We are less than two weeks until the IndyCar finale from Laguna Seca and it is the first time IndyCar has been to the track since 2004.
This has been a period of returns for IndyCar. In 2016, Phoenix returned after 11 years and Road America after nine years; in 2017, Gateway returned after 13 years and last year, Portland returned for the first time since 2007.
The past few years we have looked back at some of IndyCar's previous visits to these new but yet familiar places. We did it for Gateway and Portland and now it is Laguna Seca's turn to receive some attention.
I went back and decided to watch 11 races from Laguna Seca. After doing this for Portland last year, I thought about what races to watch and while I feel it is important to give a complete picture of how the races have been it does not necessarily translate to what we will see in 2019. The races of the 1980s and 1990s were different in terms of attrition and fuel rules. In Laguna Seca's case, the entire track layout was different. Of these 11 races, six were from the last nine years Laguna Seca hosted a race.
We will start with the first time IndyCar made its way to Monterey in 1983.
This was a much different circuit compared to what we see today and it was really an oval except for the corkscrew and the right-hand penultimate corner. The 1.9-mile circuit had very little run-off area and it had little in terms of actual walls to keep the cars within the race course. Parts of the circuit were right against the berm where fans overlooked the circuit.
Teo Fabi started on pole position and he flew from the rest of the field at the start. Because of the nature of the circuit, the corkscrew was actually a passing zone. The cars built up a lot of speed going up hill and it allowed for cars to make a move to the inside into the corkscrew, including Al Unser, Jr. on his father Al Unser.
Of course, because the corkscrew was such a prime position for action, it led to mistakes including Pancho Carter spinning on exit and Derek Daly and Steve Chassey getting together into the corner. Kevin Cogan was second but had an incident with Roger Mears in the final corner of the course. It was game over for Cogan.
Fabi won the race in a runaway, 22 seconds clear of Mario Andretti and Chip Ganassi rounded out the podium with Unser, Jr. finishing fourth.
The 1980s were a different time and in this race only nine of 27 cars finished the race. This allowed for Unser, Jr. to finish fourth from 12th on the grid, Howdy Holmes to finish fifth from 17th and two laps down and Roger Mears to finish sixth from 16th and four laps down. It also allowed Bobby Rahal to finish seventh, five laps down despite having an early pit stop for repairs.
I enjoyed this circuit and I wonder how a race with today's car would play out. There are a few tight corners but would it race closer to an oval? There was not much side-by-side racing through the first few corners going uphill, I wonder if that would be possible today.
This was the third of Bobby Rahal's four consecutive Laguna Seca victories, all of which came on the original track configuration but this race had six lead changes, the most on the original track.
Mario Andretti started on pole position and led at the start ahead of Rahal. Michael Andretti moved up to third in the corkscrew with a pass on Rick Mears on the first lap. On lap nine, Rahal made a move up the inside of Mario Andretti into the corkscrew and took the lead.
Outside of Rahal's pass into the corkscrew, the other lead changes came from pit cycles. Geoff Brabham had a hard battle for sixth with Emerson Fittipaldi with the two trading the position. Fittipaldi got sixth on the front straightaway after Brabham was slowed in traffic but Brabham got the spot back into the corkscrew.
This was a fast race, in fact, the fastest race at Laguna Seca with an average speed of 119.693 MPH. The speed of the race led to fuel concerns for the top two and between fuel conservation and the lapped traffic it led for Danny Sullivan to close on Rahal in the final laps. Rahal held on for the victory by 1.41 seconds over Sullivan and Michael Andretti finished third.
Geoff Brabham had to switch from Honda to a Cosworth engine for this race because the team did not have enough Honda engines to complete the season.
There were two notable instances that did not bring out a caution. Tom Sneva spun in the middle of the straightaway before the corner that leads to what is now the Rahal Straight. There was no caution despite the car being stuck with very with runoff room. Randy Lewis had a fire on the front straightaway, no caution. My, how the times have changed.
