Practice this weekend in Laguna Seca has been treacherous and otherwise a costly one too. See, we saw a four minute red flag period in Friday’s lone NTT IndyCar Series practice session due to Helio Castroneves beaching it in the Turn 2 sand trap near the midway mark of the 45 minute long session. In Saturday’s 45 minute practice, we saw two long red flag periods for Rinus VeeKay’s crash in Turn 4 and Dalton Kellett’s in the same corner. Combined, both ended up being nearly 20 minutes of stoppage.
That’s 25 minutes of cars sitting idle on pit road in 90 minutes available.
Where this is relevant is, this track is a tough one to figure out. It’s comparable to Darlington on the NASCAR side in the sense there’s a ton of tire fall off as well as minimal grip. You essentially have to slow down to go faster. The smoother you are, the better your lap times will be.
Also, with limited sets of tires available too, you had to adjust your practice plans. Friday allowed just one run available. You couldn’t afford to change your Firestone primary tires. So, you basically did a baseline run and adjusted from there.
Some teams started Saturday’s session off on the same tires. Others changed. In this session, you get to use the Firestone alternates. The thing is, with the red tire falling off quicker than the blacks but also being quicker too, you needed time to balance your car on them. But, you also needed to see how your car got dialed in on the blacks too with Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) going to be a race to how you can plan your tire compounds out right.
You’ll go longer stints on blacks than the reds. The reds will fall off even quicker here so with having to use one stint on each tire compound, having 90 total minutes available between the two days was going to be crucial in your race winning plans on Sunday.
Each compound alters the way your car responds. But, with a lot of red flag time on track this weekend, many teams are left still guessing. That’s why looking at the speed charts only doesn’t tell the whole story. Some drivers put in more laps on the reds than the blacks.
Scott McLaughlin (1:10.8755-seconds) topped the day on Saturday in his No. 3 Chevrolet. He was joined up front with a Team Penske party with Simon Pagenaud (1:11.3381-seconds) and Will Power (1:11.3936-seconds) being fourth and fifth respectively to give the Captain three cars in the top five. The lone one absent was the title contender Josef Newgarden. He led the way on Friday but was 10th on Saturday.
Points leader Alex Palou (1:11.0312-seconds) was third in his No. 10 Honda while Colton Herta (1:11.0224-seconds) was second in his No. 26 Honda. Herta, won the last time out here in 2019 and was second in practice on Friday too.
Also, Chevrolet really closed the gap overnight with Honda’s taking 10 of the top 11 speeds in the opening practice session of the weekend on Friday afternoon. On Saturday, Chevy flipped the script in taking 4 of the top six times.
Chevy had Penske go 1-4-5-10 with Felix Rosenqvist the only non Chevy Team Penske driver in the top 16. He was P6. His teammate Pato O’Ward enters the weekend -25 in points, but was just 20th on the charts on Saturday. He was 14th on Friday.
Scott Dixon was 11th on Friday and 18th on Saturday. Marcus Ericsson is the only other championship eligible driver. He was 10th and 12th respectively himself.
Palou, was third on both days.