For the latest installment of “One Lap Around,” we’re going to be breaking down WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, long known as a challenging racetrack and site of the 2022 NASA Championships!
WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is one of those tracks where it’s really important to be inch perfect, especially going through turns 3, 6, and 10, and really being all over those apexes, and being very specific to those apexes makes a big difference in the amount of grip you’re going to have. It’s a challenging racetrack, a low-grip racetrack.
To help diagram the corners for you, we pulled screen grabs from NASA NorCal racer Matt Cresci’s P20-to-P2 race from the 2015 NASA Championships. His line is inch-perfect to Dion Von Moltke’s instructions and the front and rear camera views really help show where you should be on track. So, let’s go ahead and break it down turn by turn.
Turn 1 is an intimidating corner. If you’ve never been in Laguna or even if it’s been a while, it’s going to be flat-out in nearly any car. Once you get a few laps, it ends up being no big deal at all, but starting off, it could be intimidating because it’s blind, it crests uphill and you’re going into a big braking zone, so you want to treat it like a double-apex corner.
The first apex is just below the bridge. You don’t need to be right along the wall, but get down there as you come up in between the two apexes. You’re going to end up about midtrack. Then, as you come up over the crest of the hill, bend the car back toward the second apex, down pretty close to the pit-out lane. You want to apex there, then open your hands and let the car be free as you approach the Turn 2 brake zone.
You want to be out on and parallel with the white curb in the braking zone to Turn 2 before you get to the No. 3 marker. Get out to that curb, so you can brake in a straight line down the hill, and open the radius into Turn 2. When you use all of the road, you will be turning in from a wider point and you can roll a lot more speed through the first of two apexes. You are really trying to maximize speed past the first apex and seeing how soon can you can get back to full throttle right around that second apex curb — but no earlier than that.
A good Turn 2 is when you brake along the outside of the road, and then as you turn the car in — you actually want a pretty early turn-in — and you want to come off that heavy brake pressure because you’re braking for a long period of time. When you really nail Turn 2, you’ll be braking almost until midtrack between the first and second apex of Turn 2.
You want to come in and apex at the start of the first curb — which are shown in red in the accompanying photos, but they’re yellow now — and have enough speed to where the car brings you almost a car width, width-and-a-half off the inside of the track in the middle of the corner. You want a long trail brake, just that little bit of weight on the nose in middle of the corner to get that rotation. You want to wait to pick up the throttle until you get that rotation as you start to head back toward that second curb.
To be able to brake all the way there, you need to get the car pointed in early, and once you get the car pointed in, get off that heavy brake pressure, let the car roll to the apex and carry very light brake pressure long into the corner, so you’re faster in. I don’t really care much about the minimum speed in Turn 2. I care about faster through the first apex, getting the car rotated and then getting back to full throttle again. So with that earlier turn-in, you’re naturally going to be able to bring in more speed.
You have to be patient and wait for the car to be pointed toward the second apex. Once the car is heading toward the second apex, you want to start to feed in the throttle and ideally you are apexing, again, at the start of the yellow curb, getting the left tire on the painted curb, avoiding the yellow, and getting back to close to full throttle, just after the yellow curb to using every inch of the track at the exit.
To set up for Turn 3, hustle the car back to the left side of the track. There are some corners where you can kind of miss an apex and be OK, where if you might roll an extra 2 mph and miss the apex by foot, it ends up being faster. Turn 3 is not one of those corners. If you try to roll more speed and you miss that apex cub, you’re just going to get dull understeer, slide out to the exit curb and lose a lot of time. You’ve got to be all over the apex curb because for whatever reason, there’s just a lot more grip down there.
Better to be a little bit slower on entry to get the car positioned, where you can get on the apex curb, get back to throttle only at the apex, and get back to full throttle.
As you approach Turn 3, you’re usually braking just past the No. 3 marker to about the No. 2 marker, depending on what type of car you’re driving. Make sure you’re on and parallel with the entry curb. You want a nice slow turn-in, typically coming where the last red stripe is on the entry curbing. That’s typically where your turn-in is going to begin, and you want to have slow hands.
Here’s what’s critical. You don’t want to apex the curb too early, but you absolutely want to get your right front tire up on the red-and-white painted curb before you get to the yellow marker. Get on that curb. There’s a ton more grip there, and even if you miss it by just a little bit, even if your right front tire ends up just on the outside of this painted curve, it’s not good enough. You’ve got to be inch-perfect almost down to the dirt as you approach that yellow curb. So, get onto the curb, just past the start of the red-and-white stripes. Use every inch of it, with your right wheels nearly in the dirt. That’s where all the grip is. You want to be almost trail-braking down to a point just before the yellow curb, coast a little bit, with initial throttle picking up at the end of the yellow curb and then progressing back to full throttle. If you can’t commit to full throttle just after the apex, you likely rolled in too much entry speed.
