MONTEREY, Calif. -- Hopefully, the battle for supremacy in your #INDYCAR Fantasy Challenge driven by Firestone league is as close as the NTT IndyCar Series championship as the 2019 season comes to a close at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
For the 14th successive season, the INDYCAR champion will be crowned at the finale. Four drivers -- Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon -- are still mathematically capable of hoisting the Astor Cup on Sunday afternoon.
I’m surprised, but none of the championship quartet made the cut to join my last Fantasy Challenge team. Hopefully, that’s not a mistake.
With 18 of 22 previous winners at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca starting on the front row, it’s fair to say that Saturday’s qualifying session will key.
"It is one of the most iconic tracks in the U.S., and I have some experience there, including a pole position in 2004,” explained Sebastien Bourdais ($24), the first member of my final fantasy squad. “The layout really puts a premium at qualifying well, since it is super hard to pass.”
In his 11 Indy car finales, veteran Bourdais has three wins, the most of any driver in the field. The Dale Coyne Racing With Vasser-Sullivan pilot is one of four drivers in the 24 car field that has made an Indy car start at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. That includes a pole position the last time the top American open-wheel series visited the iconic road course in 2004.
The driver with the lowest average starting position on natural terrain road courses is Will Power ($31). The Aussie has poles at Circuit of The Americas and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and has not started worse than seventh in the six previous races.
The winner at Portland International Raceway has scored the second-most points on natural terrain road courses. Take into account a gearbox issue in the INDYCAR Classic, a race he was dominating, and he has been one of the best performers on road courses in 2019.
“I can't believe it's going to be the last race of the season already,” said the pilot who has scored more points than anybody else over the last five races. “It's been a tough season for the Verizon Chevy team, but with a couple of wins, we're glad we were able to find some success. Without the pressure of being in the championship hunt, we're going to Laguna Seca just focused on winning another race. My team has worked so hard, and I'm so grateful for everything they've done. Laguna is a new track for our team, but we have a good plan in place, and I know they've put together a great car for me there that I just can't wait to race."
At Portland International Raceway, rookie-of-the-year leader Felix Rosenqvist ($24) stood on the middle step of the podium for the second time in four races. The Swede has scored the fifth-most points in the first six road course races of the season and has the fifth-most points over the last five races. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver was second quickest in a February test held at the 2.258-mile, 11-turn road course. It also can’t hurt that his engineer Julian Robertson was a winner at this track with Jimmy Vasser in 1997.
Max Chilton ($20) is the last member of my WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca fantasy team. The Carlin driver led the February test at the circuit and is coming off his best finish of the year at Portland International Raceway. Chilton made his first American appearance at WeatherTech Raceway at the wheel of an Indy Pro 2000 (Star Mazda) race car in 2007, starting fourth and finishing 15th. The 28-year-old also holds the Indy Lights track record, starting on pole in both races in 2015.
"I'm looking forward to getting back to Laguna Seca and closing out the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season at such an iconic track,” the former Formula 1 driver said. “We tested there back in February, and even though it rained, we had a really productive day of testing for the team. We were definitely one of the fastest cars on the track that morning, and we were able to learn a lot making us really feel comfortable for the season finale. I just absolutely love this track and I've had some solid results with a couple of poles in Indy Lights, so I'm hoping we can use what we learned at the test and my experience here to close out this season with a good result for the entire Carlin team and the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet."
INDYCAR concludes its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. PT local) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. local). 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).