Qualifying historically has a large say in the outcome of IndyCar races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Alex Palou’s dominance after starting 11th last year notwithstanding. But the massive penalty that the new track surface imposes for wandering off the racing line appears set to place an even higher premium upon starting position in Sunday’s season finale.
“It’s just tremendously loose offline,” said Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who will start on the outside of the front row alongside polesitter Felix Rosenqvist.
“It’s just train tracks out there right now. I watched the Indy NXT race with a lot of interest, just seeing how they raced, especially at the start. I said to myself, ‘I really don’t want to be on the outside into Turn 1.’ Now I’m starting on the outside going into Turn 1…
“It is what it is. You’ve just got to figure it out. But there’s no grip out there. I feel like the pavement is worn in where we have been running. Everywhere else where we haven’t been running, it’s a bit polished. I’m sure it will wear in as the race goes on. That transition traditionally doesn’t bode for much passing. It is the last race of the year. The championship is sewn up. I’m sure there’s going to be some kamikazes out there. So, yeah, it will a lot of fun — kind of.”
In addition to a steeper than usual challenge for drivers looking to make a pass, the race also appears set to be especially demanding from a physical standpoint. Rosenqvist sliced almost 5.0s off Will Power’s lap record from qualifying last year, and most of that time has been gained mid-corner – which means significantly more effort is needed inside the cockpit to hang onto the car.
“The banked corners like Turn 5, Turn 9, Turn 10, it’s so much more load going through there,” said Rosenqvist.
“I’m surprised at Turn 6, which is kind of the ballsy corner in Laguna — it hasn’t changed much. I don’t know. Even the Corkscrew, at least on the entry, is kind of slippery. Everything else is another level.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s not easy out there. Turn 9 makes you work hard, for sure. I think there’s been a lot of crying about less caster in the paddock.
“I was a bit worried yesterday. Now I feel a bit better about it. It’s always the same, you kind of get into the rhythm in the weekend. Once you’re in the race stint, you’ll be fine. But it’s pretty brutal. I’m glad this is the last race, not the first race of the season, because that would have been very hard.”
“I was one of the drivers that asked for caster out, more so from a precision sort of point,” said the New Zealander.
“I’ve spoken a couple Indy NXT guys. They say it’s sort of the same for them. Really doesn’t matter, the weight of the car or whatnot. It’s just the ultimate grip of this track and the commitment level that you have. So the main thing I’m probably more worried about is your hands, because when you kind of grip onto it, full tanks, new tires, that’s when it gets really hard earlier in a stint.
“Like Felix said, it’s the end of the year. I got out after Portland and I was completely fine. I think at this point you have so much match fitness, strength in areas that you can’t train in a gym, it’s fine. I have no doubt that we’ll be fine tomorrow. Once the adrenaline goes, it’s a wonderful thing. But I’ll be sore and craving a beer tomorrow night.”