Green Flag: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

Salinas, CA…For the second week in a row, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is back at a track it missed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this time at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The 27 teams entered in today’s race are eager to take on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit that is one of the most famed road courses in the United States. However, the excitement will be matched by the many challenges the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey offers.

From undulating racetrack’s 300 feet of elevation change to the famed “Corkscrew” corner and the stress of the late-season battle for the Astor Challenge Cup, this Race Day is sure to be unforgettable.

Championship leader Alex Palou and his nearest rival, Pato O’Ward, have never competed at this racetrack. That was no problem for Palou last weekend in Portland, as he won in his maiden race at that circuit, and he appears to be adapting to this track nicely as he was third fastest in both practice sessions of the weekend and lines up fourth.

O’Ward, who is 25 points behind Palou, started off the weekend struggling to adapt his aggressive driving style to the track that rewards precision and smoothness. But he has progressed over the weekend, and he lines up on the grid in sixth.

Firestone is supplying more than 1,600 race tires for this weekend’s race, which will have similar construction and compound as the tires used in the last NTT INDYCAR SERIES race here in 2019. Each entry received six sets of primary (black) tires, four sets of alternate (red) tires and five sets of rain (gray) tires.

It’s a picture-perfect day just 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Temperatures are expected to be around 65 degrees by the time the green flag drops, with just a 6 percent chance of rain. The clear-sky day is expected to have 74 percent humidity and winds near 10 mph.

You can catch the action live on NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network beginning at 3 p.m. (ET). You can listen to the radio broadcast live on network affiliates, SiriusXM 205 and 211, and INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA.

Here’s what you need to know to get ready for today’s action:

The Corkscrew

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca isn’t famous just because it’s a fun racetrack in a beautiful part of the country. It features one of the most iconic sections of a racetrack in the world with the Corkscrew corner in Turns 8 and 8A.

This is a blind, left turn at the top of a hill, followed by a quick right hand turn down a six story drop in elevation. It has challenged the world’s best drivers for decades, and to win this race, drivers must skillfully navigate this corner.

These athletes will try to nail this turn 95 times today. But the challenge of getting through the Corkscrew is equal parts stressful and fun. These NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers are competitors, and they love the challenge that this track presents them.

“It’s amazing,” Colton Herta, the defending winner at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, said. “The track is a lot of fun, has all sorts of challenges. It’s a track with a good flow of high-speed, low-speed corners. Kind of everything that you want.”

The Corkscrew is the place to keep your eye on today, because most drivers in the field will experience some kind of trouble in this corner and go off course. It is also home to some iconic moments, including Alex Zanardi’s pass of Bryan Herta in 1996.

It’s Gonna Get Dirty

The 2.238 miles of asphalt that makes up WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is lined by dirt on each side of the racing surface.

Because this track is so challenging to drive perfectly, many drivers will go off course throughout the day and spray dirt onto the racing surface. The potentially dirty surface will make this racetrack slick as drivers will struggle to match their rubber with the road and find grip.

A dirty racing surface also means that the track could always be changing, which in turn means the cars will change, too. Finding success in the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey could be more about adapting to different conditions than having the fastest car.

“It’s just incredibly difficult to understand what the car’s doing or if you want to improve it, what happened run to run, then the dust gets kicked up on the track a lot when you have 27 cars,” two-time champion Josef Newgarden said. “But I think that’s part of the challenge at these types of tracks. You have to be really good at doing it. Whenever you get a really good run, you have to assess the car with that.”

Already this weekend, drivers that have gone off course in some way include Herta, Helio Castroneves, Dalton Kellett, Rinus VeeKay, Takuma Sato, Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and more.

Front Row Mojo

Only four times in the 23 INDYCAR SERIES races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca has the winner of the race not started on the front row.

Max Papis has the lowest start among any previous winner, rallying from 25th to win here in 2001. Jimmy Vasser started sixth in 1997, while Gil de Ferran started third in 1995 and Bobby Rahal started third in 1987.

The pole sitter for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey has won the race 15 times – more than half of the INDYCAR SERIES races competed here. Most recently, Herta won this race from the pole in 2019.

That means NTT P1 Award winner Herta has the best odds to win today’s race. But when making your INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone picks, don’t count out the driver that will line up beside him on the front row, Alexander Rossi.

Based on history, it stands to reason third place is due for a win here with Will Power lining up on row two.

By Zach Horrall NTT IndyCar Series