The sun is about to set on the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season.
Today’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca represents the last time the field of 27 will gather this year for competition. Of course, there are still things to come in this calendar, such as the official championship celebration of Alex Palou and Chip Ganassi Racing on Sept. 21 in Indianapolis, an assortment of offseason testing by teams and manufacturers, and the confirming of several car-and-driver combinations for next year.
Still, today’s race marks the end of what has been a terrific season. Palou and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden have combined to win nine races, featured by Newgarden’s first stirring victory in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Breakthrough wins have come from Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard, and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson nearly scored a second consecutive win in the “500” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Memorable moments have come from March to September, with Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin tangling with Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean late in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward coming together with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon midway through the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, to name a couple.
Saturday, Felix Rosenqvist capped his time with Arrow McLaren with an NTT P1 Award for posting the fastest lap in the Firestone Fast Six round.
There will be much to digest and review during the days and weeks and months ahead, but for now, we concentrate on the final 95 laps that await. There is much to like about this race, which will see NBC’s broadcast begin at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Good News for Three
Qualifying at this track usually equates to success in the race.
Eight of the past 10 race winners at Laguna Seca – and 20 of the past 25 – have started on the front row. Two other race winners started third. So, that’s 22 of 25 race winners from the first three starting positions, and therefore it bodes well for Rosenqvist (No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet), McLaughlin (No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet) and Lundgaard (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), who earned the top three positions Saturday.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Chip Ganassi Racing’s Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda) is one of the exceptions. The winner of two of the past three series championships won last year’s race by 30.3812 seconds after starting 11th.
The other outliers since the event began in 1983 have been Jimmy Vasser in 1997 and Max Papis in 2001. Vasser started sixth, Papis 25th. Teo Fabi won the ’83 race from the pole.
Three Race Winners in Field
In part because no INDYCAR SERIES races were held at Laguna Seca between 2004 and 2019, there are only three drivers in this 27-car field with race wins at the 11-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course.
Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian) has won twice, in 2019 and 2021. Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing) won as a Team Penske driver in 2000 while Palou won last year. But Herta and Castroneves will have work to do to win again. They qualified 15th and 27th, respectively.
Team owners Bobby Rahal (four times) and Michael Andretti (twice) have won at this track as drivers.
About Firestone’s Tires and Pit Strategy
NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams entered the weekend with nine sets of the primary (black sidewall) Firestone Firehawk tires and four sets of the alternate (red sidewall) tires. Per rule, competitors must use one set of each tire for at least two laps in the race.
Both compounds have the same construction as were used in last year’s Monterey race, and the compounds are similar to those used in The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the 2023 Accord Hybrid.
It will be interesting to see the repaving and laps that are nearly five seconds quicker than last year impact pit stop strategy. Last year, four of the top five finishers went with three stops – Team Penske’s Newgarden, who finished second, went with four – and the first of those stops came on Lap 13. Palou, the winner, stopped at Lap 19, Rosenqvist went to Lap 24.
But proof of the variety, the 26 cars made their first pit stop on 14 different laps.
No Weather Concern
That pesky lightning that delayed Saturday’s action at Laguna Seca shouldn’t be a factor today as the forecast calls for one of those beautiful Monterey Peninsula days.
Sunny and mid-60s.
Under those conditions and a grippy racetrack, the action should be intense – a perfect way to end an exciting season.