This was the first Laguna Seca race after the reconfiguration and creation of what we now know as the hairpin and turns three, four and five. Johnny Rutherford was in the booth for this race and he noted that the drivers liked the new configuration and it was more fun than the previous layout.
Danny Sullivan started on pole position in what could have been a coronation ceremony as he entered the race leading the championship over Bobby Rahal by 25 points. All Sullivan needed to clinch the title was a finish of tenth or better.
Sullivan kept the lead from the start but Teo Fabi spun in the hairpin on the first lap. It was a single-car incident and he continued.
Dale Coyne had a rough accident entering the corkscrew after he squeezed Tony Bettenhausen, Jr. and it brought out a caution early.
The racing was close. The field didn't really spread out but it remained single-file and all the lead changes came through pit cycles. However, there were eight lead changes and statistically that is the most lead changes in a Laguna Seca race, regardless of track configuration.
What passing we did see was on lapped traffic and there was a notable amount of it occurring into the corkscrew.
Sullivan cruised to a championship-clinching victory with Michael and Mario Andretti rounding out the podium and Rahal finished fourth after struggling with brake issues.
The sub-story of this race was the Marlboro Challenge, which would be held at the next race in Miami, and Derek Daly made the field as well as Teo Fabi. I kind of wish something like the Marlboro Challenge still existed but it would feel unnecessary.
Before the race, ESPN pit reporter John Bisignano was sitting on the right front tire of Daly's car while the car was on the grid. I know IndyCar is not the most restrictive series but I cannot imagine anyone allowing this today.
Al Unser, Jr.'s race was disrupted when he hit a rabbit and it broke his front wing. It dropped Unser, Jr. to a sixth place finish.
The second race on the revised layout saw seven lead changes, the second-most in a Laguna Seca race. Danny Sullivan took the lead from the start from pole-sitter Rick Mears but Sullivan's and hopes for a second consecutive victory vanishes on lap three when he slows in Rainey Curve and Mears took the top spot.
Al Unser, Jr. closed in on Mears and remained on Mears' rear wing. Derek Daly, Scott Pruett and Teo Fabi had a tight three-way battle for eighth.
Mears and Unser, Jr. stopped on the same lap. Mario Andretti took the lead and ran a few more laps before his first stop. He and Michael Andretti stopped on the same lap but he lost time, as the tight nature of the pit lane made it difficult to get out around his son. Despite running longer and the additional time spend on pit lane, the Andrettis both exited ahead of Mears and Unser, Jr. but Mears would get around Michael Andretti for second on the straightaway before the corkscrew on Michael's out lap.
Mario Andretti made his second stop before the other leaders and two laps later Fabrizio Barbazza stopped on course to bring out a caution. Mears made it to the pit lane for his second stop but Unser, Jr. stayed out and inherited the lead. Kevin Cogan moved up to second. Unser, Jr. and Galles Racing felt Mears and Andretti were not in a window where they could comfortably make it to the end on fuel.
After the restart, Mears and Mario Andretti dispatched Cogan in the hairpin and turn five respectively. Unser, Jr. pulled away as he had to try and open a gap over Mears and Andretti. Unser, Jr.'s first stop came on lap 62 but he came out in third behind Mears and Andretti.
Pruett again found himself in a good battle for fifth with Bobby Rahal and Emerson Fittipaldi was behind him. Rahal lost those two spots when he dropped his right side tires off exiting turn six.
It did become a fuel conservation race between Mears and Mario Andretti. Andretti was six seconds behind Mears with three laps to go. With two laps to go, Andretti took a second out of the gap to Mears and he took another second out coming to the white flag. Mears held on to take the victory by 1.846 seconds over Andretti. Unser Jr. held off Pruett for the final podium position.
This victory tied Rick Mears with Rodger Ward for sixth most victories in IndyCar history and Ward was in attendance.
