PREVIEW: 2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Laguna Seca

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Credit: Stephen King / Courtesy of IndyCar

It all comes down to this. The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series draws to a close this weekend with the 2019 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Four drivers are in contention for the championship crown, with Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden leading Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud by forty-one and forty-two points respectively. Reigning champion, Scott Dixon, is also just in contention, trailing Newgarden by eighty-five points with just over 104-points available in this double-points paying finale.

Here is everything you need to know ahead of this championship deciding race weekend.

What happened in the last IndyCar race at Laguna Seca?

The NTT IndyCar Series has not raced at California’s famous WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca since the days of Champ Car. The last race held at the venue took place back in 2004, with only Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay the only drivers on the current grid that took part in the race.

In qualifying, Bourdais would dominate. He took his #2 Newman/Haas Racing Lola to pole position with a best lap time of 1:09.358. Bourdais would share the front row of the grid with Forsythe Racing’s Patrick Carpentier, who was three-tenths of a second down on Sebastien’s pole time.

At the start of the race, Bourdais would hold on to the lead of the race, with Paul Tracy getting the jump on his fellow Canadian, Carpentier, to take second place on the run down to turn one. However, Bourdais would soon be forced to make a pit-stop after contact between himself and Tracy on the opening lap saw Sebastien suffer a puncture.

Tracy would hold the lead ahead of Carpentier and A.J. Allmendinger for the opening stages of the race, but an off-track excursion later in the race would see Tracy have to pit for extensive repairs to the front of his Forsythe Racing Lola. Carpentier would take over the top spot soon after, with the field bunching back up later on in the race after a caution was called after a stall for PKV Racing’s Roberto Gonzalez.

On the restart, Carpentier would sprint away once again. He would ultimately remain virtually unchallenged for the remainder of the race, taking the chequered flag on lap seventy-nine with an advantage of over five seconds. The win would be Carpentier’s first of the season and the fifth of his career. It would also be the last of his Champ Car / IndyCar career, with the Canadian retiring from full-time IndyCar competition at the end of the 2005 season; only returning for an ill-fated attempt to qualify for the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

Newman/Haas Racing’s Bruno Junqueira would take second-place, with Dale Coyne Racing‘s Oriol Servia taking the final spot on the podium in third-place; albeit with a fifteen-second gap between himself and Junqueira. A tight battle towards the end of the race saw Michel Jourdain Jr take fourth-place ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay in fifth, Alex Tagliani in sixth and Mario Haberfeld in seventh.

After starting on pole position and suffering from his early puncture, Sebastien Bourdais would recover to finish in eighth-place. Guy Smith and Paul Tracy would round out the top ten.

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

What should I look out for this weekend?

With none of the drivers or teams having raced IndyCar’s at Laguna Seca in recent years, all they will have to go off of will be a handful of test runs at the circuit earlier this year. This should provide another interesting aspect into what is already set to be an exciting race weekend, as the drivers will have to fight it out for the championship on one of the toughest race tracks in the United States.

Of course, the main focus heading into this weekend will be the fight for the championship between Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon. Newgarden leads Rossi and Pagenaud by forty-one and forty-two points respectively, with Dixon trailing the championship leader by eighty-five points. Double points are being awarded for this weekend’s finale, with 100-points on offer for the race-winner and a further two-points for pole position and two for leading laps.

Put simply, if Newgarden finishes inside the top four in the race, he will be the champion no matter where his rivals place. If he finishes in fifth-place, he will likely still be the champion, with Rossi and Pagenaud only able to steal the crown away if either of them wins the race and if bonus points fall in the right way.

If Newgarden finishes in sixth-place or lower and with no bonus points, Rossi and Pagenaud would win the title if they win the race. If Rossi and Pagenaud place any lower than fourth place in the race, they will have no chance at all in taking the championship no matter where Newgarden sits. Dixon, meanwhile, will have to pray for an exceptional set of circumstances should he want to win the title. He would have to win the race with Newgarden finishing twenty-third or lower and Rossi and Pagenaud finishing sixth or lower. Furthermore, bonus points would have to fall in the right way to see Scott leave with the title.

Due to this, the fight is, realistically, only between Newgarden, Rossi and Pagenaud. Be sure to keep an eye on all of the title contenders throughout the weekend. With overtaking being notoriously difficult at Laguna Seca, qualifying could be just as important as the race itself. You can check out the full permutations for the four contenders, in detail, by clicking the link below.

The drivers’ championship is not the only title that will be decided this weekend. The 2019 rookie of the year title will be settled also, with Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Felix Rosenqvist currently leading the way with 365-points and eighth-place in the overall standings to his name. Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci is Rosenqvist’s closest challenger for the rookie title, with American trailing Felix by twenty-six points.

Rosenqvist has had the edge over Ferrucci all season long when it comes to the road course and street circuit races, with Ferrucci getting himself back into contention after finishing strongly at the oval races, including the prior double-points paying Indianapolis 500 back in May. As a result, Rosenqvist has to enter this weekend as the favourite to take the rookie title, but with double-points once again on offer, a mistake for Felix could leave the door wide-open for Ferrucci.

Harding Steinbrenner Racing‘s Colton Herta is the final contender in the rookie title. The American trails Rosenqvist by forty-nine points and will be hoping for problems for both Felix and Santino should he want to steal the crown at the last moment. Colton is the only rookie to have picked up a race victory so far this season, having won back in March at the Circuit of the Americas. He will be hoping to be in contention for his second victory to give himself the best possible chance of ending 2019 as the rookie of the year.

Check out the full permutations for the four championship contenders by clicking the following link:

Credit: Joe Skibinski / Courtesy of IndyCar

What is the schedule for the weekend?

Friday 20 September

13:30 ET / 18:30 GMT – Practice one
17:10 ET / 22:10 GMT – Practice two

Saturday 21 September

13:00 ET / 18:00 GMT – Practice three
16:30 ET / 21:30 GMT – Qualifying

Sunday 22 September

14:30 ET / 19:30 GMT – Race

Where can I watch the 2019 Grand Prix of Monterey?

Tickets are still available for this weekend’s race. Head to the Laguna Seca website for more information.

As a part of the IndyCar’s UK coverage deal, both qualifying and the race will be broadcasted live on Sky Sports F1.

In the United States, television coverage for qualifying will be provided by NBCSN. The Grand Prix of Monterey itself will be shown on NBC.

Further coverage of practice will be provided in the United States by NBC Sports Gold.

How can I keep up to date with all the race action?

If you cannot make it to Laguna Seca for this weekend’s race, you can keep up to date with all the action across the weekend right here at The Checkered Flag. We will have coverage of this weekend’s practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Be sure to also follow IndyCar on Twitter – @IndyCar – for live updates throughout the event.

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Reporter from the East of England. Covering the NTT IndyCar Series for The Checkered Flag. Also an eSports racing driver on iRacing.
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