SALINAS, Calif – While the excitement for a new track on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule was high for Laguna Seca’s return, unfortunately, how the race goes next Sunday will likely be predicated more on Saturday than the actual race itself.
See, this is the same problem we saw for the old season finale at Sonoma. Qualifying on Saturday really shaped who would win the race on Sunday. When you throw in double points and the championship on the line, how the title contenders qualified 24 hours before the race held more merit than the race itself.
With how Laguna Seca races, Alexander Rossi said that he expects a similar thing to occur this weekend.
“Yeah, I think that’s a very fair statement,” the Andretti Autosport driver said. “I’ve been saying for a while this championship very well could be decided in qualifying at Laguna. It’s no secret that we’re expecting it to be a challenging race to pass just because of its history.
“So, yeah, I mean, it’s 100% going to be a critical qualifying session that you’re going to have to be inch perfect and nail it through all three rounds. The guy that’s on pole, if he’s one of the guys that are in the championship fight, it’s going to make their job to win the thing a whole lot easier.”
While the test and practice sessions may suggest otherwise, landing the right setup is going to be difficult for Sunday’s race. There’s been a lot of tire degradation with drivers slipping and sliding around the track. But, you can also point to just this season in general to why qualifying will be so crucial.
13 of the 16 races run this season have seen the winner come from a top six starting spot. Half of the races saw the winner come from the front row. In terms of natural road courses, these are the starting spots of the winners this year – 4th, 1st, 8th, 2nd, 8th and 2nd respectively.
If you go back to last year, it was – 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st 20th and 1st respectively.
That’s eight of the last 12 races run on natural road courses where they winner came from the front row. All but one saw the winner come from the first 4 Rows. So, qualifying really will shape who wins the championship.
So, who has the edge?
Rossi’s average starting spot on natural road courses this year is 6.33. He’s had three front row starting spots.
Newgarden’s is 9.33 though as he’s started outside the Fast Six in four of the six races on them.
Simon Pagenaud’s average starting spot is 13.66 himself with his starts being – 22nd, 14th, 8th, 16th, 4th and 18th respectively.
If this trend holds true, then Rossi could very well win this title next Sunday.