Noted during the broadcast was some of the fuel rules dated back to the gas crisis of 1973 and teams were talking about changing it so teams would have enough fuel and not have to worry about not having enough to make it to the finish.
Most of the final laps were spent on Rick Mears' wife and Paul Newman. I can understand why this practice was done to show the drama and emotion to the perimeter players because you cannot show it on the face of a driver who is in a full-face helmet and in the tight confines of a cockpit but man it has not aged well and you missed a lot of what happened on track.
This race was the third of three consecutive Laguna Seca with zero lead changes. So why watch it? Because I want to get a feel if it was a case of there was no passing anywhere or the leader was able to pull away with the rest of the positions being jockeyed for.
It was noted that a record crowd was on hand for what would be the championship-decider. Bobby Rahal entered leading Michael Andretti by 12 points. Andretti was leaving for McLaren the following season and he started on pole position with Rahal in sixth. Andretti needed Rahal to finish fifth or worse.
Andretti held onto the lead from the start and he and the Penske cars of Paul Tracy and Emerson Fittipaldi pulled away. Rahal would be gifted fifth position when Scott Goodyear suffered a mechanical problem and prior to the halfway point Fittipaldi would also slow, moving Rahal up to fourth.
The leaders weren't passing each other but there was some action in the middle of the field. Jimmy Vasser spun passing Christan Danner into turn five and Danny Sullivan and Raul Boesel had a battle into the hairpin with Sullivan losing the spot on entry but gaining it on exit when Boesel ran wide. The one notable pass between the leaders was Rahal on Mario Andretti in the hairpin. This occurred after Andretti was balked in lap traffic entering the final corner and it allowed Rahal to get a run down the straightaway.
While Mario Andretti would get the position back on Rahal through pit stops, the title went to Rahal after a few fortunate circumstances. John Andretti was competitive and in the top five when he stalled on a pit stop and Tracy had damage after he spun the lapped car of Vasser in the final corner when Tracy was trying to pressure Michael Andretti for the lead.
Michael Andretti won the race with his father Mario in second but Rahal's third place result locked up the title by four points over Michael Andretti.
Nigel Mansell was in attendance and he was not a big deal. He was not shown on camera until about 2/3rd of the way through the race when he was interviewed and they showed him watching the closing stages of the race sitting on a wall on the edge of the final corner of the circuit.
Danny Sullivan was offered a role in a television movie.
Carl Hogan was trying a noise-canceling headset. We have come a long way.
Entering this race it was a three-way battle for the championship between Jimmy Vasser, Michael Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. This was also the first race on the Laguna Seca layout as we know it today with turns ten and 11, the final two corners of the circuit, being re-profiled before the 1996 race.
Alex Zanardi started on pole position and he got out to a comfortable lead with cars going three-wide into the hairpin behind him on the opening lap. It remained tight in the middle of the top ten with a notable battle between Scott Pruett, Vasser and Unser, Jr.
Zanardi went 27 laps on the first stint while Vasser did 29 laps. Bryan Herta started second and remained in second in the opening stint. After the first round of pit stops Herta closed in on Zanardi.
It was noted the difficulty to pass especially in the hairpin because of how dirty it was off line and the way the track sloped. Greg Moore spun attempting to pass Maurício Gugelmin in this corner.
However, on lap 43, Herta took the lead from Zanardi in the hairpin. It was noted how much tires overheated and the cars were sliding around. The blistering of Zanardi's tires in this second stint allowed Herta to open a sizable gap.
Stefan Johansson had an accident after he suffered a rear wing failure into the hairpin. Everyone made their final pit stops under this caution and the restart came with 24 laps to go.
This set up what is the most notable moment in the history of Laguna Seca and perhaps American open-wheel history. Zanardi stayed close to Herta for the entirety of the final 24 laps. He really didn't pressure Herta off the restart. The pressure increased in the closing laps and it led to a slight error from Zanardi when he dropped his right side tires exiting Rainey Curve.
