Simply put, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey is the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ last day of school for the 2023 season, and with that comes a number of changes.
Including David Malukas confirmed Friday to join Arrow McLaren next year, there are no less than 10 of the top 30 drivers in series points who will be elsewhere next season. That makes this weekend unusual as much for those supporting the cars as those driving them.
Almost none of it appears to carry hard feelings. Romain Grosjean posted photographs celebrating his two seasons with his Andretti Autosport crew. Dale Coyne Racing took to social media to congratulate Malukas, and Arrow McLaren installed a supportive message of Felix Rosenqvist within view of the in-car camera.
“We’re adults,” Rosenqvist said of he and the team. “I understand they wanted to move on; they understood I wanted to move on.
“It’s business. Sometimes you have to make a change, or a move. There’s still a lot of love there.”
Rosenqvist will move to Meyer Shank Racing, which is parting with Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud. Malukas is leaving Dale Coyne Racing with HMD to take Rosenqvist’s seat in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.
Grosjean hasn’t confirmed his 2024 plans, but he has said he won’t be driving the No. 28 DHL Honda, and Devlin DeFrancesco won’t return to Andretti Autosport’s No. 29 Sapphire Gas Solutions Honda. Previously announced is Marcus Ericsson’s impending departure from the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing for a seat with Michael Andretti’s organization.
Grosjean had a difficult start to his final weekend with Andretti Autosport. Like Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou in Thursday’s open test, Grosjean lost the rear of his car exiting Turn 4 and slid into the gravel, hitting the tire barrier hard with the right side. He said he lost control “very, very quickly.”
Vips Picking Up Pace in a Hurry
New Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Juri Vips (No. 30 Mi-Jack Honda) has enjoyed two strong days at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and he isn’t surprised by it.
Vips spent last weekend at Portland trying to not only adapt to his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, but he had to get his brain back up to speed after not driving all season.
“It’s a completely different story,” he said. “Having not raced all year – it’s not just about INDYCAR – it’s like any other series. I wasn’t used to pushing the car around the track to its limits. That was sort of the main thing last weekend, just getting back up to speed and then obviously just learning all the little bits with INDYCAR, as well, with pit stops and overtakes and so on and learning the car.”
Vips got a bonus day Thursday with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ open test at Laguna Seca, and he delivered the fourth-fastest lap. In Friday’s official practice, his car was sixth quickest.
“Jumping in for the test yesterday, I was already much more comfortable,” he said. “I think it’s translating for today, as well.”
Repaving Presents New Challenges
Along with the repaving of the 11-turn, 2.238-mile permanent road course is the adjustment of the drivers regarding how they approach corners. Will Power and Alexander Rossi had an interesting exchange discussing the changes.
“Going flat through Turn 4 was surprising to me,” Power said.
Said Rossi: “I think all corners picked up the same amount of grip, right?”
Power said Turn 9 has become more difficult.
“I couldn’t turn the bloody wheel,” he said.
Said Rossi: “Getting up there in age, so …”
While the 42-year-old Power understood the playfulness of Rossi’s comment, he didn’t let that comment slide without a response.
“Let’s have an arm wrestle,” he said, smiling.
Power brought Friday’s practice to a close early by going off track, with his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet sustaining moderate damage to the rear and the floor.
Armstrong Set for Oval Test
Marcus Armstrong, who this week was confirmed to be a full-time Chip Ganassi Racing driver next season, won’t waste time getting a close-up look at the ovals of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, which he has yet to drive on in any capacity. A test at Texas Motor Speedway is set for Wednesday.
“Certainly, it’s going to be something like I’ve never experienced before,” he said. “So, whenever you go into a testing situation – or anything for that matter that you don’t know what to expect – it always brings some nerves, I think.
“It’s like jumping onto your first street circuit. It’s always a little bit daunting at the beginning, but it doesn’t take long for you to acclimate to that and to trust your instincts.”
The driver of the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda said he was “excited for that challenge.”
Odds and Ends
- Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda) had a bumpy ride Friday down through the Corkscrew, digging into the gravel and hitting the transition back to the asphalt before driving back to the pits.
- RLL co-owner Bobby Rahal is back at the track after missing last weekend at Portland International Raceway following recent knee replacement surgery.
- Scott McLaughlin slid off track in Turn 1 in the No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet, ending up stuck in the gravel at apex.
- Malukas was the subject of an Arrow McLaren social media post following the announcement that he will join the team for 2024. “It’s not official until you get the TK selfie,” the post said. Tony Kanaan is employed by the team as a special advisor.
- The No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet of rookie Agustin Canapino will serve a six-spot grid penalty at the start of Sunday’s race for an unapproved engine change.
- Series points leader Christian Rasmussen of HMD Motorsports with DCR turned the fastest lap of Friday’s INDY NXT by Firestone practice at 1 minute, 12.3656 seconds. Andretti Autosport’s Hunter McElrea was second at 1:12.3954, and Kyffin Simpson of HMD Motorsports with CGR was third at 1:12.7230.
- Qualifying for the weekend INDY NXT by Firestone doubleheader is Saturday at 12:05 p.m. ET (INDYCAR Live, INDYCAR Radio Network).