Newgarden: "Hard to get a read" on fickle Laguna Seca

Two-time IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden believes that verifying the quality of car set-ups will be a significant challenge at the constantly evolving Laguna Seca track this weekend.

Newgarden: "Hard to get a read" on fickle Laguna Seca

Speaking after topping the 45-minute Friday practice at the California circuit, which returns to the calendar this year after a planned double-header race in 2020 was cancelled due to then pandemic, title challenger Newgarden said it had been difficult to get an understanding of the tyre performance given the limited running on the high-degradation circuit.

“It's a 45-minute session, which is already condensed,” explained the Team Penske driver, who sits 34 points behind leader Alex Palou in the championship.

“If you're only going to run one set of tyres, which we did, you get really one run to get a read.

“Even the second run, because the tire drop-off 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 kerbing. 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.

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet

Photo by: Joe Skibinski

“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 tyre 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 tyre life.

“Trying to improve it on a weekend like this is pretty difficult, I would say.”

Johnson confident of reaching limits with Laguna familiarity

Meanwhile, NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson says that returning to a track where he has twice tested this weekend should give him the chance to push to his limits.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished just 1.5s behind Newgarden as he continues his transition to open-wheel racing.

It follows impressive performances at both the Indianapolis Road Course and Portland, where he had also previously tested.

“It’s great to be back here because I think we’ve seen a big improvement on tracks I’ve been to before,” the seven-time NASCAR Cup champion told Autosport.

“I certainly hope to build on that. I’m excited to challenge myself in areas I know I was slow in [during testing].

Jimmie Johnson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Jimmie Johnson, Chip Ganassi Racing Honda

Photo by: James J Black

“I’ve been in a circle, really: as I improve somewhere, I need to catch up somewhere else. Some of the big gains I’ve had have been medium to high-speed turns, understanding what the car can do closer to the edge.

“I’m now at a point where my initial brake hit is in the right spot, but managing the brakes is something I need to get a little better with.

“It’s coming along, I’m down to the little tenths that add up. This is the hardest phase.”

Johnson said his ambitions have been raised following recent races, and finishing on the lead lap is no longer the target.

“I feel like I’ve crossed that hurdle and now it’s trying to qualify in the teens and race in the teens,” he said.

“At Portland, with how short the lap is, I thought I was going to be really exposed and go down a lap, and I didn’t. So starting in the teens and finishing in the teens has to be the next step.”

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