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2019 IndyCar Title To Be Decided This Weekend

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 20 2019
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden leads IndyCar into Laguna Seca this weekend. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Same as it’s ever been, the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series driver’s championship could be finished at the start of Sunday’s season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Open-wheel has returned to historic WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca’s 2.258-mile/11-turn permanent road-course under INDYCAR sanction for the first time since the Champ Car World Series in 2004. Fourteen of the 22 Indy car races contested on the scenic California layout have been won from pole position. That will put a premium on Saturday’s Firestone Fast Six qualifying session, a 75-minute, three-round knock-out format, which will be televised live on NBC Sports Network at 4:35 p.m. (EDT).

Separated by 41 points, championship leader Josef Newgarden and runnerup Alexander Rossi agree qually looms as a white-knuckler in terms of scoring the pole’s bonus point and securing early track position.

“I think it’s going to be an important part of the weekend, without a doubt,” said Newgarden, the 2017 series champion and driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet. “It’s always better to start up- front, to get yourself out of harm’s way hopefully, not get yourself into trouble at the very beginning.

“Will it be the make-or-break of the weekend…I just don’t know. If we qualify up-front, I hope it’s that way. If we qualify in the back, I hope it’s not that way. We’re all going to get an education for sure and find out how Laguna Seca is in 2019.”

Team owner Roger Penske is in prime position to collect another IndyCar Series championship.

Newgarden, Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon remain mathematically eligible for the title entering Sunday’s scheduled 90-lap/203.22-miler, which will pay double points down the line (100 for the win).

“I’ve been saying for a while this championship very well could be decided in qualifying at Laguna,” said Rossi, driver of the No. 27 Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport. “It’s no secret that we’re expecting it to be a challenging race to pass just because of (the track’s) history.

“So, yeah, it’s 100 percent going to be a critical qualifying session that you’re going to have to be inch- perfect and nail it through all three rounds. The guy that’s on-pole, if he’s one of the guys that is in the championship fight, it’s going to make their job to win the thing a whole lot easier.”

To recap, Newgarden leads Rossi by 41 points and Penske teammate Pagenaud (No. 22 Chevrolet) by 42 points. Newgarden can clinch his second career title by finishing in the top four. Rossi and Pagenaud likely need to win the race to win the title, and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dixon (No. 9 Honda) is in a must-win situation if he hopes to claim his sixth series championship.

 Team Penske has dominated qualifying this season with Newgarden, Pagenaud and Will Power (No. 12 Chevrolet) starting P1 in nine of 16 races. Newgarden earned poles at Belle Isle in Detroit (Race 2), Pocono Raceway and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, while Pagenaud collected his at the Indianapolis 500, Streets of Toronto and Iowa Speedway.

Rossi has been one of the few to break through the Penske dominance with poles on the Streets of Long Beach and most recently at Belle Isle (Race 1). Dixon has yet to win a pole this season, but has started on the front row three times (Long Beach, Indianapolis Grand Prix and Texas Motor Speedway).

Alexander Rossi and Will Power are both still in contention.

Dixon is the lone title contender with Indy car experience at the track, but those two starts came in 2001 and ’02.

Friday’s activity will feature a pair of 45-minute practices (1:30 and 5:10 p.m. EDT on NBC Gold). Saturday’s on-track action will begin with a final practice (1 p.m. EDT on NBC Gold) and the aforementioned NTT P1 Award qualifying session.

INDYCAR will conclude its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).

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Thursday’s six-hour open test featured an intramural car swap, and perhaps some head games, courtesy of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay. The 2012 series champion, RHR drove seven laps in Rossi’s No. 27 Honda while Rossi made five circuits in Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 Honda in an effort to explore setup options.

“With the open test, an extra day like this gave us the opportunity to come here with drastically different setups,” Hunter-Reay said. “What would take you maybe two-and-a-half hours to change setups (didn’t take additional time).”

