NTT IndyCar Series: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey Preview

Josef Newgarden leads the points heading into the NTT IndyCar Series season finale. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

Josef Newgarden leads the points heading into the NTT IndyCar Series season finale. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]


by Paul Gohde

With four drivers still in the chase for the NTT IndyCar championship, the series finale moves from its former home at Sonoma Raceway to the twists and turns of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Race 17/17 sees points leader Josef Newgarden chasing his second series crown, while challengers Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and five-time champion Scott Dixon hope that Sunday’s race circumstances give each of them an opportunity to become the 2019 champion.

Laguna Seca Race Facts: WeatherTech Raceway is a 2.258-mile, 11-turn, natural road course, first opened in 1957 around a dry lakebed on the US Army’s Fort Ord. The current track’s Turns 8 &8A are the famous “Corkscrew” that has seen many daring passes over the years. Sunday’s race will run for 90 laps/203.22 miles; the longest Indy car race ever run there.

Past Races at the Track: Indy cars have competed at Laguna Seca 22 times (1983-2004), eight of which were contests to determine the CART series championship. The NTT IndyCar Series returns Indy cars to the Monterey Peninsula Sunday after a 14-year hiatus. The final race there saw Patrick Carpentier defeat Bruno Junqueira for the second year in a row (2003-4), having set a record winning speed (107.986 mph) in the 2003 race. Helio Castroneves holds the qualifying mark at 118.969 mph, set in 2000. Both records were set during CART events. Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud are among four current drivers who have raced an Indy car at Monterey.

2019 So Far: IndyCar points after 16/17 events. 1) Newgarden (593)…2) Rossi (- 41)…3) Pagenaud (- 42)…4) Dixon (- 85)…5) Will Power (- 124). Only Newgarden, Rossi, Pagenaud or Dixon can score enough of the double points that are available to win the championship… Honda leads Chevrolet by 34 points for the Manufacturers Championship…Points leader Newgarden has dominated, leading 490 laps during the first 16 events this season. Pagenaud is second with 267.

The Field: Twenty-four cars are scheduled to take the green flag Sunday for the final time in 2019. Trevor Carlin will field cars for Max Chilton and Conor Daly, while Marcus Ericsson (Arrow Schmidt Peterson) returns from a weekend with Formula One in Europe.

Notes: Laguna Seca’s first Indy car race in 1983 ran on a short 1.9-mile course…Of the four championship contenders, only Rossi has never won the crown…This will mark the 14th consecutive year that the Indy car championship is decided at the final race…No current Indy car driver has ever won at Laguna, but car owner Bobby Rahal captured four consecutive races from 1984-87…Team Penske has won here six times…TV: Qualifying, NBCSN, Saturday, 4:30 pm ET, Live…Race, NBC Network, Sunday, 2:30 pm ET, Live…Green Flag, Approx. 3:15 pm, ET.

Our Take: As we’ve said so many times during the current season, the winner Sunday will be the one who qualifies up front, avoids an early-race mishap and has smooth pit stops. Easy to say, but difficult to put together. Team Penske does that the best, Newgarden leads the points in a Team Penske car, and is likely to finish high enough to win the championship for a second time…enough said. Next season is “just” six months away and some changes are coming: AJ’s team needs a full-season sponsor, McLaren will be back, and Rahal will likely have a third car. Richmond is in, Pocono is out, Aeroscreens may be in and Portland needs to straighten out its first turn. All this and more in the coming weeks. Tune in.

Final Words:  Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet): “Laguna is a track I haven’t raced on before, but we have tested there. It’s definitely going to be a challenge because of that since there are three other guys still in contention. We feel like we have a great plan headed into the race.”

Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda): “This track was my introduction to motorsports at a young age, and to come back 20-plus years later has, in a way, brought my career full circle.”

Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet): “I love Laguna Seca. It’s a beautiful racetrack where I have done well in the past. Our strategy is very simple-we are going into it to win it…full attack all weekend. The goal is to be hunted so we can control our destiny.”

Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “We are an outside shot for the championship, but that’s the way it goes sometime, I guess…We’ll try to get the pole, lead the most laps, win the race and see where we end up.”

Next Race: St. Petersburg, March 15, 2020




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