PREVIEW OF THE 2021 FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF MONTEREY
With two races remaining in the season, Alex Palou enters this weekend as the current leader in the championship title countdown.
Laguna Seca returned to the IndyCar Series schedule in 2019 at the 11-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course in Northern California after a fifteen-year absence, with a rookie Colton Herta taking pole position and dominating the race en route to his second career series victory.
Through this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, five drivers remain in title contention. Alex Palou is currently leading the championship standings by 25 points over Pato O’Ward, Josef Newgarden by 34 points, Scott Dixon by 49 points, and Marcus Ericsson by 75 points. All drives that do not finish within 54 points will be officially eliminated from the title contention.
Palou is eagerly aiming for his first series championship title in his second season in NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Despite having no racing experience at Portland International Raceway, the Spaniard just took the NTT P1 Award pole and his third victory of the season in last weekend’s Grand Prix of Portland, despite the chaos that occurred on the opening lap, which did not interfere with his concentration throughout the race.
This weekend, Palou will face another new track at Laguna Seca. He has tested the NO.10 NTT Data Honda Chip Ganassi Racing, but he has never raced there. With his driving and knowledge abilities, he could manage to claim his fourth win of the season this weekend.
As for O’Ward, he is no stranger to the Laguna Seca road course, having raced five times in Indy Pro 2000 and winning there in 2016. The Mexican also tested with the NO.5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet at the track, but he has never raced there with an INDYCAR-spec car.
Newgarden (NO.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet) and Dixon (NO.9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda Chip Ganassi Racing) both have experience, with a combined total of 71 wins and eight championship series, although without a victory on the venue. Newgarden started racing there and finished eighth in 2019, where Calton Herta won as a rookie for Harding Steinbrenner Racing.
In 2019 appearance, Dixon finished third in that race, while his other two starts at the track were in his first two INDYCAR Series, finishing fourth in 2001 and sixth in 2002. Meanwhile, Ericsson managed to finish in 11th place in his appearance in 2019.
Colton Herta’s victory in Laguna Seca came as no surprise, with his father and current race strategist, Bryan, are legendary on the track. From 1997 to 1999, he won three consecutive pole positions and won the races in 1998 and 1999. Herta, who is now driving the NO.26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Autosport w/ Curb-Agajanian, has won the second race of the season from pole position in St.Petersburg, Florida. With his excellent performance so far, he is eager to win another race this season in order to dominate his momentum for the 2022 title fight.
Will Power (NO.12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet), the winner of the Big Machine Music Spiked Coolers Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in mid-August, will surely be one of the drivers to keep an eye out. He finished .5878 seconds behind Herta in the previous race at Laguna Seca.
Callum Ilott will make his second INDYCAR start in the NO.77 Juncos Hollinger Chevrolet and Oliver Askew will make another appearance in the NO.45 Hy-Vee Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. They are among the 27 drivers competing in this weekend’s event.
The season’s penultimate race will kick off with the first of two 45-minute practice sessions at Laguna Seca on Friday (Sept.17) at 5:30 p.m. (ET). On Saturday, the second practice session will be at 1:45 p.m., followed by the NTT P1 Award qualifying at 5:05 p.m. At noon on Sunday’s schedule, there will be a 30-minute warm-up session. The green flag for the 95-lap of Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey is estimated at 3:30 p.m.