INDIANAPOLIS – While the NTT IndyCar Series will be making its debut at the WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca during this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, a group of current team owners enjoyed immense success on this scenic but demanding layout during their driving days.
Owners Bobby Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Michael Andretti of Andretti Autosport, Bryan Herta of Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco & Curb-Agajanian and Jimmy Vasser of Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan combined for nine victories and six poles during the Championship Auto Racing Teams era at the 2.258-mile permanent road course in Monterey, Calif.
WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca will be the setting for the NTT IndyCar Series season-closing Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday to determine the series champion among the remaining contenders. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden leads Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi by 41 points, teammate Simon Pagenaud by 42 and five-time series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing by 85.
“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 should know.
He is the track record holder for most Indy car wins with four, which came consecutively from 1984-87. One of those victories also came from the pole in ‘85.
“Anytime you win, it’s pretty favorite, right?” Rahal said. “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.”
Andretti won back-to-back races from the pole in 1991-92 and added four more podium finishes at Laguna Seca during his career. That first win, however, carried the most significance for him.
“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,” said Andretti of the CART non-points, all-star race that was part of that year’s season finale weekend. “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.”
Herta is tied with Mario Andretti for most career poles at Laguna Seca with three (1997-99), two of which resulted in victories in ‘98 and ‘99. He also was the race leader in 1996 when Alex Zanardi made the dramatic move simply known as “The Pass” in the Corkscrew to overtake Herta on the final lap for the win.
“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,” said Herta, who grew up in Valencia, Calif. “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.”
Vasser won the championship the year his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Zanardi made “The Pass” and also notched a victory there the following year. Given that he grew up roughly 50 miles for the track, it holds a lot of memories for him.
“I grew up just north of Laguna Seca in Morgan Hill, California, so that was really my home track,” Vasser said. “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.”
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