By: Tanner Watkins
September 12, 2019 | 1:00 PM
When the NTT IndyCar Series drops the green flag on next weekend’s championship finale, the two drivers sitting in row one will have a marked advantage on the rest of the field. Given the track history at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, the bulk of the race’s trajectory could be decided in the first couple of corners.
That is why championship contender Alexander Rossi thinks that this weekend’s qualifications session will be the greatest contributing factor in who wins the 2019 series championship.
“I’ve been saying for a while this championship very well could be decided in qualifying at Laguna,” said the Andretti Autosport driver. “It’s no secret that we’re expecting it to be a challenging race to pass just because of its history.
“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.”
At the moment, Rossi will take anything to make his final race of 2019 easier. The fourth-year IndyCar veteran is currently 41 points back of championship leader Josef Newgarden, and some tough luck in the season’s second half has diminished the California native’s chances at his first title.
Despite fighting a larger margin than what he had to make up to Scott Dixon in last year’s finale at Sonoma, Rossi largely believes that he and his team have had a better season in 2019 than 2018.
“I think there was a lot of realization that we left a lot of points on the board in 2018 kind of through our own undoing, whether it was a missed strategy call, a failure, Road America, my mistake in Detroit,” said Rossi. “We can look back and really highlight three or four areas where just silly mistakes cost us (in 2018).
“I think we haven’t had any silly mistakes this year. We were just on the wrong side of a yellow in St. Louis. Came up a little bit short in Indy. I mean, got taken out in Pocono. I think we’ve done everything right from our standpoint.”
And so regardless of what has happened at Pocono, Portland, Gateway, or any of the other races in 2019, it all comes down to Laguna Seca.
This is the same track that Rossi’s father brought him to as a child, where he attended the same race that Alex Zanardi pulled off the memorable pass in the Corkscrew corner, and where Rossi truly believes he is racing at “home” as opposed to the narrative that was flashed when IndyCar raced at Sonoma.
Could there be a storybook ending in sight? A miraculous comeback that is capped with hometown joy and the breakthrough of his first championship? The next breakthrough in Rossi’s rising career?
One positive remains on the table for next weekend’s shootout: After a 15-year hiatus from racing at Laguna Seca, all teams will be starting from scratch.
“It’s a blank slate for everyone. I think that’s exciting,” Rossi said on Wednesday. “It will definitely reward the team and the drivers that come to grips with everything the quickest.
“It will probably reward them in a championship.”
Header image by Chris Owens/INDYCAR.