Racing at Laguna Seca

The famous ‘Corkscrew’ chicane awaits MotoGP racers

By Motorcycle.Com Staff, Jul. 17, 2008
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca presents a challenge to those unfamiliar with the track’s rolling hills and dramatic blind corners.

Built in 1957 on part of the U.S. Army’s Fort Ord, Laguna Seca is located near Monterey, Calif., down the coast from San Francisco. The circuit hosted 500cc Grand Prix motorcycle racing from 1988-1994 and became a part of the MotoGP series in 2005.

The circuit begins with an uphill climb into the first left turn. Coming after a long straight section, racers are usually flying in fifth gear and it’s not uncommon for both wheels to come off the ground momentarily.

The first corner is really just a slight bend when compared to the downhill ‘Andretti Hairpin’ that follows it. Named after racecar legend Mario Andretti, the double apex curve forces riders to downshift before exiting towards the flatter third turn.

The section from the Andretti Hairpin to turn five was added in 1988 to the circuit to increase the track length from its original 1.9 miles to the current 2.238 mile distance to meet the minimum track length requirements for road races as set by the International Motorcycling Federation (FIM).

The banking fifth corner presents racers with opportunities to pass before continuing uphill towards turn six. The sixth turn opens into the ‘Rahal Straight’, named after racercar driver Bobby Rahal, before entering the ‘Corkscrew’.

One of the world’s most famous turns, the Corkscrew is a left-right chicane located on a steep downhill grade. Racers face heavy G-forces as they drop 300 feet from the track’s highest elevation to its lowest.

The 2.238 mile Laguna Seca course features 11 turns and several changes in elevation.

Racers have a moment to catch their breath after the Corkscrew before entering the ninth corner, the ‘Rainey Curve’, named for three-time motorcycle Grand Prix champion Wayne Rainey.

Turn ten sets riders up for the eleventh and final corner, which presents a good opportunity for riders to pass before the final straight stretch.

“The track itself is like one big lap, it’s not like all different sections, a lot of the turns lead into one another, so you’ve really got to put it all together,” says 2005 and 2006 race winner Nicky Hayden. “Like if you screw up the Corkscrew you miss the next three or four corners. It’s a very technical track and I love it.”

Laguna Seca presents a special challenge for the tire manufacturers. Bridgestone-shod racers swept the podium in 2007 and the manufacturer is hoping for similar success in 2008.

“Laguna Seca is the shortest race track that we visit during the season at just 3.610 km, marginally shorter than Sachsenring where we were last weekend,” says Tohru Ubukata, manager of race tire development for Bridgestone Motorsport. “It is a challenging circuit for bikes, riders and tire manufacturers, with the very well known Corkscrew turn, which really puts the whole package to the test. Like Sachsenring there is a disproportion of left and right-hand corners and this asymmetrical layout over 32 tough laps offers us a nice challenge.”

Rival manufacturer Michelin says that the track’s many hills will affect the stress on the tires differently.

“In some ways the track is quite similar to the Sachsenring because it is tight and undulating. The constructions we use are similar to the Sachsenring but due to the aggressive surface the compounds are harder,” says Michelin’s racing chief Jean-Philippe Weber. “The track’s up-and-down nature also affects tire compounds because the uphill sections mean more stress for the rear and the downhill sections more stress for the front. The track isn’t so demanding on the right side. The track is asymmetric, but not as asymmetric as the Sachsenring. Laguna isn’t as tough as Sachsenring for the front tire but it's tougher than Catalunya.”