Laguna Seca tire deg could force IndyCar drivers into four stops

The combination of a new Firestone alternate tire for WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and the track’s abrasive pock-marked surface could result in four-stop strategies in Sunday's season finale.

Firestone tire close up, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske Chevrolet

With the exception of Josef Newgarden – today’s pacesetter by a huge margin – the aces made three stops in last year’s 95-lap Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. But this year’s alternate [softer compound] Firestone tire is higher grip but also degrades more rapidly.

Team Penske-Chevrolet’s championship leader Will Power said he believed the track was a little harder on the tires this year because IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship didn’t run here the week before, as they did in 2021, so there was less rubber down.

Although he said he reckoned the tire degradation was “similar to how it’s been” he agreed that Sunday’s race may be a four-stopper.

“Yeah, that's definitely possible, there's enough degradation for that,” he said. “We'll have to see in warmup when you actually do a full run… but yes.”

Power lamented the fact that the teams don’t get more sets of tires. 

“We've asked, we keep asking,” he shrugged. “We would run if they gave us some more tires, but they don't… We tried. We tried a month ago. They just don't do it.”

Despite being fastest by four-tenths of a second, Newgarden described it as “a tricky session” due to several offs and wheel drops over the curbs.

“There was a lot of people going off, there was a lot of dirt on the track, so it was quite difficult to put it together,” said the 2017 and ’19 champion. “So not a very straightforward session.

“But I think very productive in a lot of ways. It's not a lot of running, and you're trying to make the most use of just a couple runs, and I felt like we did that, so I was happy about that. But obviously early days in the weekend for us and the Hitachi car.”

The third Penske driver Scott McLaughlin said he was “low-key sad” that Laguna Seca is to be resurfaced two months from now.

“I think the pace will be up, obviously, but it's going to be interesting like when this resurface is done and when we get here, because a place like this degrades over time,” said the Kiwi who has scored three wins in his second IndyCar season. “There's a lot of cars that run on this track outside of our series, so I think it all depends on when people run and how many people run here, but I think it's definitely going to be better in some ways.

“[But] I'm actually really enjoying the way that you've got to drive the car. I'm kinda low-key sad that they're going to resurface because it's kind of fun, and you've really got to think about the pitch of the car and what you're doing with the car and stuff like that.

“Yeah, it is what it is, and resurfacing will be good for the longevity of the track, but I'd like to just keep running on the old stuff.”

Former Formula 1 driver Marcus Ericsson said the race may work in his favor, given his experience of running the delicate Pirellis in grand prix racing.

“Yeah, I'm hoping it's going to be a high-deg race, and it seems to be that way,” he smiled. “Usually our team and myself from my experience, we're usually pretty good at that. Yeah, the tires seemed to degrade quite quickly here. It was the same in the test and the same today in practice…

“I think you have to think about it and sort of figure out a way to get the stint length that you are planning. It's going to be quite tricky, I think. Depending a bit on the weather, as well. It seems to be coming in some colder weather, and that might change things, make the tires last a bit better.

“But at least from what I saw today, I think it's going to be quite a tricky race for all of us, and also people are going off left, right, center, and there's sand on the track, and it's quite tricky to run lap to lap, to stay on track, because it's so challenging out there.”


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