SALINAS, Calif – The main story heading into this weekend’s NTT IndyCar Series season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is the obvious – the championship race. Currently, four of the 24 drivers racing this weekend are still eligible to take this year’s title.
Realistically though, three are more likely.
Josef Newgarden leads Alexander Rossi by 41 points while Simon Pagenaud is in third, 42 points out. Scott Dixon needs a lot of help in being 85 points arrears in fourth. Basically, it’s Team Penske (Newgarden/Pagenaud) vs. Andretti Autosport (Rossi).
So, Rossi will get some aid from his Andretti teammates this weekend, most notably Ryan Hunter-Reay. During Thursday’s test session, Hunter-Reay spoke about how the ultimate goal for everyone on the Andretti side this weekend is to do their best to ensure Rossi has a chance to hoist the Astor Cup championship trophy on Sunday afternoon.
“Yeah, I think the best thing we can do to help Alex (Rossi) and the 27 team is to focus on winning, put ourselves in that position like we were last year where we were up front, taking points away from the Penske cars and Scott (Dixon),” Hunter-Reay said between sessions. “Really just putting ourselves in that mix.
“If there’s an opportunity that presents itself where we can take points away from those guys when Alex is in front of us, that’s great.”
Hunter-Reay did just that at the end of July in Mid-Ohio. The two Ganassi cars finished 1-2 but RHR was right there in third to keep points away from the Penske’s. In fact, he held off Newgarden in the end and even forced Newgarden into a mistake where he spun on the final lap while trying to get by Hunter-Reay and finished 14th as a result.
“We just have to focus on winning,” Hunter-Reay continued. “That’s really what it boils down to. Obviously team orders are not allowed. It’s not like it’s going to be, Hey, block this guy, move over for him then. It’s more just that we need to put ourselves in a position to be good teammates, be up front taking away points from the guys he’s fighting against.”
Hunter-Reay can do that too. He won the season finale last year in Sonoma.
Also, Hunter-Reay and Rossi swapped rides towards the end of the first test session on Thursday morning. They did so because both are similar in size and both had different setups on their cars. The teams wanted each to compare each other’s setup to see what direction that they should go in for Rossi’s No. 27 Honda for the remainder of the weekend.
“Yeah, we’ve done that in the past, especially in testing,” Hunter-Reay said of the switch. “With the open test, an extra day like this, it gave us the opportunity to come here with drastically different setups. What would take you maybe two and a half hours to change setups, that different.
“We had an opportunity where Alex and I like similar things in the car, similar setups, similar driving styles. We’re both the same height kind of, build. We can jump in each other’s cars with very little modifications.
“We did it at the same time of day. It gives us a clear read as to the two setups, what we can then go forward with the rest of the weekend. Maybe some things from one car apply to qualifying and others to the race. It was definitely a beneficial exercise for us.”