Laguna Seca in the rear view mirror, my quick thoughts on emptying the notebook

Colton Herta picked up his second win of the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series season on Sunday in Laguna Seca. It was another Herta clinic on the 2.258-mile California road course as he led a race-high 91 of 95 laps. Here’s some quick thoughts on today’s race.

  • We may need to rename Laguna Seca from WeatherTech Raceway to “Herta Country.” Dad Bryan and son Colton have now scored nine career NTT IndyCar Series wins. Four of those nine came in Monterey. Half of Bryan’s wins came here (2 of 4) with 2 of Colton’s five wins now at Laguna Seca too.
  • Finally a flawless race from Herta. Saturday he scored his eighth front row starting spot in 15 tries this season. But, he had just one win in the previous seven too. In fact, in previous five front row starting spots, the Andretti Autosport driver has had one podium in them. Four of his last six have seen him finish 13th or worse at that. So, to get a win and do so in dominating fashion, that’s a good sign for him.
  • Herta’s race winning chances also grow when he’s on the pole too. Out of his 5 wins, 4 have come from the top starting spot including two straight at this track.
  • Alex Palou’s runner-up shows the differential over his main rivals for this year’s championship. It was his eighth podium of the season. Both Pato O’Ward and Josef Newgarden each have five.
  • Romain Grosjean passed on a track most said couldn’t be done. He put on a show on Sunday in coming from his 13th place starting spot to come home with his third podium of the season in his No. 51 Honda. He was the biggest mover of the day in the 95 Lap race. He passed Pato O’Ward for fourth with 15 laps remaining. It was a bold pass but it paid off. He was coming and doing so in a hurry. With 12 to go, he caught and passed Graham Rahal for third. At the time, he was 10 seconds back of the lead. With Firestone Reds on, could they not fall off as much and he seriously challenge for the win.It nearly happened. Grosjean, went from 15 seconds out of the lead with 15 to go to crossing the finish line 3.7087-seconds back.
  • Grosjean, also now had four top fives and six top 10’s in 12 starts this year. By comparison, Alex Palou, the guy in the championship drivers seat, had one podium, one top five and three top 10’s in this same car a year ago.

  • While Herta won for Andretti, I would think this was another weekend that they feel got away. Alexander Rossi said they were happy to get a podium last weekend in Portland but expected better things this time around in Laguna Seca. See, he said that they didn’t test on the Portland road course like the Chip Ganassi Racing camp did and he felt like that was the differential between them a week ago. This time around, they did test in Monterey and with the pace they showed from Portland, he expected it to translate over this week. It definitely did. Colton Herta was second in both practice sessions and scored his seventh career pole after. Rossi, would start alongside in an all Andretti lockout of the front row. Where this is big is, the last 3 winners on the season on natural road courses have all come from the front row. Same for the last four winners on this track. 21 of the 23 Laguna Seca visits by the series has seen the winner come from the top three.Andretti had of the top 3 spots. James Hinchcliffe was the third AA driver to escape out of a brutal first round too as he qualified 11th. In the race itself, they had one car in the top 10 with finishes of 1-11-20-25.
  • Newgarden has to wonder where the pace went – He finished fifth last week and seventh this. That’s about the best they could do in either race due to their puzzling qualifying performances. The Tennessee native had nine top 10 qualifying spots in the first 10 races of the season including three straight poles entering Nashville. In the last five races, he’s been 12th or worse at the start in four of them. That’s costing his finishes.
  • Meyer Shank Racing has had a rough go of it in qualifying too. They were quick in practice at Portland but that didn’t translate well over to qualifying. Helio Castroneves has started 8th, 15th, 23rd, 17th and now 22nd in his five attempts this year. Jack Harvey is in the same boat. His last three starts are 16th, 20th and 20th respectively. 7 of his last 10 have seen him qualify 16th or worse.
  • RLL’s qualifying woes costing them wins/podiums too – Graham Rahal has to be wondering, what if? He started 18th in Barber and finished seventh in the season opener. He was 13th in Texas 1 and came home fifth. He was ninth a day later and finished third. The Indy GP in May he was 11th and came home fifth again. In the Belle Isle doubleheader, he started 20th and ninth. He’d finish fifth in both events. Mid-Ohio he went from eighth to sixth, Nashville 13th to 5th, Indy GP 2 17th to 7th and now Laguna Seca 12th to 4th. Imagine where he’d finish if he didn’t have to work so hard to come through the field.
  • The 45 car at RLL is the 2nd best car for them – The No. 45 Honda at Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing continues to shine. Santino Ferrucci had four top 10’s in his first four starts in this car. He was 11th in his last. Christian Lundgaard qualified it fourth at Indy but didn’t get a top 10 in the end though. Then, the keys were handed to Oliver Askew last weekend in Portland. He qualified ninth. A week later, he qualifies fifth and finished ninth. How impressive is this? Takuma Sato hasn’t had a top 10 start all season. Graham Rahal has had one start better than eighth all year and here Askew is in just his second start with the team equaling Rahal and bettering Ferrucci and Sato. The pace of this car though is real. That’s four straight top 10 starting spots for it with 2 top 5’s in the last 3. The 15 and 30 have 1 top five combined between them.
  • Ericsson keeps top 10s going – No one has been as hot as Marcus Ericsson since the Month of May. He’s had a top 10 finish in all but one race including finishes since June of 1st, 9th, 6th, 2nd, 1st, 9th, 9th, 7th and now 6th respectively. He had 12 top 10’s in his first 30 races of his career. He’s had 12 in 15 races this season.
  • Dixon is eliminated from the championship – He’s had three finishes of 13th or worse in his last 4 starts on the year.

