Paddock Buzz: Malukas Makes Fast Work in MSR Debut (2024)

In his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of the season, David Malukas already equaled the best starting position in 2024 for the No. 66 AutoNation/Arctic Wolf Honda of Meyer Shank Racing, qualifying 12th for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Tom Blomqvist qualified 12th in April at Barber Motorsports Park, five races ago. Since then, Blomqvist qualified 26th and 25th, respectively, for both Indianapolis Motor Speedway races before Helio Castroneves replaced him in the car and qualified 26th and 27th, respectively, at Detroit and Road America.

Malukas’ drive into the second round of qualifying in his first start showed why the team sought him to handle driving duties for the remainder of the season. Malukas was available after being released by Arrow McLaren in late April, about 10 weeks after he suffered wrist and hand injuries in a mountain biking accident.

“Yes,” Malukas said about a weight lifting from his shoulders. “Going through the practice sessions, the pace was obviously really far down, but there was so much going on.”

Malukas was 25th out of 27 drivers Friday in the opening practice session around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile scenic California road course. He improved five positions to 20th in practice Saturday morning.

“So many different question marks going into qualifying, and finally we had a clean lap,” he said. “We put everything into it. That’s all we needed.”

Malukas admitted to fatigue during the second round of qualifying from being outside of a race car for such a long time. But he’s confident the team will develop a smart setup for Sunday.

“It’s a completely different beast to tackle,” he said of the race. “It’s going to be all about survival. It’s going to be a different kind of turnaround, but I have a great group of people. They set this car up after the two practice sessions. We went from nothing to making it into the second round, so I trust these guys.”

Power, Newgarden Exit Qualifying Early

Team Penske finished 1-2-3 on June 9 at the XPEL Grand Prix at Road America and repeated that feat on the speed charts in the hybrid Open Test session June 11 at the Milwaukee Mile.

Roger Penske’s drivers have a challenge on their hands to continue that impressive feat in the 95-lap race Sunday.

Scott McLaughlin was the top qualifier among the Penske trio, starting seventh in his No. 3 Good Ranchers Team Penske Chevrolet. He qualified and finished second last year.

NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader Will Power produced his worst starting spot in 10 months by qualifying his No. 12 Verizon Business Team Penske Chevrolet 15th. The last time he qualified outside the top 10 for an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race was last August at World Wide Technology Raceway when he qualified 12th.

Power chalked up his qualifying performance to waiting too long to exit pit lane for his flying laps on the faster Firestone alternate tires. The tires didn’t come up to the ideal temperature to lead to a desirable lap time.

“Just didn’t get enough time,” he said. “Just off cycle. It’s very tough.”

Power had qualified seventh, ninth, eighth, second, second, third, second, eighth and fifth, respectively, the last nine opportunities dating back to the final two races of the 2023 season.

At WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Power had qualified seventh, third, first and seventh, respectively, in four past tries.

He will be joined mid-pack by teammate Josef Newgarden, who qualified his No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet one spot better in 14th. That’s his lowest starting spot this season, with Newgarden boasting an average starting spot of fourth entering this weekend.

“It was just me today,” Newgarden said on the difference maker on why he didn’t advance out of the opening round. “I was just struggling. The car was really good. I don’t think it was the issue. I will try to make it up tomorrow. We will try and have a good race day tomorrow.”

Newgarden started 25th but charged to finish second in the 2022 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Drivers Like Laguna Seca

The three-race stretch of racetracks including Road America (June 9), WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca (June 23) and Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (July 7) are among driver favorites in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.

AJ Foyt Racing driver Santino Ferrucci said the speed of the track since it was repaved before last year’s race excites him the most while driving his No. 14 AJ FOYT RACING/SEXTON PROPERTIES Chevrolet around the 2.238-mile California road course.

“A cool track all around,” he said. “High pace. Quick. Very physical, very demanding. It's probably one of our most physical courses all year.”

Newgarden said the track is quicker than it feels inside his No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, with the grip levels deteriorating in a good way in the last 12 months.

“Does feel like a lot of grip, but the lap time is not that bad compared to last year,” he said. “It’s still really fast compared to the new pavement. You’re keeping a lot of speed. You’re tiptoeing more. Last year, the thing just felt like it was stuck in the track.

“This year, you’re on top of it. It’s a lot more line specific. Some corners you just can’t miss the line, otherwise you’ll blow the corner. So, it’s interesting, but it’s a fun track to drive. It’s a very challenging track physically and a lot of demand on the car, which is great.”

Ferrucci said this track is so physically demanding because of the high-speed cornering radiuses and elevation changes creating big compression.

"Then you have corners like the one before the Corkscrew, that uphill section using third and fourth gear,” Ferrucci said. “It's about 135 miles an hour and if you miss it, it's not great.”

