Following a two week break, the NTT IndyCar Series is back in action for the final three races of the 2021 season. The pursuit for the Astor Cup championship trophy heats up for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).
Coverage: 3 p.m. ET
Green Flag: 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: INDYCAR Radio Network
Phone: INDYCAR App
Race Distance: 95 Laps/212.61 Miles
Race: 15 of 16
Track: WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca
Who Will Win?
Trends say Alex Palou will be crowned the season champion next week. The driver to lead the points with two races remaining has won the title for five straight years and six of the last seven. But, where the trends could be also misleading is, that same stat could have been said last week too for the driver leading the points with three races remaining. That driver was different than this with it being Pato O’Ward, not Palou entering Portland.
So, one has to end. Which is it?
I have a feeling we’re going to see a good week for Palou and Chip Ganassi Racing. I think we’ll see Andretti Autosport do well too. Ganassi had a leg up on the competition last week in Portland due to them testing there when most of the other teams didn’t. Andretti, was best in the second class and they didn’t test.
Laguna Seca is similar to Portland in terms of what to expect and both Ganassi and Andretti each tested in Monterey too. Hence why I feel like Palou, Scott Dixon (Ganassi camp) and Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi (Andretti camp) are the favorites.
After all, they took 3 of the top 4 starting spots at that.
Also, the trends say that anyone coming from the top 5 Rows on Saturday will end up celebrating in victory lane on Saturday afternoon. 79% (11-for-14) of the races this season were won by top 10 starters. Furthermore, 24 of the last 28 (86%) overall were won by top 10 starters in general. Also, among those 24 winners, 23 of them came from the top 4 Rows at that.
In respect to this track in general, the last 4 Laguna Seca winners came from the front row with three of which coming from the pole. 21 of the last 23 visits were won from a top 3 starter (15 from the pole, 4 from 2nd). 22 of the 23 were won from a top 6 starter in general.
For natural road course races this season, the starters came from – 3rd (Barber), 7th (Indy 1), 5th (Road America), 1st (Mid-Ohio) and 2nd (Indy 2) and 1st (Portland). Last year, it was 7th (Indy 1), 9th (Road America 1), 7th (Road America 2), 1st, (Mid-Ohio 1), 1st (Mid-Ohio 2), 2nd (Indy 2), 1st (Indy 3).
That’s 13 straight from the top 10 with 5 of 6 this year as well as 9 of the last 10 overall from the top five.
So, lets wind this down to the top three rows then. That will leave Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Alex Palou, Oliver Askew and Pato O’Ward as the favorites to win.
From there, lets go further.
The pole winner has won just three times all year. The pole winner did triumph though in three of the final five races last season. Also, the pole winner has finished in the top three in 6 of the last 8 races on the season as well as 11 top four results in 14 starts during 2021 in general. If you go back to last year, the pole winner has a top five result in 15 of the last 19 races.
In respect to that, we can Sharpie the pole winner (Herta) in the top five on Sunday, but will he win? Three of his four career wins have all come from the pole including this very race the last time out in 2019.
The last three natural road course races have seen a front row winner triumph while the last four winners at Laguna Seca have also come from the front row, three of which from the pole.
The next trend is, since the new car came out in 2018, the “Big 3” have won 50 of the 62 races run (81-percent). Penske has won 25 times with Ganassi (16) and Andretti (9). But, RLL is next best with four victories while no one else has more than two.
Throw in RLL and you get 54 of 62 races (87%) won by these teams. Also factor in Harding Steinbrenner Racing with the Andretti alliance and you get 52/62 (84%) and 56-for-62 (90%) in these factors.
Only other teams to win are Arrow McLaren SP (twice this year), Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2018 at Iowa), Dale Coyne Racing (2018 – St. Pete), Ed Carpenter Racing (2021 – GMR Grand Prix) and Meyer Shank Racing (2021 – Indy 500).
Last year, Penske and Ganassi each won three times on these types of circuits including all three at IMS and then swept the podium in one of the races on them already this season at Barber. Ganassi then won at Road America and Portland too. Penske won themselves at Mid-Ohio and Indy after. Andretti Autosport won the other race last year while ECR won other one this year. Scott Dixon won twice in 2020 so did Will Power. Alex Palou has three wins this season in Barber, Road America and Portland.
If you go back to 2019, we’ve had 18 different races on natural road courses with 10 different winners. Power has four wins with Dixon, Palou and Herta at three wins a piece. Newgarden (2) is the only other one who has more than one trip to victory lane on them.
Penske and Ganassi has seven wins on them. Andretti has scored four trips to victory lane on them too. RLL and ECR are the only other teams to have won a natural road course event since 2019 as it came at Barber (2019) and IMS (2021).
So really, we can break the top five starters and see who among them are with Penske, Ganassi and Andretti.
Who does that leave? I’ll take Andretti for their 20th career 1-2 INDYCAR finish.
- 26 Herta
- 27 Rossi
- 10 Palou
- 9 Dixon
- 5 O’Ward