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Fuel Numbers and Cautions Aplenty: IndyCar Grand Prix of Monterey Race Report

Written by Jake O’Callaghan 

The IndyCar series took to the legendary Laguna Seca for the eighth race of the 2024 season. Chip Ganassi Racing's Alex Palou started on pole next to Andretti Global's Kyle Kirkwood in second.

On the race start, all the cars got cleanly through turns one and two, uncharacteristically for Laguna Seca. Palou got a jump on the start but second-starting Kyle Kirkwood mounted a dive around the outside of turn two, successfully taking the lead. Elsewhere, Scott McLaughlin dropped two wheels in the dirt at turn three as the cars jockeyed for position at the start. Will Power went off track at turn four as he was battling with Ferrucci and Rasmussen and lost ten places as his car trundled through the dirt. The drivers were all eager to make overtakes early as passing can be difficult at the Laguna Seca circuit. 

There was some drama on lap six as Rinus Veekay went too wide at turn five and was sent spinning. It was relatively harmless, not making contact with anything or anyone. He continued on undeterred. 

This eagerness died down as the cars soon filed into line. On lap ten, it was Kirkwood eight tenths of a second ahead of Palou, with Rosenqvist in third. Palou quickly closed up to Kirkwood, putting serious pressure on the Andretti driver by lap 13. 

The front seven cars at this point all started on the black tyres, looking to extend longer than the drivers who started on the reds, Scott McLaughlin being the leading car on those tyres in eighth on lap 14. Many teams believed that this would be a red tyre race, and those tyres showed impressive pace during this first stint. All drivers seemed to be attempting to extend the first stint, unsurprising as the overcut is historically powerful at this track. The first driver to pull the trigger and pit was Marcus Ericsson on lap 18. He fitted sticker red tyres, taking off the black tyres that he started on. He would serve as a guinea pig for other teams to ponder pit strategy. Soon after his stop, many other drivers made their stops in reaction. His lap times were up to a second faster than other drivers on track at the time. On lap 20 Scott McLaughlin reported that the red tyres that he started on were holding up just fine, further strengthening the theory that it would materialise into a red race. 

Alex Palou caught up to the gearbox of Kyle KIrkwood by lap 23, severely pressuring him as their opening pit stops loomed. The first of the leading pack to pit was Alex Rossi, fitting red tyres and tuning some downforce into his car as he struggled with understeer during his first stint. Leader Kirkwood started to struggle with tyres by lap 24, but had to stay out to maximise his fuel number for the end of the race. Palou was relentless, not seeming to lose any time in Kirkwood’s dirty air. Kirkwood, along with teammate Herta and others, finally pitted on lap 25. He needed to pit to cover off the hard-charging drivers that pitted earlier such as Rossi and McLaughlin. Rossi beat Kirkwood out of the pits, cementing the undercut as the preferable strategy early in the race. 

Christian Lundgaard turned heads after he went off the track at turn nine on lap 27. Scott McLaughlin attempted an overtake on the exit of the Corkscrew and it put Lundgaard in the dirty part of the track, taking his car into the dirt. He crashed through a styrofoam advertising board that became caught in his front wing. It would not come off his car and severely hampered his aerodynamic performance. “It doesn’t turn in the high speed [corners]” he reported on team radio. Similarly, Felix Rosenqvist ran wide at turn five. Ericsson then ran wide at turn ten on the same lap. 

Alex Palou attempted the undercut, and went onto a black tyre after his first stop. He emerged ahead of Kirkwood but behind Rossi, though this harder compound of tyres served him no favours, as he slid down the order gradually. Kirkwood and Herta both passed him on lap 28, relegating him to fourth place. There was confusion as to why Palou committed to a black tyre strategy as the reds proved to be so strong in the first stint. His team Chip Ganassi Racing reportedly thought it would be a black tyre race, and they were not quick to change their minds.

