Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca 2010

I attended the 1st annual Mazda Miata track event at Laguna Seca yesterday and today. It's actually the 2nd time this event was held. The first one was the 20th anniversary of the Miata held last year and Mazda was so impressed with the turnout that they decided to make this an annual event. Cool, huh!

This year, feeling a little worried I wouldn't remember all my visual cues from last year, I made the mistake of asking for an instructor on the first session. I say mistake because the instructor I got didn't know me and didn't seem to understand that I was comfortable going fast on Laguna Seca and wasn't going to wad up the car but just wanted someone to keep me honest and point out any visual cues I might have forgotten (like spotting the oak tree when turning left into the corkscrew). So we wound up trundling 'round the course in 3rd gear not even going fast enough to heat up the tires. Oh well. PICTURE

But that's ok. I know there were plenty of others in this group who had never driven Laguna Seca before and even more who had never driven on any track before. Gotta start somewhere.

By the way, here's what Laguna Seca looks like.

On the next session, I turned down the offer of an instructor and worked my way around a few slower cars to try to find a nice big gap to get one or two hot laps. One of my favorite turns is the Andretti Hairpin, turn 2. When you really get it right it's a blast. It's also slow enough and wide enough that it's the first place on the track I was brave enough to really push the Toya Proxes RA1 tires hard enough to slide (last year). Great fun! Believe it or not, even though it's a hairpin, this is a 3rd gear turn.

Turns 3 and 4 were even more fun for me this year. Turn 3 is the only flat part of the track but it's quite a bit faster than 2. It's basically a 90 degree right hander taken in (at least by me) 4th gear. Turn 4 is even faster (another right hander).

This next picture is either turn 5 or turn 9 I think. I can't tell for sure from the camera tilt and lack of background. The low shutter speed makes it look impressively fast though. :-) Turn 5 is a fairly fast up-hill left hander. Seemed fairly tame (except in the wet) but perhaps I just wasn't going fast 'nuff. Turn 9, on the other hand, is just past the corkscrew. From the corkscrew down to turn 11 the track drops down about 7 stories - steeply downhill. So that always makes Turn 9 a little frightening to me. I sometimes find myself accellerating into it more than intended but I don't want to lift off the throttle much (if any) for fear of the rear end stepping out. The track is blessedly wide there though.

The corkscrew is the signature turn of the track - it's a left-right chicane but falling off of a hill. The approach to it is uphill and the first time or two through it you feel as though you're turning the car left off a cliff, and the right hand turn apex is blind - can't see it at all until you're already committed. When you really get it right it's a thrill but on the other hand this is the one place I put a wheel off the track last year. No mishaps this year though, though I know I'm taking it pretty slow.

On Sunday, however, it rained. I was pretty aprehensive on the first few laps and was glad they chose to send one instructor leading a string of students (to help everyone gauge new braking zones and turn entry speeds). 'Turns out I needn't have worried. The Toyo RA1 tires worked great even though it was wet. I'd say this was the surprise of the event for me - as long as there isn't actual standing water, those Toyos do great! There were a few spots on the track that were very slick though. Turn 3 was "squirmy", Turn 5 is very slick near the apex (all the water running off the hill I'm told). And the dip at the apex of turn 6 is to be avoided - it turns into a puddle. I went wide enough to put a wheel on the slippery rumble strips a time or two but that was all. Even the corkscrew in the wet wasn't too bad provided you didn't try anything heroic.

All in all, another fantastic event at Laguna Seca!