Turn 3 is one of those really balanced corners where you really must balance entry speed and exit speed.
You want to be flat-out past the bridge after Turn 3. This is where a wide range of things can happen, depending on your car. Some cars need a little bit more braking than others. If you’re in a big, heavy, high-horsepower car, you want to begin to brake about the No. 2 marker. Be very, very light on the brakes, start to coast and then commit back to full throttle by the beginning of the yellow curb. Momentum cars usually can get through there by lifting off the throttle. No matter what you drive, you want to be getting back to full throttle at the yellow curb. Similar to Turn 3, you really want to get your right front tire onto the red-and-white apex curb just before the yellow curb.
It is easy to miss this apex, but it’s really important to get down there. This is a corner again, that it matters to apex at the start of that yellow curb. Most of you will feed in throttle there, unwind the steering and use every inch of the track on exit to maximize your run down, to Turn 5.
You can roll a ton of speed into Turn 5. There’s camber and it’s uphill. You really want to take advantage of that uphill and the camber. The braking zone is going to come right around the end of the bridge, depending on what you’re driving.
It’s a really short brake zone, so you want a hard hit on the brakes and almost immediately begin reducing brake pressure so that you’ve got a tiny bit of brake pressure as you come up the hill. Again, try to trail brake down to the apex, but it’s a super light trail brake, just enough to keep that weight on the front tires. And then sometimes I’m just coasting for a while here, whatever I need to roll in entry speed.
It’s actually a pretty good track for reference points, and your turn-in is going to be right about the end of the red-and-white stripes. Right about at the No. 1 marker is where you want to start to feed it in. It’s going to feel early, but you really want to use slow hands. It’s a high-speed corner, so slowing your hands down allows you to roll in more speed. It’s cambered and it’s uphill, both of which mean an earlier turn-in point most of the time. So as you bend the car in, come off the brakes and really let the car be rolling to the apex. Apex at the start of that yellow curb.
It’s really important to get your eyes up here. This turn is fast and it’s uphill, and it’s hard to see the exit curb, right? It’s really easy to under-drive Turn 5. Roll in the speed, and feed the throttle in at the middle of the yellow curb. If you’re back to throttle before this, you probably over-slowed the corner. Let the car be free. On a good lap, your right front tire will come across and onto the exit curb almost as immediately as it starts. You should feel like you’re running out of road, hoping for the curb to start to maximize your run up the hill.
If you’re not exiting at full speed, the time loss can really add up because it’s uphill. So roll in that speed, get back to throttle and really use your eyes to make sure you’re unwinding the steering wheel as much as possible and get out to the exit curb as it starts.
Like Turn 5, Turn 6 is a corner where you can roll a lot of speed. Most of the time, you want to brake or lift at the end of the bridge. Trail off the brakes and your turn-in marker is coming right about the No. 1 board. You can’t even see the apex until you’re right at the turn-in point.
So turning in just before the No. 1 board, you want to be coming off the brakes. There is huge compression in Turn 6. It is so important to get all over the red-and-white curb, but not the yellow curb. You want to be as close as possible to the yellow curb, but you don’t want to touch it. Turn 6 is one of those corners where being inch-perfect is really important, because the more you can get in there, the more that compression’s going to help you and catch the car. So there’s a ton of grip in here and it’s being really important to be inch-perfect.
You’re using that compression to catch the car, to give a little rotation and so you can be aggressively back to full throttle. That little bit of an earlier turn-in point actually allows you to roll on more entry speed, and you want to use that compression to really catch the car and get back to full throttle, use every inch of track out as you go up to the Corkscrew
Turn 7 isn’t much of a turn and it’s most often used as a way to get pointed at the entrance to Turn 8, the Corkscrew. Most cars will have their left wheels outside the white line at least and outside the red-and-white curbs at most. This sets you up for braking into WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca’s signature turn: the Corkscrew.
High-horsepower cars typically will start to brake near the end of the Turn 7 curb on the left. For lower horsepower cars, you might need to back off the throttle just a little bit and wait till just before the crest of the hill. So there’s a pretty wide range of braking zones in here, but what’s important in the Corkscrew is really staying wide and parallel to the painted entry curbing on your right.
By holding it out wide, you’re going to have a much better car angle through the first apex, which means you’re going to be able to hold it to the left at higher speeds in the Corskscrew.
When you turn in toward the apex, you want to use as much curbing at the apex as you can. Sometimes there’s a yellow curb there, which you want to avoid, but use as much usable curbing as you can so you can maximize your run back to the right for Turn 8A.
There are a lot of different opinions on the best way to drive the Corkscrew. I’ve heard some people talk about using the right-most of the three oak trees for a sight picture. I’m not a big believer in looking for trees or looking for reference points off the racetrack. I want your eyes focused on the racetrack.
I don’t like to use reference points that are off the racetrack is because it can disjoint where your vision is. I would rather be focused on where I want the car to go and be focused on the racetrack versus looking up, finding the tree and then looking back down. I try to experiment a little bit and I do rely a little bit on feel through this corner, but ultimately I think it is faster and more consistent. So focus on holding it to the left just a little bit longer.
This is a tough corner because it’s completely blind until you’re coming up over the top of the hill, so you don’t know where you’re going to place the car, and it is a total rhythm corner. I hold the car left about a car length or so past that first apex before coming back to the right and I want to have my hands straight as I come over the top of the hill. And once you do this for one to two to three laps, it becomes natural.
You can use the tree if you want. I’m not a believer in it. I don’t teach it, but I know a lot of people do find success with that. Do what’s right for in that scenario.
One of the corners we see done incorrectly the most at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is Turn 9. A lot of drivers sacrifice the Corkscrew to try to place the car all the way out to the right to set up for Turn 9. That is incorrect. Get back to full throttle as you exit Turn 8 and use every inch of track out to the left. You have plenty of time then to use all the road, hustle the car back to midtrack, but not any farther. You end up more in the middle of the road as you approach the bridge.
If this were a traditional corner, it would make sense to open up wide, set up for getting to the apex. It’s not, we really want to drive it in and treat it somewhat more like a double apex. There is more camber available to you at midtrack than farther to the right. It’s not a double apex, but we have more of that mentality of attacking that entry. Open up a little bit in the middle of the corner and come back for that second apex.
Drive it hard down the hill, kind of about a half car length to a car length off the inside. And then as it flattens out, that’s when you want to, as the road flattens out, start to bend the car in toward the second apex. That’s typically where I’m coming off the throttle, add a little brakes, whatever I need to do to shift that little bit of weight back to the front end. You want to apex at the start of white portion of the Turn 9 curbing, which is about two car lengths before the red-and-white curbing. Carry your left wheel over the red-and-white curbs to the yellow inside curb, which is where you get back on the throttle in higher horsepower cars. In lower horsepower cars, you probably have just a little bit of a lift and you’re back to full throttle once the car’s pointed in.
Use every bit of the track for exit and then hustle the car back to the left to set up for Turn 10.
Turn 10 is one of those corners where being inch-perfect is really important. You’ll be braking in a line out toward the left side of the road, but you’ve got to use every inch of the road out of Turn 9. Your braking point comes right about the No. 2 board, or in that vicinity and turn-in is around the No. 1 board.
A lot of drivers will turn in closer to the end of this curb, which is way too late. It’s downhill, and there’s a lot of camber, two things that typically dictate an earlier turn-in point. You want to have the camber catch the car versus falling down into the camber.
As you approach the apex, you want your right front tire to be on the red-and-white curbing about 1.5 car lengths ahead of the yellow curbing. The reason why that works is because right at that apex, when you get your right front in there, the camber is going to catch the car and rotate the car. Anytime you can turn a little bit earlier and, and turn in less, you can roll in more entry speed. That’s why you turn in earlier for Turn 10 than you might think. Again, stay off the yellow curbing and use every inch of the track at exit before hustling the car back to the right for Turn 11.
Most cars brake around the No. 3 marker, but Turn 11 is all about the exit. That’s what matters here. You want to maximize your drive in, maximize getting back to full throttle as early as possible after the apex.
Turn-in happens right around the No. 1 board. Turn-in is slow and you want to apex at the second half of the yellow curb. If you’re in a lower horsepower car, you can get away with a slightly earlier apex. Getting down to that apex curb is really important and go back to initial throttle only as you’re ready to unwind the steering. So only at this apex point, does your initial throttle come in and then it’s all about getting your eyes up, getting back to full throttle before you track out to use as much as the track will allow on exit.
Best of luck at the 2022 NASA Championships!