The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season reaches the chequered flag this weekend with the championship deciding Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca taking place on Sunday. For the 14th consecutive season the championship will be decided in the final race with four drivers in the running for the title.
Four team owners, Bobby Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Michael Andretti of Andretti Autosport, Bryan Herta of Bryan Herta Autosport with Marco Andretti and Dale Coyne with Vasser Sullivan Racing’s Jimmy Vasser have a comnined nine wins and six pole positions during the CART eria.
Bobby Rahal holds the record for most IndyCar wins at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with four which came from 1984 – 87 and winning from pole in 1985.
Speaking about his achievements here, Rahal said:
Laguna, with its ups and downs, a lot of elevation change, differing amounts of grip level depending on where you are on the track, just a very intense circuit,” Rahal said. “When you win there, you feel like you’ve really done something.
Rahal who is fielding two cars this weekend with his son Graham and Takuma Sato went on to say:
Anytime you win, it’s pretty favorite, right?” “Probably the fourth (win was most special) because that was the race that really won the championship for me in ’87. Of course, I won in ’86 and won the championship, but we had to go to Miami to finish the job. But ’87, winning there, that just put the nail in the coffin for the championship and for other people’s hopes, so that was a good race to win. My first big win was in Can-Am there in 1979. I think we’ve had, either me as a driver or as a team owner, I’ve had somewhere around 10 or 11 wins at that track – IMSA, INDYCAR, Can-Am – so naturally, we always look forward to going back.
Michael Andretti whose driver Alexander Rossi in the No.27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda is a championship contender has two wins from pole here which came back to back in 1991 and 92 and speaking about those wins he said:
Actually I would say that’s probably where has been my greatest moment – was at Laguna in ’91. At that time, there was (also) the Marlboro Challenge. “I won the Marlboro Challenge, (then) I started on the pole, won the race and won the championship in ’91. Dad (Mario Andretti) was on the podium (finishing third) with me actually to share that moment. So that was a very, very special weekend.
Bryan Herta is tied for poles here with Mario Andretti at three with two of those resulting in wins back to back in 1998 and 99 and speaking about his time racing here Herta said:
Going back to Laguna for me is great. It’s, I guess, kind of a home race, Long Beach is more my home, but it’s just less than four hours up the road for me and obviously (I) had a lot of races there. “I was able to win some races there, lost one kind of infamously there. Going back there feels really great for me and I’m so excited to watch Colton (Bryan’s son) now race on that track, a track that I had success on and see how he does. I think that will be a lot of fun.
Jimmy Vasser who won here in 1996 and 97 for Chip Ganassi Racing commented saying:
I grew up just north of Laguna Seca in Morgan Hill, California, so that was really my home track. “My father and I would go out to the races; I think it was the Camel GT and the INDYCAR races and really got kind of interested in Formula Fords, so we bought a Formula Ford.
“I had my first big race win there in 1984 in front of the INDYCAR crowd in Formula Ford. I won the Formula Atlantic race there in 1987. I won my INDYCAR title there in ’96, won the INDYCAR race in ’97 the same day Zanardi won the championship in ’97 that day. I just have so many great memories of Laguna Seca. Magical things have seemed to happen for me there.”
Michael Andretti describes the track saying:
I think what makes this track different from any other you race at is, obviously, the Corkscrew. “It’s quite an interesting corner. There’s nothing like it in the world. I think that’s what makes that track different than any other track
Bryan Herta stated:
The elevator drop from the top of the Corkscrew to the bottom of the Corkscrew from inside the car is amazing. “I think you’re dropping like four stories in like, a second or second-and-a-half. It happens really, really fast, so it’s quite a sensation. You don’t do that anywhere else. I’ve never done that in a race car anywhere else in the world. That’s kind of the signature thing.
“The really unique thing about it from the driver’s standpoint is when you’re sitting down low inside that car, you turn in and you’re driving off a cliff. You cannot see the road, you can’t see the bottom, you can’t see the corner at the bottom of the hill. So you’re really, every lap, just kind of taking this leap of faith blind and trusting that the bottom’s going to be down there and it’s going to catch you.
Andretti believes that track position is one of the most important things to have at the circuit.
It’s a tough track, you know track position is very important so qualifying is going to be really, really important as well for the outcome, I think, of the race. “Saturday is going to be an important day. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on the guys to put in a good lap.
Herta whose son Colton is racing this weekend for Harding Steinbrenner Racing has urged fans to tune into to qualifying:
I think you should definitely be tuned in Saturday because qualifying is going to be really an important session for these guys. “It’s going to set the tone for the race and it’s going to be all-important to qualify well. If you want to close out your championship, you better have a good Saturday and a great Sunday.”
Speaking about the double points that are on offer this weekend Bobby Rahal said:
First off, the real pressure is the fact that it’s double points. “A couple of years ago Graham (Rahal, Bobby’s son) was second going into the final race at Sonoma. He got hit by (Sebastien) Bourdais, then they penalized Bourdais and when they penalized Bourdais they dropped us another position in the final standings, and we ended up going from second to fifth in the championship or something.
“So for everybody, the fact that 100 points or a little over a 100 can really make a big difference for where you finish up the year. So you go into that weekend knowing that and then it’s all about, ‘How do we make the best of it?’
Jimmy Vasser commented on the double points this weekend saying:
There’s almost enough built-in pressure in this sport to do your job and to do it right. “Especially with the double points, anything can happen. That track is very difficult to drive. It’s tricky, it doesn’t have a lot of grip. The track hasn’t had a resurface in a long time, so it’s very easy to make a mistake. Those guys are going to have to be on their toes for sure, as they always are at this level. It’s all on the line, for sure.
The final words came from Bryan Herta who says that Laguna Seca will punish drivers who make mistakes:
Laguna Seca will punish you if you make a mistake – that I know. “So to go there with several guys still in the championship hunt fighting for a championship and having that kind of pressure on a track that demands perfection, I think that’s going to be really interesting.
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, Team Penske’s Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud and defending series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing are all in the fight for the championship and Sunday’s race is not one to be missed.