IndyCar Monterey Sunday Sep 11, 2022
Not much drama in the season-ending IndyCar race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
By Brian Kennedy & Albert Wong
Mon, Sep 12, 2022 09:08 PM PST
Photos by Albert Wong
Featured Image: Will Power of Australia, 2-time IndyCar Champion, holding the trophy.
Was the waiting worth it? In the end, there wasn’t much drama in the season-ending IndyCar race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sunday. Will Power stayed near the front of the field all day and finished third. Any finish of first, second, or third would have won him the championship no matter what his top rivals, Josef Newgarden and Scott Dixon, each down an identical number of points entering the day, did.
Alex Palou led three times, including from lap 73 to (last lap) 95, to claim the win. It was the first victory of the year for last year’s points champion. Power led from the pole to lap 14 and laps 24-26, and Newgarden was out front for laps 68-72 in an attempt to do all he could to wrestle the season’s title from Power. He came in in the runner-up spot.
Five drivers went into the day technically eligible for the season’s crown, though numbers four and five, Scott McLaughlin and Marcus Ericsson, would have realistically had to win and have Power finish disastrously to make something happen. Neither gave himself a puncher’s chance in interviews entering the day, and they finished sixth and ninth, respectively.
The qualifying order of the top three championship sitters contributed to the lack of drama on race day. Newgarden started last in the 26-car field after a qualifying session spin, and Scott Dixon began mid-pack, at 16th. Newgarden did end up doing some amazing moving up, using pit strategy to launch an effort which eventually saw him end second, as was said. This dramatic move put him second in the points by the end of the day. Dixon was more middle of the road with his effort, ending up twelfth and thus taking third in the Astor Cup standings for series champ. He was the last car on the lead lap at the end of the going.
The race, 95 laps of the 2.2-mile (approximate) circuit, was marred by just one caution period, for three laps (39-41). But maybe "marred" isn’t quite the right word there. "Beset"? In any case, the race featured but one caution, when the presence of others might have tightened the field and thus made the day’s proceedings more dramatic.
Liz Power, spouse of the two-time champion, didn’t even have to mutilate a water bottle in a fit of tension, which is her usual practice. She was shown twisting one on the TV broadcast, but not beyond recognition, as sometimes happens.
Before the race, all combatants were hopeful and resolved. Power said, "I’m just feeling very fortunate to be in this position again."
Scott Dixon declared that "consistency is always key" and noted that since he and his team qualified out of the top twelve, they had an extra set of race tires, which "gives us more options" in terms of race strategy.
Later, Power added, "The real key is to get a great jump" off the start going into turn one so as to avoid the chaos that might happen in the field. When asked how his race might unfold, he said, "You just got to focus on what you can control," which was his driving on the track, and let the guys on the ground work the strategy.
Here’s How The Race Unfolded
At 12:30 pm local time, Power went into turn one with cars three wide behind him. Before that first lap was over, the top ten cars were proceeding one by one, with some combatants two-wide further back in the field. From last, Newgarden moved up five spots very quickly.
The early leader board was Power, Alexander Rossi, Pato O’Ward, and Ilott. The red sidewall tires that many drivers had started on were falling off quickly, as in the case of Rossi, who quickly dropped to fourth in the running order. Behind the leaders, Dalton Kellet went off track downhill in turn nine.
By lap 14, the top cars were all on "sticker" (new) red tires. They had to run them at least once, though they would have preferred otherwise. Power had given up the lead on the first pit stop, first to Ilott, then he to Felix Rosenqvist and in turn, Power, then Palou. Their fuel load was only half gone by this point - the pit stops were all about tires.
By lap 28, Power was running behind Palou and being told to guard his tires. In third-fourth-fifth were O’Ward, Ilott, and Rossi.
Potential series champ Scott Dixon pitted on lap 30, rather than wait for 32, as he had hoped. His possible three-stop strategy was thus undone. Rossi similarly came in, making his a potential four-stop race as well. Meanwhile, Josef Newgarden was charging up, and he had two sets of sticker reds left. When he pitted, on lap 36, he took on a set of black sidewall tires, though he had been fast on reds. He could now go to the end on one more stop - so it was evident how the strategy was shifting, and that the race was likely to be all about strategy. (A bit of a yawner, it must be said.) Power was running second and up 22 points for the championship.
