Race Report: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

MONTEREY, Calif. (Sept. 19, 2021)—The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey was run under ideal weather conditions at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Sunday afternoon. The 95-lap race was slowed by just one caution period when a fight for the lead resulted in Alexander Rossi spinning after making contact with pacesetter and eventual winner Colton Herta.

That caution on lap 2 set up the gamble that the ROKiT crew took by pitting Sébastien Bourdais’ No. 14 Chevrolet on lap 3 when the pits opened for service. They opted to go off strategy, meaning that they would do just two more fuel stops – pitting on laps 33 and 64–with long stints in between them. The K-Line Insulators USA team elected to make it the traditional three-stop race, pitting Dalton Kellett’s No. 4 Chevrolet on laps 16, 38 and 66.

Pitstops were solid for the ROKiT crew today. (Photo Courtesy of A.J. Foyt Racing)

Being on a different strategy from the leaders, Bourdais, who started 21st, ran in the top 10 from laps 14 through 31 just before he pitted. By lap 47, he worked his way back to 11th and stayed in the top-12 until lap 83 when his fuel-saving mode made him vulnerable to a charging Scott Dixon and Scott McLaughlin. Bourdais finished 14th.

Bourdais (left) talks with his engineers after the race: Technical Director Mike Colliver (center) and Race Engineer Justin Taylor. (Photo Courtesy of A.J. Foyt Racing)

“A pretty interesting race for the ROKiT Chevrolet number 14 with AJ Foyt Racing,” Bourdais said afterwards. “Started 21st, obviously a few incidents in the field and that early yellow, which the team decided to go for a two-stopper from there which was a long way to go, very long stints on that high tire degradation track. So kind of struggled at the end of every stint, but we were definitely pretty competitive in that middle stint! Just really struggled on the last one so we came out with 14th place, but it was pretty much all we could hope for today.”

The K-Line Insulators Chevrolet at speed. (Photo Courtesy of A.J. Foyt Racing)

Kellett’s race from 27th on the grid was a struggle as the high tire degradation, which this historic 2.23-mile track is known for, made the Canadian’s car difficult to handle—especially at the end of the fuel stints. When it was time to pit for fresh rubber, Kellett was more than ready. He was philosophical in his review of the race, noting he learned quite a bit from it. He finished 23rd.

Kellett (left) explains his point to Mike Pawlowski (race engineer-second from left), Scott Harner (race strategist – third from left) and Ryan Briscoe (driver coach). (Photo Courtesy of A.J. Foyt Racing)

“Bit of a tough day for us but at least we made some spots up from where we started,” Kellett pointed out after the race. “It was definitely a struggle during the race to try and keep those Firestones under us. The second stint we ran reds and they went away really quick and it was a pretty big struggle but we got through it. Getting back on reds sort of bringing the average pace down and keep them under me for a longer stint, but it was pretty tough just trying to make them last and be competitive towards the end of the tire life. Not the result we were looking for but still lots learned and looking forward to the final round at Long Beach.”

Herta dominated the race leading 91 of the 95 laps. It was his second straight sweep at this track, the first coming in 2019 when the INDYCAR Series returned to the track after a 15-year hiatus. Finishing second was Alex Palou, the current points leader. Rounding out the top five were Romain Grosjean, Graham Rahal and Pato O’Ward.

Charlie Kimball returns to the cockpit of the No. 11 Tresiba Chevrolet for the final round of the 2021 NTT INDYCAR Series next weekend. The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will be broadcast on Sunday, Sept. 26th starting at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

A.J. Foyt made the trip to Monterey for the first time since 1995. He chats with Bourdais after the race as team manager Craig Baranouski looks on. (Photo Courtesy of A.J. Foyt Racing)