Laguna Seca Preview

Posted in IndyCar on September 20, 2019 by Oilpressure

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For the first time in over a decade, WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca will be the site of US Open Wheel racing when the NTT IndyCar Series presents the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. CART raced at Laguna Seca in 1983, with Teo Fabi continuing his magical rookie season that year, in which he won four races and the pole for the Indianapolis 500.

From 1983 through 2004, CART or Champ Car contested races on the eleven-turn, 2.238-mile circuit near Monterey, California. Like many historic tracks, the list of IndyCar winners reads like a Who’s Who in racing. Bobby Rahal won four races in a row from 1984 through 1987. For the next decade, the list of winners consisted of Danny Sullivan (twice), Rick Mears, Michael Andretti (twice), Paul Tracy (twice), Gil de Ferran, Alex Zanardi and Jimmy Vasser. From 1984 through 1997, there was not a single driver to win Laguna Seca that didn’t also eventually win the Indianapolis 500, the series championship or both.

Beginning in 1998, when Bryan Herta won the event two years in a row – a new group of Laguna Seca drivers made their mark at the historic track that opened in 1957. Besides Herta, the other winners were Helio Castroneves, Max Papis, Christiano da Matta and Patrick Carpentier (twice). In twenty years of open-wheel racing at Laguna Seca, no race was won by a total pretender. That speaks to the difficulty of racing there.

You can’t discuss Laguna Seca without thinking of the famous corkscrew – a set of tight turns encountered immediately after topping a steep hill. It is the signature section of the course, and one of the most famous set of turns in all of racing.

I’ve already discussed the 1996 race, when Alex Zanardi made the daring pass on Bryan Herta going into the corkscrew on the last lap. That is probably the one singular moment in the twenty years that IndyCar raced at Laguna Seca. If you want to read more about it and view the video, go back and read Wednesday’s post. It was a gutsy move that shouldn’t have worked, but Zanardi made it stick and the rest is history.

There aren’t many in this current group of drivers that have raced an Indy car at Laguna Seca. Only Tony Kanaan, Sébastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon have raced an Indy car at Laguna Seca in the past that will be racing there this weekend, when the NTT IndyCar Series crowns its 2019 champion.

Mathematically, there are still four drivers alive for the championship. But let’s be honest, I have about as much chance of winning the championship as Scott Dixon does. He would have to win the race and have Josef Newgarden finish dead-last, with the other title contenders falling out early. It’s possible, but highly unlikely.

But there are still three drivers that have a legitimate shot of winning the 2019 IndyCar championship. As he has been for almost the whole season, Josef Newgarden is the points leader and has the best shot of winning. Alexander Rossi is forty-one points back and Simon Pagenaud is forty-two points back. The double-points awarded at the season-final skews things a bit and makes scenarios a little harder to figure out, but all you need to know is this; if Josef Newgarden finishes fourth or better, he is the champion. It does not matter if the other two contenders win the race. If Newgarden finishes fourth – he wins the championship.

Beyond that, it gets a little complicated. The other two can not win the race, yet still win the championship – but they both need very strong days, with Newgarden having a disastrous day. To make things easy, either Rossi or Pagenaud need to win the race – then see where Newgarden ends up. That’s where things will get really interesting.

Practice One gets underway Friday at 1:30 pm EDT on NBC Sports Gold. Practice Two starts Friday at 5:10 pm EDT, also on NBC Sports Gold. On Saturday, Practice Three will begin Saturday at 1:00 pm on NBC Sports Gold. Qualifying will be shown live on Saturday, beginning at 4:30 pm EDT on NBCSN. Race Day coverage for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey begin on Big NBC (over-the-air network) at 2:30 pm EDT.

Going into the final race of the season, I get the opportunity to curse not one, but two drivers with my picks. So far, this season has been my best season for picking winners. I’ve successfully picked three winning drivers for the sixteen races run so far. That’s still not great, but most seasons I go winless. But I’ve still mostly followed the pattern of picking a driver to win, and they are usually out in a first-lap crash. That’s how my luck usually runs.