Zanardi regrouped and clawed back the gap to Herta.
Then the pass.
What else can be said?
Zanardi went full send from a mile back and made it stick. It was the only passing attempt in the corkscrew all race.
Zanardi won the race, Herta was second, Scott Pruett rounded out the podium from tenth on the grid and Jimmy Vasser won the championship with a fourth place finish.
This is the championship-decider we should dread, none of the drivers up at the front and no chance of a change for the top spot.
However, unlike 2019, where I feel the broadcast would focus on the championship drivers even if they were 12th, 18th and 20th and when we all knew nothing was going to change, the 1996 broadcast focused on the leaders. It mentioned the championship battle but once Michael Andretti had a flat tire and spun and Al Unser, Jr. was a lap down the attention stayed on the leaders and that was the correct choice.
I am afraid that in 2019 we are too focused on selling a title-deciding race that we lose sight of a great race and don't give it the attention it deserves just because the championship drivers aren't in the fight for the race victory.
Picking up from where things left off in 1996, Bryan Herta and Alex Zanardi started on the front row and it led to a competitive battle in the opening laps of the race. This allowed Jimmy Vasser to make up a few positions from sixth starting position.
The opening stint was one where Herta was in front but mostly holding up the field and Zanardi, instead of sitting back and hoping to get the position through a faster in-lap and out-lap, tried to make a move on the outside of the hairpin. This led to contact, forcing Zanardi off the road, slowing Herta up and allowing Scott Pruett to take the lead in turn three. Vasser moved up to third with Zanardi stepping off the road and he pressured Herta into a mistake into turn six on that lap to moved up to second.
Vasser would take the lead through pit stops, coming out ahead of Pruett but like the first stint the top five remained in close proximity with Vasser ahead of Pruett, Zanardi, Maurício Gugelmin and Mark Blundell. Herta lost a significant amount of ground after his off track escapades and pit stop and he was in eighth.
On the second stint, Vasser and Blundell went the longest and Vasser maintained the lead while Blundell moved up to second. Pruett lost two spots dropping to fifth. Zanardi had a quick car and tried to make a pass on Blundell on the inside of the hairpin for second but locked up and went off. Zanardi continued but he had dropped to fifth. Zanardi came under pressure from André Ribeiro and Ribeiro completed a pass on the inside of Zanardi into the hairpin for fifth.
Vasser and Blundell remained in lock step in the closing laps while cars dropped out from the race at a significant pace in the final 20 laps, including Pruett, who was spun in the hairpin by Ribeiro. This moved Zanardi up two positions. Lapped traffic came into play on the final lap, backing Vasser up to Blundell. Vasser defended the inside of the corkscrew on the final lap and the inside of the final corner to take victory over Blundell. Gugelmin went off in the final lap, handing Zanardi third and clinching Zanardi his second title.
This was a caution-free race and eight cars retired in the final 20 laps. The attrition allowed...
André Ribeiro to go from tenth to sixth, Gil de Ferran to go from ninth to fifth, Gualter Salles to go from 18th to seventh, Raul Boesel to go from 15th to eighth and Roberto Moreno to go from 26th to tenth.
At the halfway point, Moreno was 17th, Boesel was 16th and Sallas was 13th.
Bryan Herta started on pole position and held on to the lead from the start. Outside of the first lap, there was only one pass for position between lap two and lap 14. Color commentator Danny Sullivan said it was because of how competitive the field was and how close the field was.
Herta controlled this race and seemed to get to a two or three second lead and maintain that gap. Alex Zanardi started sixth and got a position at the start, another position through pit cycle and he got up to third passing Dario Franchitti into the hairpin on a restart.
Tony Kanaan was the mover of the race. He started 14th and was only tenth at the halfway point at lap 42. However, Kanaan got up to fourth on pit strategy by lap 57 and he made a pass on Franchitti on the inside of the hairpin for third a handful of laps later.