  • Conor Daly continues to outshine his ECR teammate Rinus VeeKay. Over the first seven starts of the year, VeeKay had six top 10’s. Daly had none. Over the last seven races, Daly has finished ahead of VeeKay in all seven instances with VeeKay having all those results being 16th or worse. Before his injury for VeeKay, he had five top 10 qualifying spots in the first eight races of the season. Since? 1 in the last 6 including 4 of the last 5 being 22nd or worse.
  • Power/Rossi’s Bad Luck Continues – Colton Herta was supposed to be challenged from Alexander Rossi and Will Power but both of their bad luck streaks came back to bite them. Rossi, got off course in Turn 5 on Lap 2 while battling with Herta for the lead. He crashed while running third with 60 to go just after his final pit stop two races prior in Gateway. He had bad luck with cautions then was ran off course by Pato O’Ward in Nashville. A bad caution in back to back races for the Indy 500 and Belle Isle 1 cost him a shot at wins. So did a broken front wing early on in Belle Isle 2. A badly timed first pit stop in the season opener did too. For Power, he had engine issues and saw his fourth finish of 13th or worse in the last six races.

Championships

  • The Rookie of the Year Race is down to 20 points separating Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean. If McLaughlin can hold the former F1 driver off next week, he’d be the first Penske driver to earn these honors.
  • Honda clinched their fourth straight manufacturers title on Sunday. That comes after Chevrolet won every year from 2012 through 2017.
  • Alex Palou has to finish 11th or better next Sunday and the title is all his. He’s be the first driver not named Scott Dixon to bring home the championship for Chip Ganassi Racing in a decade. Five of the last eight Ganassi drivers to win the season opener also won the title that season too. Palou did that this past spring.

Top Stats

  • The next top 10 will be Newgarden’s 100th. He’s at 99 in 163 starts.
  • Simon Pagenaud just scored his 125th career top 10 on Sunday in Laguna Seca.
  • Graham Rahal was running at the finish for the 200th time in 240 starts.

Track/Season Trends

80% (12-for-15) of the races this season were won by top 10 starters now. Furthermore, 25 of the last 29 (86%) overall were won by top 10 starters in general. Also, among those 25 winners, 24 of them came from the top 4 Rows at that.

In respect to this track in general, the last 5 Laguna Seca winners came from the front row with four of which coming from the pole. 22 of the last 24 visits were won from a top 3 starter (16 from the pole, 4 from 2nd). 23 of the 24 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), 2nd (Indy 2), 1st (Portland) and 1st (Laguna Seca). 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 14 straight from the top 10 with 6 of 7 this year as well as 10 of the last 11 overall from the top five.

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