Over sixty years ago, in 1957, the first race was held at the brand new Laguna Seca Raceway in California. The ribbon-cutting ceremony capped 60 days of planning and construction. A dry lake bed tucked away in the hills of Monterey County was suddenly populated by 35,000 eager spectators and 100 adrenaline-filled entries.
Breathtaking vistas, sudden changes in elevation, the proximity to the coast and the glorious corkscrew instantly became a hit with racing enthusiasts. The success of the inaugural race weekend forever sealed the track's legendary status as one of the world's premier tracks. Let's take a look at 10 hidden details behind the Laguna Seca Raceway.
10 Home Of The Corkscrew
On paper, Laguna Seca Raceway doesn't seem very special. However, anyone with a drop of race fuel in their veins or access to any of the "Gran Turismo" video games has dreamed about visiting this American racing "holy site" for one turn alone - the Corkscrew. Mention that name at any automotive gathering and nearly everyone knows what you're talking about. Just the thought of the 59-foot drop in just 450 linear feet of pavement with two apexes in immediate succession is enough to give anyone butterflies.
Motorists approaching the Corkscrew on the track are greeted with a spectacular view of the sky before subjecting their vehicles to a hard left, hard right downhill combination. Some master this iconic turn by feeling their way, while others look for the clump of trees and aim for the third one over to effectively get through.
9 Created To Get Racers Out Of The Forest
The genesis of Laguna Seca Raceway can be traced back to the Pebble Beach Races that began in the early 1950s. The tree-lined forest races attracted crowds greater than 50,000, but there was one big problem.
Racers and spectators that gathered close to the road were in constant danger. There weren't any safety zones between the motorist and the pine trees that lined the public roads. Unfortunately, in April 1956 Ernie McAfee barreled off the road in his Ferrari 121 LM, fatally hitting a tree. It was the last race to be held in the forest.
8 Owned By The County Of Monterey And Managed By SCRAMP
Following a string of deadly accidents, a group of local businessmen saw an opportunity. They envisioned a permanent track where the spirit of the Pebble Beach races could live forever.
On November 1, 1956 the group founded the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula, SCRAMP for short. Negotiations between SCRAMP and the military quickly began and the site at Laguna Seca on Fort Ord was selected. SCRAMP volunteers raised a whopping $125,000 to build the track and construction began shortly after the first week of September in 1957.
7 Elevation Is Everything
The difference between a good circuit and one that would make you want to write back home about usually comes down to one factor, elevation. At Laguna Seca Raceway, the elevation drops like your favorite amusement park roller coaster. From turn 8 to 9 alone the course elevation changes roughly 109 feet, that's just over 10 stories.
It's as if the earth disappears after the first apex in turn 8, catapulting the motorist into a hair raising 18-percent drop. Positioning and technique are essential for conquering blind turns and drop-offs like these. Mastering this section of the track always results in the manifestation of a massive grin.
6 New Name, Same Game
When someone uses your full "government" name in public to get your attention, you know it's serious. Like a mother that is about to lay the law when her child steps out of line. To those who like to keep it casual, Laguna Seca is enough. However, the official name is WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
That's been the name of the 2.238 mile course since April 2018. For 17 years prior to that, the sponsorship naming rights belonged to Mazda. It was a difficult decision to reach. In a statement, Mazda said: “The relationship between SCRAMP and the County of Monterey has been a wonderful one, and this decision was not reached easily. We wish the facility, the management team and the millions of fans who love the track as much as we do many more successful racing laps into the future.”
5 You Can Learn How To Race At Laguna
The Skip Barber Racing School has a heritage that began with Formula 1. Since 1975 they have provided a world class education in the art of motorsports, with graduates including names like Juan Pablo Montoya, Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti. In fact, over 1/3rd of the starting lineup at the 2018 Indy 500 were Skip Barber graduates.
However, with the varying levels of classes offered at The WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca track, any driver could gain the proper confidence to take on the Corkscrew. You can learn safe and proficient driving skills, proper heel-toe downshifting, and advanced racing techniques through Skip Barber at Laguna Seca, what's not to love.
4 Turn By Turn Around Laguna Seca
The first turn is taken at full speed, and it's blind. However, the key is float to the right to set up for the second turn. Up next is the Andretti Hairpin, which for most racers is a single apex corner that requires maintenance throttle after breaking. Turn 3 has a late apex, aim the car to the left and slow down for entry. Be careful around turn 4 because it's a fast radius turn with no banking. As you move on to turn 5, it's important to make sure to carry momentum as this begins the uphill portion of the course. When you approach turn 6 be mindful of the dip at the apex.
Then, continue straight along the right side of 7 as you prepare for the Corkscrew. The turn in for 8 is late, remember to look for the oak tree to line up for turn 8A, using that momentum to bring you to the fast downhill sweeper. The turn in at 9 is also blind, so be mindful not to turn the wheel too quickly. Turn 10 comes quickly, braking here is harder than it looks like it needs to be. Then you approach turn 11, the last corner on the track. It's a slow in, fast out approach and you are back on the main straight.
3 Record Setters
The title of fastest lap at Laguna Seca currently goes to Sébastien Bourdais, who set a blazing time of 1'05.880 during Champ Car Spring Training on March 10, 2007. Topping the previous record of 1'06.039 set by Toyota F1 test driver Ricardo Zonata nearly a year before. However, the times set by Bourdais and Zonata were during exhibition and testing. That means their times are unofficial, since official records can only be set during race conditions by either qualifying or during a race.
The official record remains 1'07.722, set by Helio Castroneves when he qualified for the 2000 Honda CART Honda Grand Prix of Monterey. On two wheels, the record is held by former Moto GP racer Casey Stoner with a time of 1'20.700 in 2008.
2 Laguna Seca Has A Rifle And Pistol Range
If golfing on Pebble Beach isn't quite your preferred way to unwind at the end of the day, listen up. After you finish carving corners and shredding the Corksrew, you can give the Laguna Seca Rifle And Pistol Range a shot. Located a stones throw away from the track, the range provides a safe shooting environment with well trained professional staff ready to guide and instruct. Rifle booths are said to be wide and extremely roomy and both paper and metal targets are available. With ample parking available and competitive rates, the Laguna Seca Rifle And Pistol Range makes a great recreational option in between races.
1 Pedaling Through The Corkscrew
At Laguna Seca, sportscar racing has always been the mainstay of the action, but over the course of history, the track has hosted a number of different events including Indycars, Trans-Am, various road racing classes and bike racing. What cyclist wouldn't enjoy the thrill of Laguna Seca's demanding 11 turn course equipped with a nice climb and thrilling descent following the Corkscrew? Each month a different bicycle club or organization hosts an event with trials or races on track and fun activities off.
When you consider the legendary racing heritage, amazing vistas, classic corners and various events and activities that serve many interests, it's no wonder Laguna Seca will forever be one of America's greatest racetracks.