NTT IndyCar Series: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey Preview

Will Power heads into the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey as the leader of a tight points battle for the championship. [Media Credit-Penske Entertainment: James Black]

Will Power heads into the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey as the leader of a tight points battle for the championship. [Media Credit-Penske Entertainment: James Black]

by Paul Gohde

If you want to know all of the permutations and combinations that “could” bring the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship crown to one of five eligible drivers, (see point standings below), you’d need a slide rule or your former math teacher to figure out the endless possibilities. But the way it looks right now, Sunday at the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will likely be contested among the first three drivers (Will Power, Josef Newgarden or Scott Dixon); sorry, Marcus Ericsson and Scott McLaughlin, too little too late. Veteran Power has a 20-point margin over Josef and Scott who are tied (but Newgarden holds the tie breaker with more wins than Dixon), and needs to “only” finish third or better to claim the crown, no matter where the remaining four contenders place. It won’t be easy, but he has a better shot than the others. We’ll know later Sunday.

Race Facts: Sunday’s race for the NTT Series crown will see the contenders battle over a 2.238-mile, 11-turn natural road course, constructed over a dry lake (a Laguna Seca) near Monterey, CA in 1957. The Grand Prix will run for 95 laps (212.61 miles) with a steep 300 ft. elevation drop/rise over each lap. An additional challenge here is the twisty, downhill “Corkscrew” series of curves made famous when “The Pass” by Alex Zanardi, an off-course charge to pass Bryan Herta, earned him a last lap win over Herta back in a 1996 CART race.

Recent Race History: Last season’s Monterey event saw Colton Herta win after leading 91/95 laps from the pole. It was his second win of the 2021 season (he also won here in 2019), despite making contact with Alexander Rossi on lap 2. Herta was able to continue, but Rossi was out. Alex Palou finished second and was crowned NTT Series champion. F1 veteran, and IndyCar rookie, Romain Grosjean was third on the podium (his best finish of the year). There was no race here in 2020 due to Covid-19 concerns.

2022 Season So Far: Driver standings: 1) Will Power, 523 points, 1 win…2) Josef Newgarden, 503,5…3) Scott Dixon, 503, 2…4) Marcus Ericsson, 484, 1…5) Scott McLaughlin, 482,3 Manufacturers Points: Chevrolet, 1419 points, 11 wins…Honda, 1236,5.

Race Entries: Despite this being the season’s final race, it’s just the usual entry of 26 cars (27 in 2019) that will inhabit Sunday’s grid. As noted last week, Beth Paretta’s part-time team returns for an extra run, going from its original schedule of three races to an additional entry, pointing toward a hoped-for full season slate in 2023 depending on sponsorship. Again, Simona de Silvestro, will be in the cockpit.

Notes: CART driver Bryan Herta won two consecutive races at Laguna Seca in 1998 and 1999. His son, and current IndyCar driver Colton Herta, has matched dad by also winning two-in-a-row here (2019,2021) as he attempts to make a hoped-for transition to F1next season…First year IndyCar team Juncos Hollinger has announced a change in its team makeup for the 2023 season. The team will add a second car to compete for the full upcoming season; a move that will pair a yet to be named driver with the team’s current pilot, Callum Ilott…Bobby Rahal scored four consecutive wins here from 1984-1987…The Laguna Seca track opened for racing in 1957, and over the years hosted a variety of racing series including Can-Am, IMSA, F5000 and USAC road racing, prior to CART and Champ Car arriving in 1983-2004. IndyCar took over in 2019…Only two active drivers, Colton Herta and Helio Castroneves have won here…Team Penske has visited victory lane six times at the Monterey road course…This will be the 17th season that the battle for the series’ title will go down to the final race.

Our Take: The final race coming up this Sunday should be a barnburner. It features a competitive track, a tight run for the championship and, unfortunately, a conflict with the opening week of the NFL. With 17 races on the schedule, one would hope that in the future the final, most important race of the year, could be scheduled a week before the kickoff.

“They Said It’: Championship points leader Will Power who won his only title in 2014… No.12, Team Penske Chevrolet: “I want to win this championship for the guys that have been with me for more than a decade…It’s a lot less selfish for me this time around because they deserve it. I feel their pain over the years of losing so many (championships), so I would love to win it for them.”

Next Race: The 2023 IndyCar schedule hasn’t been released yet but will likely open at St. Petersburg in late February.






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