MONTEREY, Calif. -- With Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet) and Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet) in championship contention, Team Penske might have its opponents outnumbered, but Andretti Autosport is using its former series champion to help Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) win this season’s title.
In Thursday’s six-hour open test at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in preparation for this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) did something uncommon in INDYCAR switched cars with Rossi to explore different setup options.
Hunter-Reay drove seven laps in Rossi’s car, Rossi made five circuits in Hunter-Reay’s car (shown above).
“With the open test, an extra day like this gave us the opportunity to come here with drastically different setups,” Hunter-Reay said of the team’s plan. “What would take you maybe two-and-a-half hours to change setups (didn’t take additional time).”
It helps that Rossi and Hunter-Reay are nearly the same size, which means they can fit in each other’s car without significant modifications.
“Alex and I like similar things in the car, similar setups, (have) similar driving styles,” Hunter-Reay said.
They also ran each other’s cars at the same time of the 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,” he added. “Maybe some things from one car apply to qualifying and others to the race. It was definitely a beneficial exercise for us.”
Hunter-Reay said the best thing he can do for Rossi in Sunday’s 90-lap race is to take points away from Newgarden, the series leader, and he is certainly capable of that. Last year, Hunter-Reay won the 18th Indy car race of his career from the pole at the season-ending race at Sonoma Raceway. A pole also comes with a bonus point. Rossi trails Newgarden by 41 points heading into the double-finishing points season finale. Pagenaud is third in the standings, 42 points out of the lead.
As for Thursday’s action, Newgarden was fourth, Pagenaud eighth and Rossi ninth among the 24 drivers. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda) was sixth. He is the only other driver eligible for this year’s title, although it will take a lot for him to overcome the aforementioned group.
A FATHER’S SON OR A DRIVER’S DAD?
Through a strong first season in the NTT IndyCar Series, 19-year-old Colton Herta (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda) has succeeded in changing the narrative around his family’s place in the sport.
Long known as Bryan Herta’s son, the second-generation driver with Harding Steinbrenner Racing is starting to make his father known as “Colton’s dad.”
Not so fast, the teen said. “Maybe not this weekend,” he said.
That’s because his father is regarded as one of INDYCAR’s biggest stars at this track. In the years after Alex Zanardi got the best of him in 1996 with a daring last-lap pass through the downhill corkscrew, Herta won three consecutive poles in CART and the 1997 and ’98 races.
“He was ‘The Man,’” Colton said.
Colton had the role in Thursday’s open test, turning the day’s fastest lap at 1 minute, 10.0720 seconds. And for the record, he said he will, if necessary, defend the corkscrew entrance better than his father did.
LAGUNA SECA: 'EPIC' CIRCUIT
There is considerable excitement in the INDYCAR paddock this week that the NTT IndyCar Series is making its debut at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and open-wheel racing is back here for the first time since the Champ Car race of 2004.
Scott Dixon competed on the 11-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course that sits atop a gorgeous Monterey Peninsula hill in 2001 and ’02 while competing in CART. He called it “an epic track.” Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals Honda) is in total agreement.
“The biggest elevation drops here of anywhere you’re ever going to go, drive or see,” the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver said. “Everybody always asks, ‘What is it like to go through the corkscrew (at Turn 8)? What does it look like?’ It looks like nothing; you can’t really see. You’re waiting for the first thing to land and that’s what you get.
“It’s a tremendous track. We talk about Road America (and) Mid-Ohio. Here, they just don’t build them like this. … These are the old-fashioned-style racetracks that we don’t see anymore. That’s why I think a lot of people are excited to be back.”
BOURDAIS SUPPORTS RACING FOR KIDS
Four-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais (No. 18 SealMaster Honda) made a Racing For Kids pit stop this week at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.
With room-to-room visits, the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan driver answered questions about his career, race wins, favorite tracks and discussed other racing elements. Bourdais signed Racing For Kids caps for each child and their siblings, and posed for photographs before being featured on a closed-circuit TV show.
Bourdais helped Racing For Kids present the Stanford University Children’s Hospital with a $2,000 check to be used for the purchase of toys for the hospital’s new playrooms.
Founded in Detroit in 1989, Racing For Kids is designed to use the increasing popularity of motorsports to focus public attention and funding on the health care needs of children. The hospital visits by INDYCAR drivers form the heart of the program.
Friday’s action will have a pair of 45-minute practices (1:30 p.m. ET/10:30 a.m. PT and 5:10 p.m. ET/2:10 p.m. PT, NBC Gold). Saturday’s on-track action will feature a morning practice (1 p.m. ET/10 a.m. PT, NBC Gold) and NTT P1 Award qualifying at 4:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. PT) live on NBCSN.
Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, a 90-lap race, will be televised live on NBC beginning with the pre-race show at 2:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. PT) with the green flag scheduled for 3:25 p.m. (12:25 p.m. PT). The race also will be broadcast on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98).