There was restart with seven laps to go and Patrick Carpentier, Scott Pruett and Gil de Ferran got together in the hairpin. It set up a restart with two laps to go. Herta defended the inside of the corkscrew from Zanardi on the penultimate lap, learning the lesson from his past missed opportunity. Zanardi kept the pressure on but Herta held on for his first career victory and Kanaan finished third, his first career podium finish.
ESPN cut away from this race for Sammy Sosa at-bats because it was during the home run race between Sosa and Mark McGwire. Sosa hit his 61st home run that day.
I know steroids were involved but I was kid and I remember when home runs were a big deal and ESPN would cut away regularly for these at-bats and later Barry Bonds. ESPN doesn't cut away ay all for these type of milestone moments nor no-hitters or perfect games and I miss it.
While ESPN was cutting in for home runs, Honda provided limited commercial interruption during the closing stage of the race.
ESPN had pop-up video fun facts during this race, which were odd and the oddest of all was one that said Dario Franchitti's nickname was "Speedwagon." Who called him that?
Blundell's car had Haas sponsorship on the side.
When going over the Laguna Seca results you see 20 of 22 races have been won from inside the top three with 18 races from the front row and then you have the 2001 race where the winner started 25th. How could such a thing occur?
The answer is eight cautions for 29 laps and a race that was run to a time limit.
Michael Andretti spun in the hairpin at the start, Kenny Bräck suffered damage after contact with Maurício Gugelmin in turn five and then the teammates Alex Tagliani and Patrick Carpentier got together in the penultimate corner.
Gil de Ferran led from the start ahead of Hélio Castroneves and Scott Dixon. On lap 15, Memo Gidley was 18th after starting 23rd and Max Papis was 20th from 25th. Roberto Moreno spun three laps later exiting turn four and Michel Jourdain, Jr. got into the barrier. Castroneves made a pit stop while de Ferran and the rest of the front-runners stayed out.
Castroneves would make up some ground, including passes on Gidley and Gugelmin in the hairpin.
The rest of the leaders would not come in until around lap 34 when de Ferran came in and lap 37 when Dixon, who Parker Johnstone praised for his great fuel mileage that season, made his first stop.
On lap 42, Papis was fourth while Gidley was ninth and Shinji Nakano stopped on circuit to bring out a caution. Papis would make a pit stop under this yellow and he would restart in 15th, one spot ahead of Gidley.
This is where the time limit starts to come into play. After another Andretti spin in the hairpin the field pits under caution at lap 50, which includes Castroneves making contact with Paul Tracy on exit.
Fernández leads on the restart ahead of Papis, Gidley, de Ferran and Dixon and immediately Dario Franchitti and Cristiano da Matta get together exiting the hairpin sending da Matta into the tires. The next restart would come on lap 56, 27 laps to go or 32 minutes remaining.
At this point, Fernández has not made a stop since lap 36, Gidley on lap 37 and Papis on lap 43. Tracy would go off in turn three and Franchitti would go off moments later in a separate accident in the same corner. That would bring out a caution and bring Fernández to the pit lane.
Papis was going for it like he did at Portland in 2001 and the restart came on lap 65. Not long after, Oriol Servià would have his infamous accident climbing over Gugelmin in the hairpin and nose-diving into the sand, this launched Servià's car into a somersault, traveling some 30-50 feet. Servià was conscious and moving when the medical team reached the car and all he was being checked for was a sore neck. The HANS device was largely credited for saving Servià in that accident.
This accident would not only confirm the race would run to a time limit but that Papis and Gidley would be good to make it on fuel. The other thing in Papis and Gidley's favor was the lapped car of Andretti was in-between Gidley and de Ferran.
The final restart came with six minutes to go and Papis went unchallenged. He would take his second victory of the season while Gidley finished second ahead of pole-sitter de Ferran.