On lap 38, Ilott stopped on track with mechanical trouble. This would be the only car not running at the end of the day. IndyCar held off on the yellow flag for a long time to allow everyone to make a pit stop and not disadvantage half the field. In other words, the Series did not want to make a yellow flag the decider of the contest, let alone the championship.
On lap 44, Newgarden was up with the leaders, and he made a pass in the corkscrew turn for third, one of the more thrilling moments of the day. The top cars were Palou, Power, Rosenqvist, Newgarden (before the pass), O’Ward, and McLaughlin. Newgarden would pull off another, similar move on lap 46, moving by Power for second spot.
Dixon was soldiering on back of the leaders, hoping to complete every lap of the race, which would allow him to finish every lap of the season. This would be his second time doing so.
Past halfway, on lap 54, the leaders were Palou, Newgarden, Power, Romain Grosjean, and Rosenqvist. Newgarden, whose spot amongst the top runners was partly due to his having taken one less pitstop, might have been tight on fuel at this point. In truth, then, Palou and Power were further ahead of him than it appeared. He was 12 seconds ahead of Power but needed an extra stop.
Palou, out front, had now made it impossible for Power to secure the two bonus points for leading the most laps, a small move that tightened the championship.
At about the two-thirds point, on lap 63, it was Palou, Power, Grosjean, Rosenqvist, Newgarden, and O’Ward. Palou had a 20-second lead, and Newgarden shortly passed Grosjean and took third. Power was now in his sights. Power pitted; Newgarden stayed out and pushed hard. Power put on sticker black tires - intent, obviously, on going to the end. Around thirty laps remained. By lap 69, Power just had to be anywhere in the top five to be champion because of the way various bonus points would be handed out.
Newgarden, out on track, was 28 seconds up, but a pitstop short. He was told to push, and the hope was that he could pit and still come out on top. A pit stop takes about 25 seconds. He did it - pitted, came out leading, and thus was on new tires to the end.
Back in the pack, Jimmie Johnson was 14th. With 15 laps to go (of 95) and pit stops done, the order was Palou, Newgarden, Power, Grosjean, Rosenqvist, and Lundgaard. With ten laps to go, Palou was way ahead in first place. At the end, Palou won, with Newgarden second and Power third.
So Palou’s season was vindicated for Chip Ganassi racing and Team Penske had two drivers on the podium with the winner. After the race, Palou commented, "We had some power there," and said, "I’m super happy to win a race this year."
As for Power, "I was on the edge - very loose," he explained. "I had to drive the thing today." Power’s comment at the end explained his grand strategy: "It was an absolute team effort all year." He said to his crew: "I owe it to you!" In fact, his approach was new for him - take what you can get in any given race, rather than racing as if every event would make or break the championship. "From the beginning of the year, I was playing the long game," he said.
Power was content to run fourth or fifth if that’s what the track offered him on a given weekend. He won just one race all year - Detroit, back in the early summer, but the lack of race wins goes away in his celebration of being and IndyCar Champion for the second time.
Having secured the Championship, Power can claim to still be vital at 41 years old, and the youngsters are going to make the series interesting for years to come.
Five drivers had the lead at one point or another. Palou was out front for 67 laps. He was the ninth different winner this season.
Newgarden did all he could, going from last to second over the course of the day. The other championship hopeful, Scott Dixon, was largely invisible all day, ending up 12th after starting one position behind that.
There was just the one caution mentioned, around lap 40, for three circuits.
Jimmie Johnson ended up 16th. The rookies placed fifth (Lundgaard), 13th (David Malukas), 15th (Devlin DeFrancesco), 21st (Kyle Kirkwood), and 26th (Ilott).
Races at this track next year and ongoing from there will be different, as the track is scheduled for repaving in the off season.
About The Authors
Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.
Albert Wong started taking pictures when going to the Can-Am race in Laguna Seca, Questor GP in Ontario and the IROC/ Formula 5000 in Riverside. He began racing go-kart in the junior division “but I never made it to the bigger league…I signed up for a racing school but it was rained out in Indianapolis Raceway Park (and that’s why I’m still walking today).” “I was an Indy driver once since I had an Indiana driver license! My card used to say ‘I’d rather be Racing’ but now has changed to ‘I’d rather be at the Races’.”