RETRO: WeatherTech Raceway's West Coast showdowns

Dan R. Boyd

RETRO: WeatherTech Raceway's West Coast showdowns

The 2022 NTT IndyCar Series reaches its championship climax at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 11 with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the classic Californian road course was consistently the scene of the season-ending showdown. Yet since 1996, WeatherTech Raceway has only hosted one more finale, in 2019, when Josef Newgarden kissed the Vanderbilt Cup for the second time. As the only U.S. driver in the current field to have won an IndyCar title, can the Team Penske ace make it three when the series decider returns to the Monterey Peninsula?

Josef Newgarden would tie Bobby Rahal on titles if he can clinch at WeatherTech Raceway, just like he did for his second in 2019.

If he does, he’ll match another American icon celebrating 30 years since his last championship win: Bobby Rahal clinched title No. 3 at WeatherTech Raceway, beating Michael Andretti with just three points to spare.

The 1992 campaign had been a season-long battle between Rahal and Andretti. The two took the lion’s share of wins from the 16-race season – four for Rahal and five for Andretti. Emerson Fittipaldi also took five wins, but finished a distant fourth in the final standings as five DNFs severely blunted his charge.

By the time the teams arrived in California, Rahal and Andretti were the only two drivers still in contention for the crown.

“The win for me at Nazareth Speedway in the previous race was really critical,” Rahal recounts. “The gap it gave me going into Laguna was a big plus, and the pressure was on Michael, who’d finished second behind me.

“Coming to Laguna Seca was always special for me, and really for everyone in the series,” he adds. “We’d always had a fair degree of success at the track going back to Can-Am, sports cars and, of course, four straight wins in IndyCar from ’84 to ’87. But Michael was a heck of a competitor, so we knew it was going to be intense, and we were fighting a great team in Newman/Haas Racing.”

Bobby Rahal won the 1992 title at the helm of his new team, Rahal-Hogan Racing. Four wins preceded his championship-securing podium in the season finale.

The 1992 season was also the first for Rahal as a driver/owner with his new team, Rahal-Hogan Racing. As a one-car effort running the older Ilmor-Chevrolet “A” engine in the Lola chassis against Newman-Haas, which had the all-new Ford Cosworth XB engine, Rahal-Hogan was, by all appearances, a team disadvantaged. In reality, it was more than up to the task. Rahal credits much of it to those on the pit wall, including Jim McGee and the late Scott Roembke, both of whom are synonymous with Bobby’s exploits.

“I was running second to Michael for most of the race, and toward the end, Mario [Andretti] got by on a pit stop,” Rahal recalls. “But third place was enough. Our car wasn’t really that great in the race, but no one else’s was any better. I was able to hold off [Eddie] Cheever and [Arie] Luyendyk and keep pace with Michael and Mario. When you have a history of success at Laguna, that gives you a lot of confidence, and I knew I didn’t have to win the race to win the championship.”

Thirty years on, Rahal’s three-car Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing squad, including second-gen star Graham Rahal in the lineup, and the rest of a deep NTT IndyCar Series field return to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca to cap off the 2022 season – something which Bobby believes makes it a bit more special.

Bobby Rahal drops into the world-famous Corkscrew heading to championship No. 3 in ’92.

“I just don’t know of a better place to end the season,” says Rahal. “It’s a phenomenally beautiful track, and the racing is always good. For the teams and sponsors, and of course the fans, it’s a perfect place to crown a new champion.”

Don’t miss the the 2022 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey

The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Sept. 9-11, is likely to decide the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series title, and great tickets are on sale now for as low as $20 if you purchase before Sept. 7.

Along with the headlining IndyCar showdown, Indy Lights will also be in action with a double-header race weekend to conclude its season. Add in Spec Racer Ford and the US Touring Car and the action on track is almost non-stop.

No visit to WeatherTech Raceway is complete without time spent at The Corkscrew.

There are numerous options to upgrade your experience, including several hospitality options that top out with the Champions Club, which includes a pit-row suite above the garages, driver meet and greets and all the usual high-end amenities. And why not try premier camping, too?

Whether you choose a suite view or a picnic blanket beneath the shade of an oak tree at the top of The Corkscrew, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey promises to be a must-attend event.

You can find out more at weathertechraceway.com

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