Pato O'Ward

Josef Newgarden enters Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey eighth in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES points standings, trailing Team Penske teammate Will Power by 67 points for the top spot.

The 10-race stretch to the season’s finish line Sept. 15 at Nashville Superspeedway sets up nicely for Newgarden to potentially storm through the six drivers in front of him to claim his third Astor Challenge Cup championship trophy, joining 2017 and 2019.

Newgarden is a two-time winner at both Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (July 7) and on the streets of Toronto (July 21), has six wins in 14 Iowa Speedway (July 13-14) starts, including four of the last five, and is victorious in three of his last four starts at World Wide Technology Raceway (Aug. 17).

Portland International Raceway (Aug. 25), Milwaukee Mile (Aug. 31, Sept. 1) and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, this site of Sunday’s race at 6 p.m. ET (USA Network, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network), are the only tracks left on the schedule were Newgarden has raced but never won.

Friday’s practice session from the 11-turn, 2.238-mile California road course gives Newgarden hope he can take his No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet to victory lane. Newgarden was fourth quickest among the 27 drivers with a top time of 1 minute, 7.8805 seconds after completing the fewest laps in the session.

Newgarden elected to end practice early to conserve his Firestone Firehawk racing tires for the remainder of the race weekend. That’s also how confident he is in his car to deliver his 31st career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory.

"We kind of took it easy on our program, tried to limit some of the miles on the tires just given the nature of this weekend,” he said. “You don't have a ton of tires to work with. I think the good thing we learned was that our car was in a nice window right away. That's always a great thing to find out when you roll off.

“Didn't make a ton of adjustments. Trying to get a read between the different compounds, which I always have to do in qualifying. That was sort of our thought process today."

Newgarden has a pair of top-two finishes in the last three starts on the season, including a triumphant victory with a last-lap pass of Pato O’Ward to claim his second consecutive Indianapolis 500. In four WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca starts, Newgarden has three top-eight finishes, including a runner-up result in 2022 when he gained 24 spots on race day climbing from 25th at the start.

Siegel Takes Over during Grueling Stretch

New Arrow McLaren driver Nolan Siegel is amid a busy stretch of races. Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be the sixth race weekend for Siegel in a seven-week span.

The grueling stretch has seen him compete in three different race cars (INDY NXT by Firestone, NTT INDYCAR SERIES, LMP2 sports car at Le Mans) for five different race teams (HMD Motorsports, Dale Coyne Racing, Juncos Hollinger Racing, Arrow McLaren and United Autosports) across four states and two countries.

Siegel’s busy journey began by competing in the INDY NXT by Firestone doubleheader May 10-11 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, then failing to qualify for the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 with Dale Coyne Racing after two crashes. Siegel returned to his No. 39 HMD Motorsports INDY NXT entry at Detroit, finishing 18th after a mechanical issue before he rolled off pit lane.

A week later, Siegel showed up in Road America with the mindset to rebound, only to replace the sidelined Agustin Canapino in the No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

Siegel then rushed to Chicago to catch a flight after the June 9 XPEL Grand Prix at Road America to jet over the Atlantic to compete in last weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, an event he won with teammates Oliver Jarvis and Bijoy Garg. Then Siegel crossed the Atlantic again, and the United States as a whole, to return to his home state of California to make his Arrow McLaren debut.

This weekend, he becomes the first driver in 27 years to make his first three NTT INDYCAR SERIES starts for three different teams joining Jeff Ward in 1996-97, who raced for Galles Racing at Walt Disney World Speedway, Team Cheever for the Indianapolis 500 and ISM Racing at Las Vegas.

“It’s a dream come true for me to be full time in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and for that to be with a team like Arrow McLaren is pretty incredible and excited for the opportunity,” Siegel said.

In 2023, Siegel raced seven different cars, so he’s well versed in jumping from ride to ride.

“There’s a lot to get used to,” he said of this transition to a new team. “A lot of new things and a lot of new faces for me to learn. We’ll take it as it comes. I haven’t had much time to meet everyone and really see how the team functions. That’s going to be the goal of the weekend. Get to know everyone better and kind of settle in.

