Continental Tire Sports Car Festival, powered by Mazda at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

I am lucky to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. We have four major racetracks within a three-and-a-half-hour drive, with nine major tracks within a nine-hour tow. But Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is special. There is so much history here it is almost palpable.

The circuit itself is a thrill ride, with massive elevation changes that make for a challenging track to drive at the limit. Blind corners, blind crests, steep drop-offs, off camber high-speed sweepers, this track has it all!

To talk about running a fast lap around Mazda Raceway, we need to go back to the last corner of the previous lap. A fast lap here starts before you get to Turn 11.

 

Turn 11

Turn11

This is a slow corner that eats fast laps for breakfast and spits out the remains of drivers’ egos. It is easy to make a mistake here and ruin the lap you are on and the lap to come. If you are about to start a qualifying flyer, it is a good idea to sacrifice entry speed into this corner to get the car turned-in late and be on the throttle hard way before the apex to maximize exit speed and minimize the potential for a mistake as you come onto the longest straight on the track.

 

Turn 1

Turn1

As I bang through the gears and climb the hill leading up to the Start/Finish line, start to pull the car left to prepare for the slight kink before Turn 1. In a touring car, I apex the kink just under the bridge, tight against the pit wall, then let the car come out to about half-track. In a GT car and beyond, I let the car all the way to the right to provide the largest radius through Turn 1 as possible due to much higher speeds. At this point, all I can see is the track in front of me and clear blue sky. Just prior to the crest I start to pull the car to the left in preparation for the blind Turn 1 apex just on the other side of the hill as the track descends. The Turn 1 “apex” is alongside the pit-out lane at left, separated by cones and paint as they run parallel down the hill before splitting apart for the pit-out lane to bypass Turn 2. I let the car track out to the right to set the car up for the hard downhill braking zone into Turn 2.

Turn 1 isn’t much of a turn. Apex the kink just under the bridge, tight against the pit wall, then let the car come out to about half-track. More if you have a fast car.
Turn 1 isn’t much of a turn. Apex the kink just under the bridge, tight against the pit wall, then let the car come out to about half-track. More if you have a fast car.

 

Turn 2

Turn2

Turn 2 is a double-apex corner that is a great passing zone. If I am unchallenged, I will trail-brake the car in deep, sacrificing the first apex a bit to keep a longer radius through the corner, giving me higher apex speed and a straighter shot out onto the short chute between turns 2 and 3 to carry more exit throttle. If I have a car badgering me, I come into the braking zone for Turn 2 around midtrack ready to defend to the left if needed, and tuck in tight to the first apex. Either way, I like to drive this corner with a long, constant radius center section, clipping the second part of Turn 2 late and ensuring a lot of room to unwind the steering wheel and squirt out of the turn using all of the exit curbing on the right. Most of the apex curbing and exit curbing at Mazda Raceway is flat and needs to be used to get the most out of the car.

 

Turn 3

Turn3

Turn 3 is tricky because it beckons the driver to enter fast, but it is tighter than it appears on approach from Turn 2. I don’t hustle the car to the left to bring the car across the track, but gradually bring it over diagonally from the exit of Turn 2 to the entrance of Turn 3. I start my braking on the diagonal, slowly ease in the steering late, and carry trail-braking deep into the corner, about halfway between turn-in and apex. I want to make sure I’ve got the nose pinned and have done most of my turning by this point, and have the car free to take a lot of throttle before the apex and make sure I have the right trajectory out of the corner. I use all the apex curbing on the right, right up to the red speed-bump that wants to rip off your right front wheel. Just prior to the apex, I’m unwinding the wheel, hard on the throttle and letting the rear tires steer the car around the corner with a bit more slip than the front. I let the car come all the way out to the very outside edge of the exit curbing, even hanging a bit of the tire off the edge.

Turn 3 is tricky because it beckons the driver to enter fast, but it is tighter than it appears on approach from Turn 2.
Turn 3 is tricky because it beckons the driver to enter fast, but it is tighter than it appears on approach from Turn 2.

 

Turn 4

Turn4

The exit curbing continues to the entrance of Turn 4, a fast right-hand sweeper. There is a lot of time to be made here if you can keep apex speed high and prevent understeer on exit. I come just off the curbing between turns 3 and 4, then get back on the curbing on the left to set up for Turn 4. I like to make this radius as large as possible to carry the most speed I can. I give a short lift off the throttle to plant the front tires and then initiate turn-in. I want to get my steering in quick while I’m off the throttle so the front end has bite, then immediately get back to full throttle and simultaneously unwind the wheel a bit. I am back to full throttle way before the apex with the car settled and on a trajectory that puts me all over the inside curb just shy of the red speed bump and carries me out all the way to the outside edge of the exit curbing, with tiny oversteer corrections with the steering wheel that let me keep my foot to the floor. This is one of the more exciting corners because the car is dancing at high speed right to the edge of the track and the reward is nice exit speed that will quickly gap someone behind.

