Tyre strategy set to be ‘huge player’ in Laguna Seca IndyCar race

Will Power

Tyre strategy is set to play a major part in how Sunday’s final race of the IndyCar Series plays out at Laguna Seca.

The alternate tyres exhibited massive degradation during Practice 1, leading to talk that a four-stop strategy may be optimal in the 95-lapper.

Pato O’Ward, until recently a title contender, was among those who tested at Laguna Seca a week and-a-half ago.

The McLaren SP driver says the track felt the same in practice as it did in that test, but predicts tyre strategy will be a “huge player” in the outcome this weekend.

Aside from the degradation, he noted that there seems to be less difference in pace between the primary and alternate compound tyres, with Scott McLaughlin quickest on the former with a 1:12.2219s before his Team Penske team-mate Josef Newgarden set the pace with a 1:11.4103s on reds.

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“It feels just like when we were last here a week ago during testing,” remarked O’Ward.

“The red Firestone tyres were extremely odd, and I don’t think we’re the only car. I think it was odd for everybody.

“The delta from reds to blacks isn’t as big as we thought, so it’s going to be a huge player in the race compared to what last year seemed to be in terms of the right call on tires and strategy.”

Series leader Will Power, too, thought little had changed at the Californian circuit, although it may be slightly worse for degradation than last year.

“I think the track isn’t quite as good because you didn’t have IMSA here the week before, but the deg is very similar,” noted the Penske driver.

Marcus Ericsson, an outside chance for the title in fourth position in the series standings at 39 points behind Power, is hoping the tyres do wear out as badly as it appears they will.

“I’m hoping it’s going to be a high-deg race, and it seems to be that way,” said the Chip Ganassi Racing pilot, who also tested last week at Laguna Seca.

“Usually, our team and myself from my experience, we’re usually pretty good at that. Yeah, the tyres seemed to degrade quite quickly here. It was the same in the test and the same today in practice.

“I think in the race as a driver, 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 tyres last a bit better.”

Another notable element of the opening practice session was just how many cars ran off the track, in part or completely.

Power, McLaughlin, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard all shortcut the Corkscrew, before McLaughlin went dirt-tracking off the exit of Turn 10.

In fact, four of the five title contenders kicked up the dust at some point, while Ganassi’s Scott Dixon ran beyond the edge line at the Andretti Hairpin.

It led Ericsson to identify another challenge come Sunday afternoon, and potentially Saturday’s Qualifying session also.

“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, centre, 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,” he predicted.

Practice 2 starts on Saturday at 13:15 ET/Sunday at 03:15 AEST, followed by Qualifying on Saturday at 17:05 ET/07:05 AEST, with both of those sessions live and ad-free on Stan Sport.

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