The big story entering the race was Honda's exit from the series and this is a bad reminder of a dark period for American open-wheel racing.
We have been lucky, one not to have the split, but two because while Lotus flamed out after one horrendous season Honda and Chevrolet have provided stability. I don't think anyone wants IndyCar to be in a position where we could be down to one manufacture again and it is kind of why everyone is eager for additional manufactures to join with the next generation engine regulations.
This was the second consecutive year CART went to Laguna Seca in June opposed to September or October and this was the first time after the significant shift in power with Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Green Racing moving to the Indy Racing League while Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing remained straddling no-man's land.
The race weekend started with some drama when Michel Jourdain, Jr. had pole position taken away for his car being underweight and it put Patrick Carpentier on pole position while Jourdain had to start 13th.
The initial start was waved off but the race got going on lap two and Paul Tracy moved into second ahead of Bruno Junqueira. The one thing I noticed was how cars would use the pit exit lane as racetrack down into the hairpin. At the start it allowed cars to set up for the inside into the hairpin but did not cause any incidents.
This was the period of mandatory pit windows and no car could go more than 24 laps. Every car tried to go as long as they could with Carpentier, Tracy and Junqueira all coming in on lap 24. Carpentier was stuck in traffic at the end of the stint and it closed the gap considerably, making execution from the crews crucial. Everyone held their position after the first stop and Carpentier pulled away with clear track ahead.
Carpentier made a mistake into turn three, dropping his left side tires into the dirt. Tracy closed but could not get through. Junqueira would again close on the two Canadians. All three went the maximum distance on the second stint, pitting on lap 48 and this is where the race was interesting. Tracy clipped the tire in Adrian Fernández's pit stall on exit and he locked up the right front mightily rejoining the racetrack in the hairpin.
Carpentier again pulled away while Tracy struggled with tires and he dropped his right tires off exiting turn six getting on the Rahal straightaway. This allowed Junqueira to reassume second position.
Junqueira was able to close in on Carpentier and he was within a second and a half of Carpentier for the entirety of the final stint but could not put together a serious challenge for the lead. Tracy held onto third once Sébastien Bourdais had turbo pressure issues.
The notable mover of the day in what was otherwise a caution-free race except for the waved off start was Michel Jouradin, Jr. Jourdain made up two spots at the start but was only up to tenth on lap 16. He got to ninth by lap 44 and was up to eighth on lap 50 after a pass on Fernández into the corkscrew. He was up to sixth ten laps later and Bourdais' problems put him into the top five. Jourdain had another pass into the corkscrew on lap 74, this time for fourth on Mário Haberfeld.
Most of the ground Jourdain made up was through pit strategy but the passes he made on track were outstanding executions of risk.
It should be noted that the balance of the tires started to shift about 17 laps into a stint.
There was a flashback to when Patrick Carpentier had an accident in turn four at Laguna Seca in 2000 and he cleared the catchfence. I had forgotten that happened.
Can we talk about the career year for Michel Jourdain, Jr. in 2003? He led the championship after this race. He won two races, first at Milwaukee and later at Montreal. He had six podium finishes, 11 top five finishes from 18 starts and he won a pole position. He was never worse than third in the championship.
What other driver had all the highlights of his or her career occur in one season? Jourdain had been around for a while but he was never flashy. At the same time, he had never been in great equipment having driven for Dale Coyne Racing and Bettenhausen Racing. And he is a forgotten driver that left for NASCAR.
Unfortunately, Jourdain, Jr.'s career may be remember solely for being the one car that could not qualify for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 where he basically had six hours to find speed, never did and never bothered to make a qualifying attempt. That is all really harsh but I think we should remember his 2003 season more than what happened a decade later.
There was one name of note that was mentioned that I did not remember and knew nothing about that was Jamie Dingman, who was co-owner of Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing with Emerson Fittipaldi and who Tiago Monteiro drove for. During the broadcast, Tommy Kendall described Dingman as someone who always wanted to be an owner and not a driver, was trying to get a race in St. Petersburg... Russia and he wanted to be the next Roger Penske.
