“Hard to get a read” on fickle Laguna Seca, say Herta, Newgarden

Both Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta say that one of the biggest challenges at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is verifying the quality of car setup when the nature of the track can change.

Newgarden of Team Penske-Chevrolet and 2019 Laguna Seca pole- and race-winner Herta finished first and second respectively in today’s sole practice session.

But neither was confident that running a 45-minute session on one set of Firestones had uncovered all the intricacies necessary to perfect their cars.

“For the most part, globally it felt like the car was in the window,” said Newgarden, who sits third in the championship, 34 points behind leader Alex Palou. “But obviously things can change quickly.

“In Portland we were pretty sorted out in Practice 1, we choked in qualifying and were pretty far off the pace. That's the number one thing for us in the #2 car, have a consistent run all the way through. If we can do that, we'll be in the fight.

Said Herta: “I think it's tough to do a 45-minute session on one set of tires. Waiting for most of it, waiting to see what kind of lap times guys were doing.

“Compared to when we were at the test, I think the track was a lot better. It was quite nice. Even though it seemed like it was similar temperature, seemed to be a little bit more grip today.

“The car felt a little different to the test for me. So I think we have some adjustments to make to kind of get it back in the window. But we're right there. Great start to be P2 and less than a 10th off.”

Newgarden added: “It's a 45-minute session, which is already condensed. If you're only going to run one set of tires, which we did, you get really one run to get a read. I mean, even the second run, because the tire dropoff is quite high, it can muddy any read you're trying to perform.

“It's just incredibly difficult to understand what the car's doing or if you want to improve it, what happened run to run. Then the dust gets kicked up on the track a lot when you have 27 cars.

“We didn't have it so much at the test because there were not many cars continually going off. You had a lot of cars here [today] that were just constantly kicking up dirt onto curbing. It makes it difficult to read the car here and understand where things are at.

“But I think that's part of the challenge at these types of tracks, you have to be really good at doing it. Whenever you get a really good run, you have to assess the car with that.

“To me it's like Sonoma. Sonoma was just a nightmare to figure out what was better or worse with any change. If you're trying to work on the racecar, work on tire degradation, it's very difficult to understand and assess what makes the car better or worse in those conditions. I think it's the same thing here.

“Hopefully showing up with a car that's inherently better than the people around you – your philosophy, the way that you run the dampers, the way you set up the mechanical balance – you hope that feeds into better tire life. Trying to improve it on a weekend like this is pretty difficult, I would say.”

Both drivers pointed out that Laguna Seca’s pitlane was also a particular challenge with 27 cars.

“It is jam-packed; we are like sardines in a can in pit lane this weekend,” said Herta. “I feel like there's 24 pit spots, but we're all crammed in there. It will be interesting.”

“I forget what the minimum box size is,” said Newgarden, “but I feel like we're on it. You can't go much smaller. I mean, it's really difficult to get into your pit box.

"Hopefully it doesn't cause any problems, but the potential's there for sure. If there's a yellow flag stop and we're all taking it, it's going to be tough.

 

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