SPORTS 36 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY JUNE 20-26, 2024 www.montereycountynow.com When the checkered flag waves on Sunday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, it will mark the end of an era— although it’s unlikely to draw more than passing notice among the champagne and confetti of the podium celebration. Still, observes Alexander Rossi, driver of the no. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, “It’s something we’re not likely to see again.” The June 23 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey is the last race scheduled to be contested by drivers of the NTT IndyCar Series using engines powered only by gasoline. When the cars roll at Mid-Ohio two weeks later, on July 7, they will be fitted with the new hybrid systems. Introducing a new power unit midseason could be seen as disruptive, creating two halves to the season-long points race. “It’s an interesting transition,” observes Will Power, the no. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet driver who enters the Laguna Seca round as points leader after a win at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. But, he adds, “I don’t know how much it will do. Everyone will be learning as we go.” Even as they prepare for Laguna Seca, teams are looking ahead to what’s coming next. The hybrid unit is unusual in that it does not rely on heavy battery packs. Instead, a motor generator unit harvests the energy from braking and transmits it to an energy storage system using ultracapacitors to store and deliver additional power. The driver can also use the MGU at will to build energy, at the temporary cost of speed. Graham Rahal, who pilots the no. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda, concedes that with uncertainties such as reliability and acclimation to the new technology, the new unit could impact the championship. However, he notes, “the teams up front have the most experience with it.” Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing provided the bulk of preseason testing for the engines. And Rossi says Arrow McLaren is comfortable with the package. Coming into Laguna Seca, those three teams hold the top five points positions. Chip Ganassi driver Alex Palou, the 2023 season champion and a past winner at the track, has his no. 10 DHL Honda in second, a mere 5 points back of Power. In third is sixtime champion Scott Dixon and his no. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Honda, just 6 points behind his teammate. Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward and Penske’s Scott McLaughlin round out the top five. “I feel like I’m in good form; it would be good to win, obviously,” says Power of his chances on the 2.23mile, 11-turn course. “But I understand it’s IndyCar. It’s an extremely tough fight.” Things don’t get any more comfortable moving down the order. Only 22 points separate McLaughlin in fifth from tenth-place Felix Rosenqvist of Meyer Shank Racing. That group includes such stalwarts as Rossi, Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden from the Penske stable and Colton Herta, driver of the no. 26 Gainbridge Andretti Global Honda, who claimed the checkered when IndyCar returned to Laguna Seca in 2019. When the series added the track to the schedule after a 14-year hiatus, Laguna Seca marked the season finale—a position it also held from 1989-96. Apart from June races in 2002 and 2003, the Laguna Seca round took place in September or October, when temperatures on the Monterey Peninsula tend to warm up. This year—and for the foreseeable future—IndyCar handed the championship-clinching race to Nashville. Cooler weather in June could make for a faster track. But drivers report that forecasts are pretty consistent and that the twisting, climbing, plummeting course demands a high-downforce setup, no matter what. They don’t expect temperatures to change their approach to the race. “It’s not like the Midwest or Nashville, where June is 95 and humid,” Rahal says. “I looked at the forecast, and 70s sounds like heaven to me.” Still, as a dividing line between old and new, the weekend of June 21-23 at WeatherTech Raceway will stand out. “Obviously I don’t think this was anyone’s first choice,” Rossi says of the decision to switch a major component midseason, adding that winter testing proved the technology wasn’t ready for the opening races. “I commend IndyCar for delaying it.” For the past two decades—in small steps at first, but now with increasing urgency—motorsports has been Past Forward With new hybrid engines coming, the weekend’s IndyCar race is a farewell to old ways. By Dave Faries “It’s something we’re not likely to see again.” The IndyCar field crests the ridge and barrels down toward Turn 2 at the start of the 2023 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Below, Alexander Rossi prepares to climb into his car. TM HILL RACING SCHEDULE Friday, June 21 Practice sessions for NTT IndyCar Series, Indy NXT and other support races. Saturday, June 22 9am - Qualifying: Indy NXT 12:35pm - Race 1: Indy NXT 2:15pm - Qualifying: NTT IndyCar Series Plus support races Sunday, June 23 1:05pm - Race 2: Indy NXT 3:30pm Race: NTT IndyCar Series Plus support races Tickets: $20.70/Friday; $98.15/Saturday; $129.20/Sunday; $191.30/three-day package; Free/ children 15-under with paying adult Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, 1021 Highway 68, Salinas. Gates open 7am each day. 242-8200, weathertechraceway.com. JAMES BLACK moving toward a leadership role in sustainable technology. A year ago, the sportscar racing series IMSA introduced an innovative hybrid unit. While IndyCar’s unit is all about power, the series has begun using 100 percent renewably-sourced fuel produced by Shell from sugarcane waste. The transition to biofuels began in 2006. With the new product, the series expects to cut emissions by 60 percent. The haulers that transport cars across the country now run on biodiesel, and there have been other steps toward reducing the carbon footprint. “It is the end of an era, but it’s the start of the next generation,” Rahal observes. “It’s time for change.”