Five things to watch for during Firestone Grand Prix at Monterey

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The CART series visited Laguna Seca 22 times from 1983 through 2004.

And then the IndyCars disappeared until this weekend.

Laguna Seca Raceway was the site of the finale from 1989 through 1996 with some of the greatest names in open wheel racing crowned on these grounds.

Their presence hovers over the field this week as Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud, and Scott Dixon are vying for the championship in a race where it’s twice as easy to gain or lose ground. This week, the points, and the stakes, are doubled.

Even though the statistics are from a different era, it is notable that the winner of an IndyCar race at Laguna Seca has started third or better in all but two events. Jimmy Vasser won from sixth in 1997; Max Papis (25th) came from deep in the field to win in 2001.

There were five or fewer lead changes in 19 of the 22 races, including the last 15.

Here are some of the storylines to watch this Sunday:

  1. The points contenders’ performances on road and street courses will be under a microscope this week: Rossi (with an average finish of 5.55, two wins and nine top fives), Dixon (6.27 with two wins and eight top-fives), Newgarden (6.36 with two wins and eight top fives) and Pagenaud (8.00 with two wins and no other top-fives) all have another top five in their sights. While Rossi has a 41-point deficit to erase, he also has the best record at this type of circuit in 2019.
  2. Equally important, Rossi is seeking to extend his current top-five streak on twisty tracks to seven consecutive. He finished second and fifth at Belle Isle and has not been outside the top five since.
  3. He has far fewer top-fives than his three rivals, but Pagenaud currently has the longest top-10 streak (eight consecutive on road courses and ovals). This includes one win at Toronto, which gives him hope.
  4. The rookie of the year battle comes down to Felix Rosenqvist and Santino Ferrucci, but who has momentum? Ferrucci had it with back-to-back fourth-place finishes at Pocono and Gateway. Rosenqvist stole it with a second-place finish at Portland, which is his second runner-up finish in the last four races.
  5. A mechanical issue at Gateway snapped an eight-race streak on ovals and road courses, but he still had an impressive mark on the twisty tracks. Rahal’s seven-race, top-10 streak on that course type literally came to a crashing halt before the race even started when he was involved in a multicar crash on the opening lap of the Grand Prix of Portland. Restarting that streak could be difficult because Rahal was unable to score back-to-back top-10s in the previous seven road or street courses.
  6. MORE: IndyCar Contenders ready to settle championship fight

MORE: Coltan Herta’s Connection to an amazing corkscrew pass

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Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

Leonhard Foeger/Pool via Getty Images
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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.