For the race, I’m going with Colton Herta to follow in his father’s footsteps at Laguna Seca. Bryan Herta had that place figured out and I have an idea Colton has a leg up on most of his competitors this weekend. It will be a nice way to end the season for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, since many are predicting that this team will not continue in its current form.

As for the championship, I’m not going out on much of a limb. Rossi and Pagenaud have to do too much and then hope for Newgarden to have issues, in order for them to win the championship. The pressure is on those two and I just don’t see Newgarden faltering. Going down the stretch, Newgarden has been good, but not great. But he has done enough to maintain a solid lead in the points. I imagine he will be just good enough again on Sunday. We’ll see.

George Phillips

Drivers Living With the Tag of Infamy

Posted in IndyCar on September 18, 2019 by Oilpressure

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Being a sports fan can be unfair at times. For all the joy and drama it brings to us, it can also be brutal. It’s even more so for the participants. An athlete can do everything the right way over a lifetime, yet have one ten-second moment define their entire career.

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A Few Points About Points

Posted in IndyCar on September 16, 2019 by Oilpressure

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There has been a lot of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over issuing double-points for the Indianapolis 500 and the season-finale, including from yours truly. Some are in favor of double-points at the Indianapolis 500, but not the finale; while some see it the other way around. Others (like me) are opposed to double-points completely.

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A Late Discussion on a Welcomed Addition

Posted in IndyCar on September 13, 2019 by Oilpressure

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It dawned on me this week that I have been somewhat neglectful in covering a very significant topic. When IndyCar released the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule a couple of weeks ago, they focused primarily on Richmond International Raceway being added to the slate for the first time since 2009. Taking the “glass half-empty approach”, I focused more on the omission of Pocono and hardly gave a mention about the return of Richmond.

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Why We Need the Brickyard 400 to Succeed

Posted in IndyCar on September 11, 2019 by Oilpressure

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The 26th Running of the Brickyard 400 took place this past Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I’ll have to admit that I saw a total of three laps of the entire race, and those were the final three laps of the race. After all, I had already said I was dedicating this past Sunday to watching the NFL. By the way my Titans dismantled the Cleveland Browns, I came away from Sunday a happy man. Susan and I are headed to this weekend’s season-opener against the Colts, so I’d say our presence will guarantee a Colts victory – but I digress…

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A Longtime Sponsor is Gone

Posted in IndyCar on September 6, 2019 by Oilpressure

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Before I get into today’s post, I must indulge in a little shameless self-promotion. When I was loading this post up, I noticed that this is Post #2000 for this site. You may think posting three times a week for ten and one-third years does not add up to 2000. Well keep two things in mind – for the first four months here, I posted every day until that got a little too grueling. I still post every day in the Month of May. Plus, when we attend races – I usually post five to seven times during the weekend. Anyway, I just happened to notice that last night and thought I’d make note of it here today.

When the checkered flag flies at Laguna Seca in a little more than two weeks, it will not only signal the end of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season; it will also bring to an end the longest current continuous fulltime sponsorship in the series. Last weekend we learned that ABC Supply will be ending their longtime partnership with AJ Foyt Enterprises. Ending may not be the correct term since they plan on supporting the team for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 next May, but they are scaling back significantly.

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Some Thoughts on the IndyCar Schedule

Posted in IndyCar on September 4, 2019 by Oilpressure

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Amidst great fanfare on NBC, the NTT IndyCar Series unveiled the 2020 schedule. Before I express any opinions, let me say that (I think) I understand how difficult it is to construct a schedule like this. There are so many moving pieces and variables to take into consideration each year. Throw in the fact that NBC and all of their secondary channels will be covering the 2020 Summer Olympics from late July to early August and it becomes even harder.

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