 

Turn 5

Turn5

Turn 5 is one of the trickiest corners at this track, because it looks like it is a 90-degree left-hand corner, but it just keeps on turning and is much more than that. There is a long entrance curb on the right and I put the right tires all the way on it with a few inches of safety margin as I begin my braking. This is a fast entry into a medium-speed corner, so getting my braking point right is critical. I trail brake about a third of the way into this corner, then slowly transition to throttle as I approach the apex. Again, all over the inside curb up to the red speed bump. For me, the trick to this corner is patience. It is easy to get on the throttle too hard and then run out of room at the exit as the track goes off camber as the car tracks out. Lifting here will kill exit speed and really hurt the run uphill to Turn 6. I slowly feed in throttle as I go past the apex, hugging the left side apex curbing a bit longer than typical, then roll into full throttle and let the car track out and get a little light at the exit, once again using all of the exit curbing. Beware of going a bit too far, though, because dropping a wheel or two here tends to suck the car off the track quickly and an ill-timed correction can send you across track and into the inside barrier.

Turn 5 is one of the trickiest corners at this track, because it looks like it is a 90-degree left-hand corner, but it just keeps on turning and is much more than that.
Turn 5 is one of the trickiest corners at this track, because it looks like it is a 90-degree left-hand corner, but it just keeps on turning and is much more than that.

Turn 6

Turn6

As I climb the hill to Turn 6 and approach the bridge, I steel myself for what is to come. This is such a great turn. Blind crest, high speed, blind apex, high risk, and it all happens quickly. This turn more than many others demands perfect timing and precise car placement. Right at the bridge I start a very short braking zone and do a quick downshift. I don’t trail brake this corner, but I trail throttle until just after I have initiated my turn-in, then I get right back to full throttle. Here is where the timing and precision comes in. When done right, the car is on a trajectory to take it just past the apex on the apex curbing without touching that nasty red speed bump. There is a lot of camber in the corner there, and it compresses the suspension and hooks the car around and spits it out toward the apex and over the exit curbing with no room to spare. It is over so quickly, and done right, the car can carry a massive amount of speed up the hill. But if the timing or precision is off and the apex is missed, even by as little as a foot, the outside tires will be just outside that apex camber and there is nothing to help get the car around the corner. At that point the car has way too much speed to stay on the track without that help from the camber, and drastic measures must be taken to keep the car on the pavement or risk going off track on the right at a high rate of speed. Neither option is good and a lot of time will be lost in gathering up the car. The exit of Turn 6 is a mosaic of crisscrossing skid marks going from right to left that record journey of many cars making their way across the track to pay an unexpected visit to the inside barrier.

 

Turn 7 and 8, The Corkscrew

Turn7 Turn8

As I resume breathing after Turn 6, I slowly ease the car to the left as I climb the steep hill up to the crown jewel of Mazda Raceway, the famous Corkscrew, which plummets down from the highest point of the track. For me, the Corkscrew is all about the entry into Turn 8. As I come up the hill and all I can see is sky, I put my left tires on the left curbing before initiating a gentle cross-over for Turn 7. I start braking just before the crest of the hill and put my right tires way onto the right curbing to open up the entry to Turn 8 as much as possible. As the car crests the hill, it gets very light and the car loses braking efficiency, so I’ll let off the brakes just slightly to compensate until the weight comes back down. I initiate turn-in with relatively slow steering wheel rate, but I keep adding in steering while trading off braking, trail braking all the way to the apex and onto the apex curbing. All of the action for me is from the crest of the hill to the apex of Turn 8, delicately balancing the car on the edge of oversteer while shedding speed and increasing cornering. Once I hit that apex, the excitement of the Corkscrew is essentially over for me. Once I am on the apex curbing, I straighten up the wheel, put in a bit of throttle and plunge straight off the precipice. Once the car noses over I put in a little bit of right steering and roll into full throttle. The right tires go over the 8A apex curbing and the car tracks out nearly all the way to the exit curbing.

Once you are on the apex curbing at The Corkscrew, straighten the wheel, put in a bit of throttle and plunge straight off the precipice. Aim for the little oak tree.
Once you are on the apex curbing at The Corkscrew, straighten the wheel, put in a bit of throttle and plunge straight off the precipice. Aim for the little oak tree.

