The layout makes the course quite demanding with its elevation changes, speed the drivers can carry through various segments of the track and, of course, the signature Corkscrew.
“I think what makes this track different from any other you race at is, obviously, the Corkscrew,” Andretti said. “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.”
Herta said the “elevator drop” in the Corkscrew is perhaps the most unique sensation he has ever experienced in a race car.
“The elevator drop from the top of the Corkscrew to the bottom of the Corkscrew from inside the car is amazing,” he said. “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.”
According to these veterans, the pressure on the championship contenders will begin to intensify during Saturday’s Firestone Fast Six Qualifying.
“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,” Andretti said. “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.”
“I think you should definitely be tuned in Saturday because qualifying is going to be really an important session for these guys,” Herta added. “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.”
To add to the drama, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be a double points race. That means that each finishing position will be worth double its traditional points of 50 for first place, 40 for second, 35 for third and so on down the line. Drivers also can earn one bonus point for the pole, another point for leading a lap and two for most laps led. Bonus points are not doubled for this race.
“First off, the real pressure is the fact that it’s double points,” Rahal said. “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?’”
“There’s almost enough built-in pressure in this sport to do your job and to do it right,” Vasser said. “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.”
And a costly mistake will be magnified as a result of the double points.
“Laguna Seca will punish you if you make a mistake – that I know,” Herta said. “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.”