The Last Race
No Drama About The IndyCar Championship Winner - Lots Of Drama On The Track
By Brian Kennedy
Fri, Sep 15, 2023 10:53 PM PST
There was no drama about who would be IndyCar champion (and recipient of the Astor Cup) as Sunday, September 9th dawned. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing had wrapped that up the week before in Portland. But that didn’t translate into a boring or uneventful race, as 27 open-wheel rockets took the green flag, every one of them thinking that he might be on the top step of the podium come end of day. That moment would come after 95 laps and just over 212 miles of competition.
Last year, this race brought out a total of one yellow flag as Palou won it and Will Power claimed the season’s championship with a third-place finish. The track has been repaved since, leading to super grip but very low adhesion off the racing line, and so there were incidents galore leading to a total of 35 yellow flag laps on the day and eight caution periods. That might be viewed negatively—one-third of the race was run under slowdown conditions.
In fact, the constant bunching of the field led to lots of passing and dicing, cars bumping and making mini-flyovers of others’ wheels and front wings. Probably not fun as a driver, and especially not for Graham Rahal, who went out on lap one, but interesting to watch.
Hopeful for the race win while leading multiple laps was Palou, who was out front for 51 total trips around the circuit. Also notable was Pato O’Ward, out front for 15 laps. Dixon led 20. He survived early trouble and a penalty to take the win. It was his third of the season and his fifty-sixth career triumph.
Decked out in livery to match that which his father, Bryan, drove to victory in 1998 at this track, Colton Herta was up front for a single lap and ultimately finished 23rd.
At the end, more than 20 cars were still running, Helio Castroneves amongst them in his final “full-time ride,” as the broadcast commentators kept saying. They seem to have forgotten that he was part-time in seasons past before more recently rejoining the league of drivers who contest the full IndyCar season. But note that his IndyCar career is not over, as he will continue to run the Indy 500 in the years to come in hopes of securing his fifth Brickyard win.
This race marked the end of a mini-era where Monterey, CA, and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca host the season’s ultimate race, as next year’s season finale will be on the spectacular downtown street course in Nashville. Back and forth across the bridge—that’s going to have to stand in for the thrill of seeing cars catapult down the Laguna Seca “corkscrew,” the ground beneath their tires falling away and they twist the steering wheel to stay on the grippy asphalt.
The final schedule for next year is not set, with a couple of questions yet to be resolved, but IndyCar will once again feature 17 races, apparently, spread out over six months, starting in what is for a lot of people still wintertime and going to roughly the same point in September. Palou, you can be certain, will be back to defend his title and his five race wins on the year. This, by the way, was his second season’s championship in the last three years, as he also came out on top in 2021.
About The Author
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.