Turn 9

Turn9

Now it is time to confront what I think is the scariest corner on the track. Turn 9 is a downhill, left-hand, high-speed sweeper with a difficult and misleading entry that is tough to find solid reference points for. After exiting the Corkscrew, the hill flattens out a bit before dropping off again after turn-in. I set up for Turn 9 by bringing the car out to about two-thirds of the way to the right. Just as the track starts to drop away again I initiate a slow turn-in. At this point the apex of the corner is still far away and hidden behind the inside wall of the corner, so the trajectory in feels vague. I maintain constant throttle as the car comes around the corner. About halfway through, the apex finally reveals itself. I make sure I get the car over on the apex curbing to give me the widest exit possible. Right at the apex I have progressively transitioned back to full throttle on the way to the exit, fighting for grip the entire way as I continue to plummet downhill. I tend get up to the exit curbing here but stay off of it to give myself a bit of safety margin.

 

Turn 10

Turn10

There is no time to rest because the car is moving fast, and Turn 10 gets big really quickly. This turn can be deceptive because it is quite a bit faster than it looks while bombing down the hill. Right at the apex, the downhill transitions to flat, which will catch the car and allow a lot of apex speed. Plus, it looks like a 90-degree right, but it is quite a bit less. I have to hustle the car to the left to set up to brake for Turn 10. I stay off the entry curbing on the left because Turn 10 doesn’t need all the entry radius to be fast, and the downhill makes it hard to get the car all the way across the track to the apex because the car is light. I brake less than it looks like I should and downshift quickly, then turn-in off throttle, pick the throttle back up lightly and float speed into the apex. I pick up full throttle again before the apex, trusting the flattening of the track and physics to give the car more grip using all the curbing at the apex and avoiding the red speed bump. The tires bite and hook around the corner, taking full throttle and shooting the car out onto the rumble strips of the exit curbing with exhilarating velocity.

 

Turn 11

Turn11

I approach the slowest corner on the track with razor focus. I hustle the car over from the left side to the right to give myself a nice straight braking zone. I put the right tires all the way onto the entry curbing rumble strips to give me a nice wide entry. It is so important here to get the car slowed down enough to get to the apex and have a strong shot out of the corner. Miss the apex, or apex a bit too early, and that lap time is toast. I turn in late and trail brake about half-way to the apex while cranking in steering, then transition to throttle, slowly at first but accelerating the rate of pedal speed as the rear tires pick up grip from weight transfer. I cheat the exit a bit by going over the exit curbing and using a bit of asphalt on the backside, but quickly pull it back up onto the curbing when fully exited. If the car goes too far off or stays off for too long, the right side tires will hit the AstroTurf laid down, which wants to suck the car off the track to the right due to additional drag and reduced drive on the right side of the car.

If done well, Turn 11 rewards with strong entry speed onto the front straight, which can be the difference between a couple miles an hour for the length of the entire straight.

 

About Gary Sheehan

Gary Sheehan has competed in Grand Am, World Challenge GT, Red Line Time Attack, Global Time Attack, United States Touring Care Challenge, NASA, SCCA, Vintage Can Am, Trans Am, European VLN and more. The last time he raced at Mazda Raceway was during the Nitto Tires U.S. Touring Car Championship race in 2014 where he put the Gogogear.com Hyundai Genesis Coupe on pole by 0.1 seconds and brought home the race win in the Touring Car class, on his way to winning the 2014 USTCC championship.

 

Google Maps Street View of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca

Click HERE

 

General

Length:

2.238 miles

Direction:

Counterclockwise

Turns:

11 (six left, four right, one ess)

Elevation Range:

929 ft. – 749 ft.

Track Width Range:

50 ft. – 30 ft.

 

Turn Banking

Turn-In Apex  Exit
Turn 1: 3.3% 11.9%

2.8%

Turn 2:

4.4% 3.8% 1.9%
Turn 3: 2.8% 3.2%

0.5%

Turn 4:

2.2% 2.6% 1.5%
Turn 5: 2.1% 8.5%

11.3%

Turn 6:

6.8% 9.6% 3.8%
Turn 7: -1.5% 1.6%

NA

Turn 8:

6.6% 12.6% NA

Turn 8A:

NA 11.4% NA
Turn 9: 12.5% 12.5%

2.1%

Turn 10: 6.0% 10.0%

10.0%

Turn 11: 2.0% 2.0%

2.0%

FacilitiesMap

 

Comments
Images courtesy of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, DMT Imaging, Brett Becker and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca