WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca

It will be difficult to beat Monterey’s inviting coastal weather this weekend as most of North America rolls through midsummer heat.

Temperatures in the mid-60s with sunshine await the NTT INDYCAR SERIES at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, which sees its first practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at 5 p.m. ET Friday (Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network).

SEE: Race Details

This event was held in September each of the past three years, with it being the season finale in 2023. It has been 21 years since the track last hosted the sport in June. Next year, the race will be held on the last weekend in July for the first time.

This weekend’s heat will be in the competition. The top three drivers in the standings – Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Business Team Penske Chevrolet), Alex Palou (No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) -- are separated by just 11 points, and each has won multiple series championships. Palou is seeking to win two in a row; Dixon is chasing A.J. Foyt’s all-time record of seven season titles.

There have been six different winners in the season’s first seven races.

This weekend’s 27-car field includes the season debut of David Malukas, out since injuring his left wrist in a mountain bike accident in February, and the first race as an Arrow McLaren driver for rookie Nolan Siegel. Agustin Canapino also returns to Juncos Hollinger Racing after a one-race break.

Additionally, the weekend features a pair of INDY NXT by Firestone races. Atop the standings, Jacob Abel of Abel Motorsports leads Andretti Global’s Louis Foster by 19 points.

There is much to consume and enjoy, including the following storylines.

Laguna Seca History

The series has raced at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca since 1983, but the most recent iteration began in 2019. Which means, only a few of the current drivers have won series races here.

Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda of Andretti Global w/Curb-Agajanian) has won two of the four races, in 2019 and 2021. Palou (2022) and Dixon (2023) are the other drivers who have won on the 11-turn, 2.238-mile permanent road course.

Among those expected to be in the paddock this weekend are five former Laguna Seca winners. Bobby Rahal, a co-owner of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, won four consecutive years (1984-87) while Andretti Global’s Michael Andretti and Bryan Herta each won two in a row (Andretti in 1991-92, Herta in 1998-99). Herta, who calls races for Kyle Kirkwood (No. 27 AutoNation Honda) is best remembered for losing the 1996 race when Alex Zanardi went hopping through the dirt as the pair dropped through the famous Corkscrew on the final lap.

Helio Castroneves, a co-owner of Meyer Shank Racing, won in 2000. INDYCAR race steward Max Papis won in 2001.

RLL Reaching Participation Milestone

In addition to Bobby Rahal winning four times at this track, his team also has reason to celebrate this weekend.

With cars for Graham Rahal (No. 15 Mobil 1 Honda), Christian Lundgaard (No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda) and Pietro Fittipaldi (No. 30 Eurofarma Honda), RLL will eclipse the 1,000 mark for all-time series starts. The first was Bobby Rahal’s third-place finish in the Surfers Paradise race in 1992.

RLL becomes the sixth active team to have more than 1,000 career starts. The others are AJ Foyt Racing, Andretti Global, Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing and Team Penske.

The list of Rahal drivers at Laguna Seca over the years is also worth review: Bobby Rahal, Mike Groff, Raul Boesel, Bryan Herta, Max Papis. Jimmy Vasser, Michel Jourdain Jr., Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato, Oliver Askew, Jack Harvey, Lundgaard and Juri Vips. They have combined for three wins, three poles and 11 podium finishes at the track.

Back in the Series

It’s interesting that Malukas and Siegel, a pair of INDY NXT by Firestone graduates, have a connection even as they have never raced against each other.

Siegel is driving the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet that was intended for Malukas before he injured his wrist in February. Arrow McLaren has had Callum Ilott and rookie Theo Pourchaire in the car in the first seven races of the season. Siegel, who has competed in two events this season with Dale Coyne Racing and another with Juncos Hollinger Racing, was confirmed to the ride Tuesday.

Malukas recently tested with Meyer Shank Racing at the Milwaukee Mile, but this will be his first race in the team’s No. 66 AutoNation/Arctic Wolf Honda. Like Siegel, he is confirmed to drive the car in the remaining 10 races this season.

Malukas is back in the series in part because of help from Arrow McLaren and its sporting director, Tony Kanaan. Malukas used one of Kanaan’s driving simulators to round into competitive shape. Kanaan said Dr. Terry Trammell oversaw a two-hour Laguna Seca “test” on the simulator before clearing him to participate in this weekend’s event.

Power on the Move

Power’s recent victory in the XPEL Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR pushed him into a tie with Michael Andretti for fourth place on the sport’s all-time race wins list with 42. Power will need 10 more wins to catch Mario Andretti, who is third on the list with 52. A.J. Foyt (67) and Dixon (58) are first and second, respectively.

As significant as Power’s win was, Team Penske’s domination at Road America was historically impressive. It was the team’s first podium sweep since 2017 when Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and Power went 1-2-3 in the September race at Sonoma Raceway. The last sweep in the series was by Andretti Global in September 2020 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course when Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay crossed the finish line in that order.

In another example of the competitiveness of the series, the Road America race featured 13 lead changes, the most for the event since the INDYCAR SERIES returned in 2016. Linus Lundqvist became the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie to earn a pole since Romain Grosjean in May 2021 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Weekend Schedule

Later sessions are the order of the next few days, particularly for fans in the Eastern time zone.

In addition to Friday’s 5 p.m. ET practice, the second practice of the weekend is at 1 p.m. ET Saturday. Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award is slated for 5:15 p.m. ET.

Sunday’s race is set to air at 6 p.m. ET, with the green flag at approximately 6:30 p.m. on the USA Network, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

INDY NXT by Firestone has two 35-lap races this weekend, both airing on Peacock, INDYCAR LIVE and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Saturday’s race will be at 3:30 p.m. ET with Sunday’s at 4 p.m.