Monterey Ca. (September 10, 2023)
It’s a perfect day in northern California, The sun is shining and it’s a gorgeous blue sky. In other words, the NTT Indy Car Series is ending the season at the WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. While the series championships had been sewn up the previous week at Portland by Alex Palou and his Arrow McLaren Team, there was still a chance for the race win and valuable points for those looking to move up in the standings.
With WeatherTech Raceway getting a recent re-pave of the track, questions were in place as to how the track and the cars would respond. When the teams arrived and were able to get on track and test, the stop watches were lit up. The track was fast, with some drivers even going five seconds faster than the previous year. At one point in Saturdays qualifying session Christian Lundgaard set a new track record with a 1:06:461, beating the twenty three year old record by over one second. While the drivers discovered just how fast the track was, they also found out that when you’re off the racing line things get very tricky and you will be off the track in the blink of an eye.
As it always is, qualifying was full of surprises. The biggest being was Colton Herta getting knocked out in the first round. With Herta and his Andretti Autosport No. 26 Gainbridge Honda being one of the fastest cars in practice, everyone was shocked to see him out and due to start 15th on the grid. In the second round, Christian Lundgaard and his No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing threw down the gauntlet by setting a new track and elevating himself into the fast six. When the dust finally settled on qualifying Felix Rosenqvist and his No. 6 Arrow McLaren captured pole position with a lap of 1 minute, 6.6416 seconds. Joining him on the front row is Scott McLaughlin and his No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet.
If fans were curious as to how much action there would be in the race, they wouldn’t have to wait long. The chaos started almost immediately when the field hit the second turn. With pole sitter Rosenqvist getting through the Andretti hairpin cleanly, Lundgaard was trying to overtake McLaughlin and clipped him triggering a multi car collision that ensnared Marcus Armstrong and RLL duo Juri Vips and Graham Rahal. That collision took out Penske’s Josef Newgarden who wound up in the gravel.
With the race restarting on lap seven, Rosenqvist was leading over season champ Alex Palou, Will Power, Pato O’Ward, and Colton Herta. By the end of the lap Palou managed to grab the lead and Power followed him though into second place. In what would become a trend during the race the yellow flag would come out again. This time Newgarden would spin out all on his own.
On the restart, Rosenqvist would grab second place from Power. Further back in the field, the race stewards called drive through penalties on Scott Dixon and Lundgaard for their part in the accident in turn two on the first lap.
As the race progressed Alex Palou was pulling away from the field. When Rosenqvist rejoined the field after a pitstop, he came into contact with Marcus Ericsson which spun him. He recovered from that spin, only to spin again due to a flat tire and yet again, another yellow flag came out. With the race set to restart, Benjamin Pederson was hit by Power that caused him to clip Callum Ilott. As all that was happening, Santino Ferrucci was tagged by McLaughlin.
On lap forty two the race was restarted with Palou holding on to the lead followed up by O’Ward, Grosjean, and Augustin Canapino. When they hit turn two Grosjean ran wide allowing Canapino and David Malukas to go through and relegating him to fifth place. Later that lap Grosjean reclaimed fourth place on a daring pace going into the corkscrew.
With the race seemingly calmed down, O’Ward dove into the pits on lap fifty eight. Seconds later Malukas tangled with Andretti Autosport’s Devlin DeFrancesco bringing out yet another yellow flag. But the biggest loser in this situation was Alex Palou. He had committed himself to going into the pits just as the yellow flag came out. This knocked him out of the lead and by the time he rejoined the field he was all the way back in fifteenth.
On the restart, Ferrucci and Tom Blomqvuist were both involved in separate incidents in the final corner causing yet another yellow flag to come out. When it was time for a restart, the same thing happened yet again. This time Marcus Ericsson, Marcus Armstrong and Benjamin Pedersen were involved.
With twenty three laps remaining, the race went green and O’Ward was in the lead. When the field hit turn two, the Andretti hairpin, Grosjean made the pass to claim the race lead. Behind him, Alex Palou had a terrible drive through the corner allowing Scott Dixon to work his way up into third place and hot on his tail was Scott McLaughlin. But the racing wouldn’t last long as Helio Castroneves and Colton Herta would tangle and cause yet another caution flag.
When Grosjean and O’Ward pitting under the yellow flag, they were knocked out of the lead and found themselves in the midfield. This promoted Scott Dixon to the lead with Scott McLaughlin, Calum Ilott and Alex Palou trailing in that order. With the race restarted on lap seventeen, Dixon and his No. 9 Chip Gnassi Racing Honda powered away from the field. With twelve laps to go Palou passed Ilott for third place
With the race dwindling down, all the conservation strategy that Scott Dixon and his strategist Mike Hull employed to perfection to get himself into the lead was no longer necessary and he used everything that his Honda engine had to capture the checkered flag. Following him in for second place was Scott McLaughlin, and taking the final podium spot was Alex Palou.
While the season championship was already decided, The Firestone Grand Prix Of Monterey proved to be an exciting and record breaking event. Beside the twenty year old track record being broken, the race featured six lead changes between six drivers as well as a total of four hundred and thirty two on track passes. Other passing records included most in the top ten (one hundred and one) and most in the top five (thirty six).
WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca: