With tomorrow’s race scheduled for 95 laps, compared to 90 in 2019, teams and drivers will likely find it difficult to extend the life of their tires to increase the length of stints. As far as fuel is concerned, the race is doable over three stops, as at this same event two years ago, but with the track surface of the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca being notoriously difficult on the tires, Herta believes in preserving the rubber long enough to make quick laps at the end of a stint will be a difficult task.
Today’s poleman, who also took pole and won the race here two years ago, said: “You’re going to be riding a little under the limit, especially on the reds. [Firestone’s softer alternate compound tires], especially with the added five rounds, right? We struggled to get to the 18th or 19th round in 2019. Now we’re going to have to go to 24, 23.
“Understanding that, I think the guys are going to be very careful. It doesn’t matter what they start the race on, whether it’s black [harder primary Firestones] or red, you will see that guys tend to be more aggressive or stay calm.
He added: “Tire wear, especially the stints on the reds, [will be] even more critical. My initial feeling is it’s gonna be a black [-favoring] race. You’re going to want to get rid of those red tires. Guess the important thing we’ll try to learn [in Sunday morning warm-up] that’s how long can we make these tires last before the huge drop happens. “
The seven-time poleman said all teams will make major changes overnight to try out tomorrow morning.
“I think we’re probably a little better on the reds than the blacks,” he said. “I think we’re a bit loose on blacks. Obviously when you go into the reds a softer tire has a lot more rear grip, a lot more understeer. Maybe the car is a bit better tuned for the reds. It was the goal.
“We will have to wait and see for the warm-up. There are going to be a lot of changes tonight that the guys are going to make to calm the back …
“We put it in place by qualifying more for the reds because we expect to have understeer on the reds and oversteer on the blacks. We’ve set it up to reduce understeer on reds as much, but that means blacks get more and more loose each time you do this.
“It’s a place where we’re probably making some big changes between qualifying and the race to sort out that rear.”