Sting Ray Robb agrees with his AJ Foyt Racing teammate. Laguna Seca has been one of his best tracks statistically. In seven combined starts between Indy Pro 2000, INDY NXT by Firestone and NTT INDYCAR SERIES competition, Robb has three top-two finishes, including his lone INDY NXT by Firestone victory in 2022. Last season, his 12th-place finish in the season finale was his best finish among 17 starts.

"The track is my favorite,” said Robb, driver of the No. 41 Goodheart Vet/ Chevrolet. “There is a lot to love between the different-style corners, the elevation changes and the location.”

Final Race before Hybrid Era

The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey is the final race of the current engine regulations. The next NTT INDYCAR SERIES race on the schedule, July 7 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, is the debut of the hybrid power unit that provides a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the two engine manufacturers.

Honda helped develop the ultracapacitor Energy Storage System (ESS) while Chevrolet/Ilmor helped develop the Motor Generator Unit (MGU). Ilmor assembled and distributed the combined package to the teams. Both units, combined, fit inside the bellhousing located between the combustion engine and the gearbox.

Before the technology is introduced on the cars for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio presented by the 2025 Civic Hybrid, Sunday’s 95-lap race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is the last opportunity to win a race in this non-hybrid era.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Graham Rahal (No. 15 Mobil 1 Honda) is one of 30 drivers to have won an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race in this engine era (2012-present) and said becoming the final winner with this rules package is enticing.

“It would be awesome to be a winner at Laguna in the final race before going into the hybrid era,” he said.

Six-time series champion and defending Laguna Seca race winner Scott Dixon leads all drivers for the most wins in this span with 31 trips to victory lane. Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden is second-best with 30 wins. Will Power (27), Simon Pagenaud (15) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (13) round out the top five on that list.

NTT P1 Award winner Alex Palou has 10 victories, including the 2022 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

Team Penske leads all teams with 80 victories leading Chip Ganassi Racing (49 wins), Andretti Global (33), Arrow McLaren (12), Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (10), Ed Carpenter Racing (eight), Dale Coyne Racing (five), KV Racing (five), Harding Steinbrenner Racing (two), AJ Foyt Racing (one) and Meyer Shank Racing (one).

Chevrolet accumulated 115 wins, with Honda scoring 91 victories. Honda has five of the top-six starting positions for Sunday’s 95-lap race.

Odds and Ends

  • Kyle Kirkwood earned his best WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca start, second in his No. 27 AutoNation Honda for Andretti Global. That topped 17th in 2022 and 16th last year.
  • Romain Grosjean continued a recent trend of pulling the car he’s driving into the top 10 in qualifying at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Driving for his third team in five years, Grosjean earned his third top-10 qualifying spot. He started fourth and eighth, respectively, for Andretti Global in 2022 and 2023 and starts eighth in his No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet Sunday. He gained 10 spots coming from 13th to finish third in his rookie season with Dale Coyne Racing in 2021.
  • The last two Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey race winners started 11th. That’s the same car number and starting position for Chip Ganassi Racing driver Marcus Armstrong, who drives the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
  • This has been a busy weekend for Ed Carpenter Racing. Following Friday’s opening practice session, the crew changed the engine for the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet for Rinus VeeKay. A day later, rookie Christian Rasmussen crashed his No. 20 Guy Care Chevrolet in Turn 10, badly damaging the rear end of the car. The crew thrashed in the paddock to get the car rebuilt for qualifying four hours later. Rasmussen was in the first group in the opening round, qualifying 21st for Sunday’s 95-lap race. VeeKay starts 20th.
  • Louis Foster led flag-to-flag in his No. 26 Copart/Novara Technologies for Andretti Global in INDY NXT by Firestone competition leading to his fifth career victory. He is tied for the series lead with Jacob Abel, who finished third in his No. 51 Abel Construction entry. Since the doubleheader weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Foster has outscored Abel, 226-196, with three wins and a runner-up in the five-race span. Abel has a win, a runner-up and a pair of third-place finishes.
  • Foster starts on the INDY NXT by Firestone pole Sunday hoping for a perfect weekend. He was quickest in both Friday practice sessions, won both poles and led all 35 laps in Saturday’s victory.

Paddock Buzz: Malukas Makes Fast Work in MSR Debut (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Jerrold Considine

Last Updated:

Views: 6501

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (78 voted)

Reviews: 93% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Jerrold Considine

Birthday: 1993-11-03

Address: Suite 447 3463 Marybelle Circles, New Marlin, AL 20765

Phone: +5816749283868

Job: Sales Executive

Hobby: Air sports, Sand art, Electronics, LARPing, Baseball, Book restoration, Puzzles

Introduction: My name is Jerrold Considine, I am a combative, cheerful, encouraging, happy, enthusiastic, funny, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.