How do you like your crow, Miller?
“Medium well, butterflied, with mayo and lettuce, please.”
Eating crow isn’t one of my favorite dishes but in this case it tastes pretty damn good.
I’ve been predicting for months that IndyCar’s return to Laguna Seca would be a pass-less parade watched by a few club racers, Danny Sullivan and a handful of 70-somethings who used to cheer for Mario in the ’80s. Bad race, lousy attendance and a terrible place to end the season.
So, belch, pardon me — I was wrong because it was an entertaining race from start to finish with a surprisingly stout crowd and a major league atmosphere embraced by a lot of people who were happy to see the boys of Indy return to the scenic road course.
There was more passing in two hours than there’s been in 22 previous races combined as Felix Rosenvquist, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay sliced to the front on the grainy old surface that was a handful to handle as the tires gave up.
There was good, hard racing throughout the pack and plenty of drama up front as the teenaged tiger Colton Herta turned in a masterful performance and held off Dixon, Pagenaud and finally Power to score a popular victory in his native state.
“I thought it was an amazing race,” said Pagenaud, who finished fourth and tried everything in his arsenal to dispatch Dixon in the closing 15 laps. “I thought we gave a great show for the fans and it was a great crowd out there today.”
As they’ve done for much of the past couple years, Dallara and Firestone figured heavily in the good show. This car is so raceable in all three of IndyCar’s disciplines and, like Mid-Ohio, it turned what can usually be a follow-the-leader script into a day-long overtaking fest of comers and goers as drivers wrestled with Firestone’s red and black compounds.
In my defense, many of the drivers said Saturday they didn’t think passing would be possible despite the obvious degradation of the tires. But Pagenaud thought it would turn out just like it did.
“I actually noticed in warm-up on Friday,” said the 2019 Indianapolis 500 winner who wound up second in the championship behind teammate Josef Newgarden. “I noticed you could really pass so I was expecting it, at least with our car. I knew we could pass and it was good to see.”
Nobody did more passing than rookie Rosenqvist, who stormed from 14th to fifth, or Hunter-Reay, who fell to last after a problem in the pits and fought his way back to 10th at the checkered flag.
“It was fun — I managed to pass a lot of cars and I think I used a lot of anger from yesterday to move forward,” said the 28-year-old rookie from Sweden who was easily one of the three fastest cars on Saturday but lost his qualifying laps for impeding another competitor when he spun out. “That was a good road race.”
Power, who came from seventh and almost pulled off his third win in the last four races, was full of praise afterwards for Herta and the show. “That kid kid going to be handful for along time,” said the Team Penske veteran. “But damn, man, that was really fun out there today, sliding around and leaning on each other.
“But, I’m begging the Laguna management — DO NOT repave this track. It will ruin the racing and you cannot ask for anything better than we had today.”
Pagenaud echoed his teammate’s plea. “Absolutely, do not repave this place — leave it as it is. The track is absolutely perfect. It creates the perfect racing because there’s tire degradation. The last corner is a hairpin and you’re going into a double left-hander and it allows you to run two lanes because the inside is so used up. It opens up opportunities for an inside and outside line like you saw with me and (Alexander) Rossi and Dixon. Tire deg always creates great racing because it differentiates aggressive cars and setup vs. more conservative like we had.”
Based on the paltry turnout for IMSA the week before, $100 ticket prices to get in Sunday and not much in the way of promotion, the return to WeatherTech Raceway after a 15-year absence figured to look like IndyCar’s failed comebacks at Phoenix and Loudon. But the motorhome areas were packed, just like the suites and the paddock, and the hills were alive with warm bodies. Our man Marshall Pruett figured at least 25,000 after speaking with the Laguna folks.
And there were loads of new and old IndyCar T-shirts and hats on the California contingent as they stuck around for the championship ceremony and cheered for Newgarden, Herta and The Captain.
“I think one of the last races I won was back here in the 1960s and I had a lot of times with (Dan) Gurney and (Stirling) Moss and Jack Brabham,” said Roger Penske, who won a Can-Am race for Jim Hall here. “It hasn’t changed much. Same place, same coming up through Fort Ord. Nothing has changed, just the people and the racers. It was a great crowd today and they need to keep date equity and that’s how we can grow this thing.”
There is always uncertainly when you go back to a place after 10 or 15 years. But Laguna Seca was a pleasant surprise on Sunday and it looks like IndyCar has a found an old friend.
Now pass the mustard.