“I’ll do my best and I’ll put the No. 6 NTT DATA car as far up the field.”

Lundgaard Has Fond Laguna Seca Memories

Third-year driver Christian Lundgaard returns to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca after some history-making runs in his previous two races at the 2.238-mile road course.

In his first Laguna Seca start in 2022, Lundgaard clinched the Rookie of the Year title over David Malukas with a fifth-place finish after starting 16th. In the race, he steadily moved up the field after starting on Firestone primary tires while the majority of the field started on alternates, which turned out to be the best strategy.

In Round 2 of NTT INDYCAR SERIES knockout qualifying last year, he set a track-record time of 1:06.4610, smashing Helio Castroneves’ previous record of 1:07.722 set in 2000. In the Firestone Fast Six, he was on a lap time that would have been four-tenths of a second up and good enough for his third NTT P1 Award of the 2023 season but made a mistake in the Corkscrew and had to settle for third place.

On the opening lap of the race, he came into contact with second-place starter Scott McLaughlin in Turn 1, which set off a multicar crash. Lundgaard pitted for repairs and new Firestone Firehawk racing tires, and the team battled back to finish sixth.

“I have good memories at Laguna Seca, obviously having won the rookie championship in 2022, which ultimately came down to the last race of the season,” said Lundgaard, driver of the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda. “And then setting the track record in 2023 with the new pavement is something I’m incredibly proud of.

“It’s a very historical track that I always enjoy driving on. The new pavement made a huge difference last year, and it’s going to be interesting this year. I think we might be challenging that lap time again.”

Lundgaard was 11th quickest Friday with a top time of 1:08.1637. By comparison, he was 25th in the first session last year and improved overnight to a Firestone Fast Six appearance.

Vips Hopes To Race with RLL in 2024

Juri Vips signed with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing to make his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut for the final two races of the 2023 season. The 23-year-old Estonian finished 18th at Portland International Raceway and 24th at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

He flashed enough talent for team management to keep him under contract in 2024 despite not having a race seat. Vips has attended most races this season and also has done the bulk of the team’s simulator work, focusing on Indianapolis 500 preparation.

Vips, the former Red Bull Racing Junior Team driver who worked his way through the European junior ladder, said Friday there could be an opportunity to race for RLL this season.

“We have the engine from the fourth car,” Vips said referring to the fourth entry RLL ran for Takuma Sato for last month’s Indianapolis 500. “It’s just putting all the pieces together to make it work, but we’re trying to make it happen.”

STEM Students Participate in ‘Girls Day at The Track’

Launched in 2022, Women In Motorsports (WIM), Powered by PNC Bank with Chip Ganassi Racing, is an initiative that helps inspire the next generation of engineers, mechanics and other career pathways in motorsports. CGR also offers internship programs to both women and men to help establish career pathways in motorsports.

Friday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, PNC Bank hosted more than 20 STEM-focused students from Cabrillo College for “Girls Day at the Track.”

These students were privy to a behind-the-scenes look at how drivers and crews work together to prepare for and compete in NTT INDYCAR SERIES races.

Team members met with the students to discuss careers in motorsports. Also, executives from Bay FC National Women’s Soccer League Team were in attendance to talk with the students about careers in professional sports.

Odds and Ends

  • Working as the corner marshal communicator in Race Control this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is Kim Kuzma McFarland, the grand-niece of Eddie Kuzma. He was a roadster builder in the 1950s, including having his hands in building the 1952 Indianapolis-winning machine for Troy Ruttman.
  • Colton Herta was second quickest (1:07.7316) in his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Global with Curb-Agajanian. That was the third consecutive year he was in the top two in the opening practice session. Herta was second fastest in 2022 and quickest last year.
  • Five different NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams were represented in the top six of Friday’s speed chart led by Team Penske at first and fourth, respectively. Andretti Global (second), Chip Ganassi Racing (fourth), Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (fifth) and Arrow McLaren (sixth) joined Team Penske up front.
  • Team Penske has six WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca victories but none since Helio Castroneves in 2000. The team had all three cars in the top 10 of the opening practice session Friday and swept the podium in the last race, June 9 at Road America.