Dale Coyne Racing driver Luca Ghiotto had a spectacular crash at turn four on lap 35, bringing out the first caution of the race. His No. 51 car was completely destroyed and unrecoverable, though the driver was just fine. He had gone off line at turn 4, going into the runoff at high speed before making big contact with the tyre barrier. This crash completely changed the complexion of the race, with many cars opting to pit early under caution and move to a presumptive four-stop strategy. Scott Dixon had issues in pit entry as he lost control of his car and hit the outside wall, though his car had minimal damage. Colton Herta’s pit crew worked wonders, fitting the black tyres with haste and giving him the jump over Alex Rossi. Alex Palou stayed out and inherited the lead as he committed to his original strategy.

The race went back to green on lap 41, with Grosjean making a move around the outside of O’Ward for second place. The race did not remain green for long as Nolan Siegel, in his debut race with Arrow McLaren, went off track at turn 2 and stalled in the dirt. He spun on the kerb of his own volition and lost all track position. He would bring out the second caution of the race.

It would not stay yellow for long, the race restarting two laps later. Palou got a bad jump out of the final corner and Grosjean got close into turn 2, though not close enough to make a pass. Behind, Pietro Fittipaldi shouldered Sting Ray Robb into the dirt at turn 2. Agustin Canapino ran off at turn 5 but continued on. There was more frantic jockeying for position as drivers tried to place themselves as best as possible to make their individual strategies work.

Pietro Fittipaldi received a drive-through penalty after drifting wide on pit exit on cold tyres, missing the transponder. Josef Newgarden had made an identical error earlier in the race.

Alex Palou pushed hard in this stint to build a gap to Colton Herta, the leader of the main strategy, to protect his lead. However, he needed to build roughly a 30 second gap which was difficult with his fuel and tyre situation. He had a 10 second gap on the restart and stretched that to 18 seconds in the following 10 laps. The drivers running Palou’s strategy started pitting on lap 54, with Palou coming the next time around. He had a 22 second gap when he hit pit road. Palou blended back into the race in third, just ahead of Kirkwood. Palou was struggling with cold tyres on his outlap but Kirkwood had to adhere religiously to a strict fuel number and could not mount an attack on the Chip Ganassi driver. The benefit of Palou pitting much later was that it granted him much more freedom with using fuel as they entered the latter stages of the race.

Will Power made a brave lunge on Scott Dixon into the Corkscrew for sixth place. Alex Palou pushed to pass Rossi for second on lap 61. He was trying to make his final stop and final stint as optimal as possible. He passed Rossi into turn 2 on lap 62 and set his sights on leader Colton Herta who was just one second up the road.

IndyCar race control handed Santino Ferrucci a six-place penalty after he illegally blocked Christian Rasmussen into turn 6. Moving in reaction to Rasmussen attempting to pull alongside him, a characteristically dangerous move for the AJ Foyt Racing driver.

Alex Palou took the race lead on lap 64, making a move down the inside of Colton Herta into the Corkscrew, demonstrating his superior fuel situation. His team extending his middle stint paid dividends in this later part of the race. 

Kyle Kirkwood was the first of the leading pack to make their final stop, pitting on lap 67. This stop put pressure on the other leaders to cover the Andretti Global driver off. Herta and Rossi stopped at the next time of asking, while Palou took a big risk, staying out and punctuating his race-long mindset of extending every stint. This big extension left him open to a caution, which would ruin his race. Luckily for Palou however, such a caution never occurred and it was on lap 70 when his team pulled him into the pits for the final time. Palou fitted a set of scrubbed black tyres, the safe option for his final stint. He emerged 13 seconds ahead of Herta. 

The third caution of the race came out on lap 75 as Marcus Armstrong was pushed wide at turn 4 by Christian Lundgaard, dangerously spinning across the track and stalling. He spun across the path of Graham Rahal, almost being T-boned at 130mph. Luckily, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver just missed the ailing Armstrong, avoiding what would have been a massive impact.

Out of nowhere, Josef Newgarden, who was running an alternate strategy and had been running a net-10th position, massively benefited from this caution as the IndyCar stewards waited to throw the yellow to allow drivers to pit. The Team Penske driver surprised all by emerging in second place, gaining a net eight positions due to this caution.

Elbows were out on the restart with 16 laps to go. Team Penske drivers Will Power and Scott McLaughlin made contact at turn five, the latter spinning. Christian Lundgaard then forced a three-wide situation into the Corkscrew, running wide over the runoff area and catching air as he bounded down the gravel-covered cliff at turn eight. 

Newgarden threw away all the advantage that he had gained in the caution as he ran into the dirt at turn 2. Soon after, his teammate Scott McLaughlin ran off the track at various corners as the steering damage suffered from the contact with Will Power materialised.

The caution was soon brought out yet again, though not for any of the Team Penske drivers. The yellows were, in fact, waved after Jack Harvey pulled over in the pit lane exit with engine failure, the Honda engine in his Dale Coyne Racing car seizing in a plume of white smoke.

The field restarted with 10 laps to go, Herta pulling alongside Palou into turn two, though the move did not work for the Andretti driver. Herta had to conserve fuel, the leader Palou did not. 

There was a huge crash between turns five and six with nine laps to go. Kyffin Simpson got a puncture after Agustin Canapino made contact with him in turn 5. It sent Simpson spinning into traffic where he was T-boned by Rahal, sending the latter driver head-on into the concrete barrier. The impact was sudden and unexpected for Rahal, the steering wheel snapping in his hands and giving him some apparent pain, though he climbed out of his stricken race car generally unhurt. Canapino would receive a penalty for avoidable contact.

Due to his previously-tight fuel number, this caution was a happy sight for Colton Herta. This would allow him to run laps slowly and not burn as much fuel, somewhat levelling the scales between him and Palou who had much more fuel before. The field was unleashed yet again with four laps to go.

As the green flag dropped, the front of the field remained relatively-unchanged as the drivers stretched out from each other relatively quickly. Colton Herta had a massive push-to-pass advantage on Palou but the caution was not enough to fully resolve his fuel scarcity, as he had to manage rather than chase for the victory.

Josef Newgarden spun out at turn six on the second-last lap, dropping to the back of the lead lap runners but continuing on without bringing out the caution.

Race Finish

When it was all said and done, it was Alex Palou that took the victory, his second win at Laguna Seca. The bold and brave strategy plotted by his team, Chip Ganassi Racing, proved vastly superior. He crossed the line with a two second gap to Andretti Global’s Colton Herta, whose fuel number restricted him from taking the fight to Palou at the end.

Alex Palou spoke about the race from his point of view: "it was a chaotic race," "[the team] did a tremendous job, the strategy was a bit risky for the position we were in, but we knew we had the pace and we just had to execute." "It was a bit too intense on those late restarts but overall an amazing win for the No.10 car."

IndyCar Grand Prix of Monterey Race Results

  1. Alex Palou

  2. Colton Herta

  3. Alexander Rossi

  4. Romain Grosjean

  5. Kyle Kirkwood

  6. Scott Dixon

  7. Will Power

  8. Pato O'Ward

  9. Santino Ferrucci

  10. Marcus Ericsson

  11. Felix Rosenqvist

  12. Nolan Siegel

  13. Christian Rasmussen

  14. Pietro Fittipaldi

  15. Christian Lundgaard

  16. David Malukas

  17. Linus Lundqvist

  18. Agustin Canapino

  19. Josef Newgarden

  20. Sting Ray Robb

  21. Scott McLaughlin

  22. Marcus Armstrong

  23. Graham Rahal [DNF]

  24. Kyffin Simpson [DNF]

  25. Jack Harvey [DNF]

  26. Rinus VeeKay [DNF]

  27. Luca Ghiotto [DNF]


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