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2023 IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey Preview

Teams and drivers are already looking over the horizon for 2024.

Alex Palou has his championship. Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist have futures set with other teams. Rookies Tom Blomqvist, Marcus Armstrong and Linus Lundqvist each announced their full-time drives for next year. Helio Castroneves is appearing in his final race as a full-time driver. Ryan Hunter-Reay is doing his last stint as a replacement driver for dismissed Conor Daly

Regardless of title resolution and other business decisions being made, there is still one more race for the 2023 NTT IndyCar season. Each driver in the paddock has a final shot at open wheel glory this year, to push the car and body to the limit to find that ounce of speed that can make the difference between winning and losing. Between victory lane or a stop on pit lane one more time before the offseason unfurls its heavy curtain over the season. 

The IndyCar finale will play out on the 2.238-miles-long WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. It’s a tight, 11-turn road course, set in beautiful Monterey in a warm climate to dine to the season’s conclusion whether a victor or unsatisfied competitor. At turn 8 is one of the most famous twists at any track in the United States, the famous Corkscrew. It’s a quick left-right-hander, with a significant drop in elevation throughout the complex, and where many will try to make an overtake stick. 

The championship is decided, but pride remains. Drivers moving on will want their shot to finish well for crew members who have supported them over the years. There is no “we will get them next week.” Instead, it’s just hope for a better 2024 and enjoy the offseason. 

New Pave

Like Road America earlier in the year, IndyCar is heading to a track with a fresh surface. The previous asphalt was weathered from sitting in the California sun. The racing still was enjoyable as tire wear was on everyone’s mind since the series returned in 2019, but with new pavement, drivers will once again push to find the unknown limit and balance everything with massive grip. Keep an eye on the track record for this length, set by Castroneves in 2000 at 118.969 m.p.h. That could be falling. 

At the test held on Thursday (Sept. 7) before the race weekend, Will Power set the fastest lap at 119.757 m.p.h. According to IndyStar’s Nathan Brown, nine drivers eclipsed Castroneve’s track record.

See also
Inside IndyCar: Dan Wheldon's 2005 Championship Season

Hertamania

Winless in 2024, Colton Herta is right at home at Laguna Seca and could use that comfort to nail down an elusive victory. He’s won there twice and one more will outdo his pops, Bryan Herta who won back to back in 1998 and 1999. This year will be more meaningful for him as his car’s livery does the time warp to that ‘98 winner his dad drove.

The former Shell paint scheme was a fan favorite during that era. In fact, early in the week both Hertas took the Reynard chassis, which Colton had gifted to his dad earlier in the year, for a spin. The throwback on the Gainbridge No. 26 Honda matches perfectly with its predecessor. 

Lucky for Herta, Chip Ganassi Racing didn’t put Scott Dixon in the lightning bolt Target throwback to make an effort at The Pass part two. 

Palou’s Pit Strategy

In the first two races after the series returned to Laguna Seca, the pole sitter won. Last year, Power started first but finished with a podium. He ended up being bested by Palou, who started 11th, and what has become his signature winning strategy – make the best tire choice to start the race and stay out in clean air to stretch the lead. Palou used this last year and he just won the Grand Prix of Portland, and not to mention his second title, with it. 

Has anyone else figured this out yet? It’s not new, but the No. 10 team is hitting on it well. Similar tactics were used at Mid Ohio. The result? A win. 

No Yellows

Expect one yellow on Sunday. No more, no less. This race has a history of boiling down to pit strategy – see above – and track position. However, at Road America early in the year, the overtaking was more noticeable as drivers dealt with the new surface. Also, Newgarden advanced from 25th to second last year, so passing is possible. Still, expect teams to take the opportunity to make some headway after the initial start and whenever that one yellow comes. Once the field stretches out, it’ll be up to the calls in the pits to make the magic work. 

Bye-bye Helio

This is the last full-time start for Castroneves. Let’s not belabor his career story, that’s been done already. Don’t worry, he isn’t going anywhere, as he has told the public multiple times he isn’t retiring, just moving away from competing in all 17 IndyCar races. This may be the final start at Laguna Seca for a legend who went to victory lane in Monterey way back in 2000.

His Meyer Shank Racing team has struggled all year. With the injury to Simon Pagenaud at Mid-Ohio in July, and the teams lack of pace, this year has been a definite step back. They’ve already taken steps to address this, to include their two new driver signings – teaming two ‘qvists’ with each other next year, the veteran Rosenqvist and rookie Blomqvist. Last year, they seemed on the rise with the still competitive and experienced Castroneves and the technically savvy Pagenaud, racking up ten total top tens. In 2023, the team has just one with a race to go. 

As mentioned above, this is a group that is unsatisfied with how their year went.

See also
Breaking Down Alex Palou's Championship

Predictions

Know what is great about the offseason? No more of these unpredictable predictions. One word for that – ecstatic.

The Portland race picks were made more in a dream world. Thinking Dixon was going to win was more for the title fight to go to the last race. But Palou had other ideas.

Still, Dixon finished third, so he was on the podium and Pato O’Ward was fourth, one spot from where he was predicted. Christian Lundgaard led one of the practices but it went bad from there. Moving on.

Last race, last set of questionable predictions, lets go.

  1. Palou – drop that mic fella, you’ve had a heck of a year.
  2. Herta – lets say it’s lost in the pits.
  3. Ericsson – grabs his last podium with Ganassi.

The 2023 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca will be on Sunday, Sept. 10 at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock.

About the author

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991 and calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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