With all those ambitious, I had to Google search Dingman and the first thing that comes up is he dated Tiger Woods' ex-wife. On top of that, he could be the subject of a documentary produced by an investor that Dingman owes $500,000.
Dingman was sued by eight plaintiffs for not using the capital he as given to develop a hospitality business but on his own lifestyle of luxury travel and recreational drug use. Dingman didn't appear in court and in an email to one of the plaintiff's lawyers Dingman said he was living on the Turkish border near Syria.
Let's not forget to mention he is an heir to billionaire Michael Dingman.
I hope this documentary gets made but I really want a 30-45 minute section dedicated to the one year of Fittipaldi-Dingman Racing because there has to be some stories there. The team existed for one season! It was born during the most vulnerable time for CART! The series was desperate for cars and I bet it was taking whoever was interested but who did he make promises to and who didn't he paid?
This could be the three-part podcast series that wins Marshall Pruett a much-deserved award for all his hard work.
Laguna Seca moved back to mid-September and the start was a mess with only the first row of Sébastien Bourdais and Patrick Carpentier side-by-side with the rest of the cars single-file. Tommy Kendall even called the start atrocious. On the opening lap, Rodolfo Lavín made contact with Justin Wilson in the corkscrew, ending Wilson's only start at Laguna Seca after one lap.
Bourdais made a pit stop on lap two from the lead after a flat left rear tire. Paul Tracy assumed the lead ahead of Carpentier and A.J. Allmendinger. Tracy may have his right front end plate rubbing this tire and this allowed Carpentier to challenge into the corkscrew but to no prevail.
Nelson Philippe and Gastón Mazzacane got together in the corkscrew, leaving Mazzacane parked in the famed corner. Philippe went off heading into the hairpin immediately after that accident and it brought out a caution on lap 12. There were no takers for an alternate strategy.
Bourdais made a move on Mário Haberfeld into the hairpin on the restart and two laps later Alex Tagliani moved ahead of Haberfeld in the same corner. Bourdais remained stuck behind Roberto González for eighth position and lost his right front end plate after contact on González into the corkscrew in an ambitious move on lap 26. Bourdais had to pit and González had a tire puncture after the contact.
Tracy and Carpenter remained within a second of each other for the opening stint while Allmendinger was within about 1.5 seconds. Tracy was the first to stop on lap 29. Carpentier and Allmendinger each stopped on the following lap. Allmendinger stalled but Carpentier made it out ahead of Tracy. Tracy was not happy with the call to bring him in on lap 29. He felt the team brought him in too early.
Tagliani took the lead and he stretched the stint to lap 37. Carpentier caught the leaders Tagliani and Michel Jourdain, Jr. Tracy made an unscheduled stop on lap 39 for a front wing change after the tire rub got worse and it cost him massive amounts of time. Jourdain's pit stop came on lap 40, meaning he did the entire first half of the race before his first stop.
Allmendinger's race ended when he made contact with Servià into the hairpin. Allmendinger made a move up the inside and drove over the curbs into Servià. The Spaniard continued with no damage. Allmendinger took blame for the incident and his other mistakes during the race.
Carpentier had a 15-second lead over Junqueira on lap 43 and he was only getting faster with a lead of 20 seconds at lap 51. Part of that increase may have been because Junqueira was caught behind the lapped car of Tracy.
González stopped on circuit on lap 55 and this caused the leaders to dive into the pit lane. Carpentier maintained the lead ahead of Junqueira with traffic between the top two drivers. Servià saved a set of alternate tire for the final stint and he was up to third.
With 66 laps complete, Carpentier's lead was up to six seconds and the race switched to a timed-race with uncertainty the race would reach the 80-lap distance. Not long after this Carpentier dropped his right tires off into the final corner and ran wide but did not go fully off the circuit. He did lose two seconds to Junqueira.
