Monterey Firestone Grand Prix
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There are two races left in the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, and Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca likely boils down to the arrival of a rider.
Keep an eye out for Alex Palou’s position at the end of 95 laps.
The other four drivers still in contention for the season title – Pato O’Ward, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson – must finish ahead of the series points leader to have a realistic chance of overtaking him at the Acura end of season. Long Beach Grand Prix on September 26.
Any riders who are no less than 54 points from the lead after this weekend’s race will be officially eliminated, and if the leader does compete at Long Beach, they will have to be within 49 points to catch up. Palou leads O’Ward by 25 points, Newgarden by 34, Dixon by 49 and Ericsson by 75.
Palou is aiming for his first series championship in his second season only. He won the Portland Grand Prix last weekend for his third series-leading victory of the season.
Here are five hot topics as race weekend approaches:
Limited experience for all
Palou was one of the few INDYCAR riders who had never raced at the Portland International Raceway, but he didn’t let himself be put off. He got the bonus point for winning pole NTT P1 Award, handled the stress of restarting 17th after an incident on Lap 1 and was not threatened in the final 25 laps as he pulled away from other competitors .
Palou faces yet another new track when testing begins Friday at Laguna Seca. Like Portland, the # 10 Honda NTT Data rider from Chip Ganassi Racing tested the 11-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course in Northern California, but he never raced there. Can he still win?
O’Ward made five starts at Laguna Seca in the Road to Indy program – all in Indy Pro 2000 – and he won once, in 2016. He too tested an INDYCAR on the track, driving the McLaren Arrow n ° 5. SP Chevrolet, but there was not raced in any of these cars.
Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) and Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda from Chip Ganassi Racing) have combined to claim 71 wins and eight series championships in this series, and they have experience. on this site, although without a win. Newgarden’s only start came in 2019 when Colton Herta won for Harding Steinbrenner Racing. Newgarden was eighth.
Dixon, who finished third in that race, made two starts on the track in his first two INDYCAR seasons, finishing fourth in 2001 and sixth in 2002. Ericsson was 11th in his only appearance in 2019.
Herta at the tip
Herta, the second generation driver now riding Andretti Autosport’s # 26 Honda Gainbridge with Curb-Agajanian, was a blur in the 2019 race. After winning pole NTT P1 Award, he led the first 17 laps and only yielded the lead during the pit cycles. Of the 90 laps, he controlled 83.
Herta’s victory shouldn’t have been a surprise. His father and current race strategist, Bryan, was legendary on this track. He won three consecutive poles from 1997 to 1999 and won the race in 1998 and 1999. He also came close to winning the 1996 race, but was famous in the last lap by Alex Zanardi loading dirt in the Corkscrew.
Young Herta won the second race of this season, in St. Petersburg, Fla., From pole, and started from first place and largely dominated the first Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in August in Nashville before s ‘crash late in the race trying to catch up with Ericsson. He desperately wants another win this season to generate momentum for a 2022 title race.
Andretti Autosport helped Alexander Rossi achieve his best performance of the season last weekend in Portland, a second place behind the wheel of the # 27 Honda NAPA AUTO PARTS / AutoNation. Rossi finished sixth in the 2019 race at Laguna Seca.
Others to watch
Will Power (No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet) isn’t having the season he wanted, but the Big Machine Grand Prix winner Spiked Coolers in mid-August on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course took advantage at Laguna Seca two years ago. Power was the only driver in the same zip code as Herta, finishing 0.5878 from second place. He also led six of the seven laps Herta failed to complete.
Rossi is still chasing his first win of the season, as is teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finishes his 12th and final season behind the wheel of Andretti Autosport’s # 28 Honda DHL.
Jack Harvey (# 60 AutoNation / Honda SiriusXM) matched the best of the season in Portland, finishing fourth as he did in St. Petersburg. Harvey would like to end his association with Meyer Shank Racing with his first series victory.
Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) did almost everything correctly in Portland, leading a record 36 laps, before giving way to a different fuel strategy and finishing 10th. He too is looking for his first win of the season.
Callum Ilott will make his second career INDYCAR start in the # 77 Chevrolet Juncos Hollinger, and Oliver Askew returns in the # 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda Hy-Vee. They are one of the 27 pilots taking part in this event.
A first Penske team?
Believe it or not, there’s something the Penske team has never done in INDYCAR competition: winning one of their drivers the Series Rookie of the Year award. The award dates from 1979.
But Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet) has the potential to take the crown on Sunday with a solid performance. He starts the weekend with 38 points ahead of Romain Grosjean, who drives the # 51 Dale Coyne Racing Honda Nurtec ODT with RWR. McLaughlin has edged Grosjean in points since the end of the third race of the season, but extended the advantage after a ninth place finish in Portland.
The top 10 ranking was McLaughlin’s fifth of the season and second in a row. He finished fourth in the August 21 oval race at the World Wide Technology Raceway.
Grosjean was at a disadvantage in this battle as he did not take part in three of the four oval races, including the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, which awarded double the usual number of points. McLaughlin scored 84 points in the three races in which Grosjean did not participate.
The weekend program
The last two racing weekends of the 16-race season are three-day events, with the first of two 45-minute workouts Friday at Laguna Seca at 5:30 p.m. ET. The action can be viewed on Peacock Premium, NBC’s live streaming service.
The second weekend workout will be Saturday at 1:45 p.m. ET, with qualifiers for the NTT P1 Award at 5:05 p.m. ET. Both will be streamed live on Peacock Premium.
Sunday’s schedule includes a 30-minute warm-up at noon (ET) – still on Peacock Premium – with the 95-lap Monterey Firestone Grand Prix on NBC starting at 3 p.m. ET, also airing simultaneously on Peacock Premium. The green flag is estimated at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Like the Portland race, this one is also five laps longer than the most recent event in 2019. That’s 95 laps before the checkered flag.