Written by Danny Jones, Edited by Ishani Aziz
After 16 races of a thrilling NTT IndyCar Series, five drivers head into WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, all with a shot of being crowned champion. Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson and Scott McLaughlin will be duking it out in the California desert as they aim to add their name to the Astor Challenge Cup.
Power comes into the race 20 points clear of Newgarden and Dixon, who are level on points in the standings. A podium finish would secure Power a second title, to add to his championship winning season in 2014. Power achieved that feat when IndyCar returned to Laguna Seca when he finished second in 2019, but suffered disaster last year, where he finished 26th, similar fortunes would almost certainly eliminate his chances at the title.
Newgarden has won five races this year, at Texas, Long Beach, Road America, Mid-Ohio and World Wide Technology Raceway, but Laguna Seca remains one of few circuits the Nashvilian has not won at on the schedule. Newgarden would require a top seven finish (or ninth if he leads the most laps, or picks up pole and leads a lap), to remain in mathematical contention, which would require disaster for Will Power, as Newgarden looks to become a three-time champion after success in 2017 and 2019, after finishing runner-up the last two seasons.
Scott Dixon comes into Laguna Seca looking to further solidify his claim to the title as one of the greatest to race in IndyCar, with a potential seventh championship on the line. Coming into Laguna Seca with the same points as Newgarden, Dixon would need the same top seven finish, or ninth if permutations are included, and hope that Power’s and Newgarden’s races are compromised. Dixon has had mixed fortunes in California since the race’s return in 2019, finishing third and 13th respectively.
Marcus Ericsson is one of two drivers bidding for their first IndyCar championship in Laguna Seca, but has a lot of ground to make up for that dream to be fulfilled. Ericsson lies 39 points behind Power, and would require victory, the fastest lap and most lap led points as well. That would still require Power to finish below 21st, which is unlikely given that this has not occurred since the race at Laguna Seca last year.
The last hopeful championship contender is Scott McLaughlin, who has been one of the stars of the season. In just his second season of IndyCar, he picked up a victory in Portland last time and added Texas and Mid-Ohio to his triumphs. McLaughlin lies 41 points behind Power, and will need similar fortunes to Ericsson: a require a victory, Power to finish 23rd or lower, as well as both Newgarden and Dixon to finish outside the top six.
As well as the championship battle, the battle for Rookie of the Year will be decided in the desert, with Christian Lundgaard and David Malukas separated by only five points. Lundgaard has been more impressive on the road courses, particularly in the last three rounds at Indianapolis, Nashville and Portland, although as we know in IndyCar, anything is possible.
IndyCar’s visit to Laguna Seca comes one week after Portland, where as mentioned, Scott McLaughlin picked up his third victory of the year, with Will Power finishing in second to boost his championship chances. Scott Dixon put in a characteristically powerful performance, climbing from 16th to third, with Pato O’Ward finishing fourth (ending his slim championship hopes) alongside defending champion, and potential future Arrow McLaren SP teammate, Alex Palou.
Laguna Seca is one of the most challenging but thrilling circuits on the calendar. 26 IndyCars will fly down the hill to the tight double-apexed left hander and the Andretti Hairpin, before they swing right twice, and climb up the hill and the next two left handers at five and six. Then comes the climb up the Rahal Straight before the approach The Corkscrew, one of motorsport’s iconic corners. The Corkscrew is a dramatic downhill, with a blind entry on apex, featuring a dramatic 18-meter drop in its left-right sequence. Alex Zanardi famously made a move on the final lap in 1996, which IndyCar rookie, at the time, Romain Grosjean replicated with some incredible moves last year, as the Frenchman finished third. The lap then finishes with an on-camber corner at the Rainey Curve followed by a right turn and a left turn to complete the short, but thrilling lap at Laguna Seca.
Since Laguna Seca’s return, both races have only been about one man; Colton Herta, who looks set to compete in his last IndyCar race for the foreseeable future. As rumours of an Alpha Tauri F1 move seem imminent (if granted a super license by the FIA), Herta has racked up victories in the meantime. Aptly, Herta triumphed at ‘Herta’s House’ in both of the events since its return in 2019 and 2021.
Laguna Seca will see the return of Simona de Silvestro, who competed in Road America, Mid-Ohio and Nashville this season, as she returns to the all-female team of Paretta Autosport, in the only driver change for the weekend,
IndyCar’s nature means it is impossible to predict who will come out on top in the 95 laps of Laguna Seca. Andretti have previously been strong here, but have not been up to the same level this season, whilst Team Penske’s recent form looks encouraging for Will Power’s championship hopes, although they opted to test at Portland instead of Laguna Seca last week.
95 laps. Five drivers in championship contention. Only one of those five names will be etched on the Astor Challenge Cup, the only question is, who will that person be? Find out on September the 11th, 3PM Eastern, 8PM BST to find out.