After 16 races, thousands of miles of racing and another tens of thousands of frequent flyer miles, we’ve reached the main event.
I’m going to say right off that I’m loving the choice of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca as the choice of the season finale. I wish I could explain how awesome this venue actually is, but I guess I’ll just go with amazing. It’s a place you truly have to see for yourself.
I also like it because it is a very hard racetrack. If you have been watching this weekend you’ve seen a lot of gravel and dust flying, and drivers going off course as they try to figure out this tricky 11-turn, 2.238 natural road course.
If you’ve read my stuff over the years, you’d know that when it comes to high-level races, I think that the track needs to be difficult. Much like Indy. If you are going to qualify and run in the biggest race in the world, it should be the toughest thing you ever do. To win the championship, you should have to really earn it too.
Between the difficulty of the course and the massive tire degradation, this is going to be a tough day for everyone. With the tire degradation, I envision that there will be some passing — unless the field starts to string out — but we could see some large swings in positions when drivers make mistakes. Unlike a lot of venues that have a even a little runoff, when you drop off the track at Laguna, you will lose a lot of positions trying to get back on.
Another storyline will be pit strategy. This race can be done in two stops, but because of tire wear three might be the more prudent choice. It will be interesting to see what kinds of things happen out there today because there are 20 drivers racing with nothing to lose. While no one wants to do anything to affect the Championship Four, there is nothing that says they can’t try to win the race, either.
Because, in the words of the great Dan Fouts, you can’t hold anything back now.
So what about the four that can still hoist the Astor Cup at the end of the day? The driver with the longest odds is Scott Dixon. There are approximately 255,000 different finishing combinations, and there is only one that affords him the title.
That leaves three others with title dreams: Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi. Newgarden’s path is simple: finish in the Top 5. Beyond that, it gets a little complicated. Depending on how bonus points are distributed, if he finishes sixth or worse then Rossi or Pagenaud can win the title by winning the race.
What will also be interesting to watch will be the strategies within the strategies. All three drivers have teammates to help. Will Power is on hand to assist Newgarden and Pagenaud, while Rossi has four teammates to run interference. The only problem is that Ryan Hunter-Reay’s ninth starting spot is the best starting position of any of the remaining Andretti Autosport cars.
Does that mean Andretti runs a couple of different strategies to get his drivers into different places on the track? It wouldn’t surprise me if he pits RHR early for track position, as he has been quick all weekend.
So here are my final predictions of the season:
Winner: Simon Pagenaud
Runner-up: Felix Rosenqvist
Third: Colton Herta
2019 NTT IndyCar Series Champion: Pagenaud
2019 NTT IndyCar Rookie of the Year: Rosenqvist
Enjoy the race today!
Photo credit: Stephen King/IndyCar Media