raceway

My first impression of the track is how steep it is. The track is on top of a mountain. Unlike Watkins Glen, it appears to be built into the mountain. The drop off in the corkscrew is one of the most impressive sections  of track I’ve ever seen. There are other areas that seem like pretty big climbs and drops as well. I will do more looking around before and during the morning practice.

Colton Herta led yesterday’s test session. Among the title contenders, Josef Newgarden was fourth fastest in the afternoon practice.  In the morning test, Ryan Hunter=Reay did seven in laps in Alexander Rossi’s car to see if he could find something to help his teammate this weekend.

I was not aware that pit out and turn 1 go uphill. That will make out laps interesting on cold tires.

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I’ll be back after the first practice. Mark Miles and Jay Frye will give a state of the series address at 11:45 and I will include that as well.

Today’s Schedule:

10:30 -11:15 Practice 1

2:10- 2:55  Practice 2

3:10-3:40  Pit Stop Practice/ Warm up

All of today’s sessions will be on NBC Gold.

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.

 

 

 

 

Indycar Schedule- Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

All Times Pacific

Thursday, September 19

9:15-11:15- Open Test

1:30-5:30    Open Test

Friday, September 20

10;30 Practice 1

2:10  Practice 2

Saturday, September 21

10:00  Practice 3

1:35   Qualifying

Sunday, September 22

!2:15   Green Flag for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

 

Practices will be on NBC Gold. Qualifying is on NBCSN. The race is on NBC. You may need to set your DVR to record on NBC.