Rossi and Hunter-Reay are nearly the same size, meaning they fit into each other’s cockpit without significant modifications. “Alex and I like similar things in the car, similar setups, (have) similar driving styles,” Hunter-Reay said.

The teammates also ran each other’s cars at the same time of day, allowing for comparable conditions to get “a clear read as to the two setups,” Hunter-Reay said. “We can then go forward with the rest of the weekend. Maybe some things from one car apply to qualifying and others to the race. It was definitely a beneficial exercise for us.”

Hunter-Reay added the best thing he can do for Rossi Sunday is take points away from championship leader Josef Newgarden of Team Penske. Last year, Hunter-Reay won the 18th Indy car race of his career from pole at the season-ending event at Sonoma Raceway in California.

Thursday’s activity saw Newgarden place fourth on the overall time sheet with Penske teammate Pagenaud eighth and Rossi ninth among 24 drivers. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon was sixth.

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Honda is pursuing its second consecutive engine manufacturer championship, owning a 34-point advantage (1,351-1,317) over Chevrolet heading into Sunday’s season-ender.

Buoyed by seven wins, Honda had a 73-point cushion going into the penultimate race at Portland, but a victory by Team Penske’s Will Power (No. 12 Chevrolet) helped Chevrolet cut the deficit by more than half with one race to go. Chevrolet _ which won six consecutive engine manufacturer crowns beginning with its return to the series in 2012 through 2017 _ has nine victories this season, including four in the last six races. 

Engine manufacturer championship points are awarded to the top two finishing full-season entrants for each manufacturer in a race using the same point structure as utilized for entrant and driver points (50 points for first, 40 for second, etc.). A car is not eligible to receive manufacturer points if it is using its fifth engine (or more) on the season. In that case, points are awarded based upon the finish of the next highest-eligible car for that manufacturer.

Cars that have exceeded that number heading into the season-finale: No. 2 (Josef Newgarden, Team Penske), No. 12 (Power) and No. 20 (Ed Jones, Ed Carpenter Racing) for Chevrolet. Honda’s list includes the No. 10 (rookie Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing), No. 18 (Sebastien Bourdais, Dale Coyne Racing), No. 19 (rookie Santino Ferrucci, Dale Coyne Racing), No. 27 (Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport), No. 30 (Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and No. 88 (rookie Colton Herta, Harding Steinbrenner Racing).

This event will pay double points for the manufacturers on finishing positions. Engine manufacturers also will be awarded an additional five points for a race win and one point for the pole.

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INDYCAR has scheduled its first on-track test of the Aeroscreen driver safety initiative for Wednesday, Oct. 2, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Testing continues on the IndyCar Series Autoscreen.

Five-time Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing and 2014 series champ Will Power of Team Penske have been selected to take part in the full-day test session on the 2.5-mile oval. Dixon previously conducted a simulator test of an Aeroscreen prototype in July at the Dallara Research Center in Speedway, Ind.

INDYCAR, in partnership with Red Bull Advanced Technologies, is designing the Aeroscreen for enhanced driver cockpit protection and plans to have the component implemented for the 2020 season.

The RBAT design encompasses the cockpit with a ballistic Aeroscreen anchored by titanium framework. The design will consist of a polycarbonate laminated screen that includes an anti-reflective coating on the interior of the screen, an anti-fogging device through an integral heating element and possibly tear-offs, all of which will be produced by integrated third-party companies. There also will be a cockpit cooling option that will be designed by Dallara in conjunction with RBAT.

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IndyCar Series point standings _1, Joseph Newgarden, Team Penske, 593; 2, Alexander Rossi, Andretti Autosport, 552; 3, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 551; 4, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 508; 5, Will Power, Team Penske, 469; 6, Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 397; 7, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport, 380; 8, Felix Rosenqvist, Chip Ganassi Racing, 365; 9, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 353; 10, Santino Ferrucci, Dale Coyne Racing, 339.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, September 20 2019
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