It was not really an eventful race and Carpentier won comfortably, 5.395 seconds ahead of Junqueira and Servià put Dale Coyne Racing on the podium in third after completing 79 laps.
Bruno Junqueira did 140 MPH through turn six and was going about 150 MPH into the corkscrew. He was at 167 MPH into the hairpin.
Race coverage has improved over the last 15 years. Pit strategy was not covered well at all. Pit stops were missed. They weren't really talking about strategy. It took a good three or four minutes for the Mazzacane/Philippe contact to be addressed. It just felt bad. That doesn't mean the people on screen were bad but it was a different time and watching this race and compared to what we have seen in the last few years on NBC's coverage, we should be grateful.
Oriol Servià got pulled over driving to Laguna Seca after coming from the NASCAR race at Fontana. He was doing 105 MPH.
Derek Daly was on the scene when Mike Cannon walked down to Craig Hampson discussing for the lapped car of Mario Domínguez to let Bourdais through. We don't see that broadcasted at all now but kudos on Daly for being there and putting the microphone into the conversation. I am not sure anybody would do that today.
For most of the closing laps, Jourdain, Jr. was fourth and bunched up the rest of the top ten but there were no moves for position.
What Should We Expect This Year?
I think if IndyCar has the level of tire degradation at Laguna Seca that we saw at Road America this could be a really interesting race and it seems Laguna Seca was a track where tires would fall off. It will also depend on the fuel window. If the cars can do 30 laps and it is a 90-lap race, it will be a two-stopper.
I have a feeling IndyCar instituted a distance that would mean teams could not make it on two stops and everyone would have to make three stops regardless of how much conservation. If the most a car can do is 25 laps then it opens the door for interesting strategy choices. It means cars could stop as early as lap 15 on the opening stint and make it on three stops while other cars could go as long as lap 25.
It should be noted that this would be the longest IndyCar race ever at Laguna Seca at 90 laps for 201.42 miles. I think unless there are four or five cautions for 25 laps, this is going to be a three-stop race. Now, we just saw 13 of the first 16 laps at Portland be run under caution so it cannot be ruled out but if everyone gets through the hairpin clean the first two laps that could really shape out how teams run this race.
When it comes to passing places, it seems like the hairpin is the place of choice but it is not going to be as straightforward as that. The hairpin is a place where a car has to hold the inside when making a pass. Too much momentum means that car will run wide and lose that spot immediately on exit.
Traffic could come into play especially in the final corners. If traffic ruins the rhythm of a car in the final corners it could allow a car to gain and have more momentum down the front straightaway into the hairpin.
The type of race we will want to see is some combination of the 1997 and 1998. Those were races with plenty of jockeying and we are going to want a race where a battle can continue out of the hairpin into turn three.
As for other areas of the track, turn five is a place where someone could try a pass. It is notable how the corkscrew has changed. In the early races, passes into the corkscrew were commonplace. In the final years of CART/Champ Car those attempts were few and far in-between. I am not sure we are going to see anyone try it this year and partially because I think after not racing at Laguna Seca for 15 years and living off the highlight of Zanardi's pass, no one is going to dare and try it. We will have to wait and see but I think whatever passing attempts occur come within the first three corners of the circuit.
We also have to prepare for a processional race and one where qualifying results will ultimately dictate who has a shot at victory. This is a track where 14 of 22 races have been won from pole position, 18 of 22 races have been won from the front row and 20 of 22 races have been won from a top three starting position. That doesn't give you much hope that someone can drive up from fifth or someone can go off strategy and win from eighth.
Trying to stay positive I guess the one thing to say is the past is not always precedent and many things have changed since 2004. It could be a case of this combination of the universal aero kit, push-to-pass and alternate tire creates a race we have never seen before at Laguna Seca. There will be only one way to find out and we have another week until the cars hit the track.