Laguna Seca Pavement, Corkscrew Present Unique Challenges For American Le Mans Series Drivers, Teams
Braselton, GA - Butch Leitzinger has made a lot of laps around Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca during his racing career, but the successful sports car racing driver still sometimes finds the Monterey, Calif., road racing circuit to be a daunting mystery.
Leitzinger and the rest of the American Le Mans Series drivers will compete in this weekend's Audi Sports Car Championships event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the final race of the 2004 ALMS season. The four-hour timed event begins at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, and will mark the first time in the long history of the raceway that an event has run into darkness.
Leitzinger and James Weaver will drive a Lola B01/60-AER for Dyson Racing in the event, one of two entries in the top Prototype class of the ALMS for the Dyson team. Andy Wallace and Chris Dyson will drive the other.
"Laguna Seca is actually a very different track for some reason," said Leitzinger, from State College, Penn. "The pavement there is its own breed and tires have a very hard time dealing with that.
"Andy Wallace and I had a conversation about that track," he said. "We had a warmup there last year at about eight in the morning and it took about 10 laps for any heat to get in the tires. In those 10 laps, we both thought we had completely forgotten how to drive. We could barely even stand up (on the gas) without spinning.
"It presents a huge challenge to the engineers and the drivers to get the car set up correctly for the track," he said. "But once it is set up nice, it's a fantastic track. It has a nice selection of turns, both low speed and high speed, and it's a good challenge."
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is known around the world for its famous "Corkscrew" section, a series of left-right turns running down a tall hill. The section, a favorite of race fans who attend events at the track, is entered from a blind turn.
"The toughest aspect is actually being able to see it," said Leitzinger. "You never actually see it when you turn into it. You never see it until you're already on top of it, and it's too late to do anything by the time you get there.
"So for someone who just gets there for the first time, I think it's probably quite unsettling," he said. "They don't know what in the world is happening because they drop off the edge of the world all of a sudden when they make that turn. After doing a few laps there, it really gets to be another turn, but it's easy to make a mistake."
Drivers will have one hour of night practice on Thursday evening to get used to navigating the track in darkness before Saturday's race. There will limited artificial lighting in some areas of the track, but for the most part drivers will be racing only by their headlights, just as they do in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, 12 Hours of Sebring and other sports car endurance races.
"I hope it's a moonlit night or something," said Leitzinger. "Any kind of light there will be a help. As I said about the Corkscrew, you can't see it in the daylight, and at night I have no idea what we're going to do because the visual markers will be gone.
"It's going to be tough, but that's what racing is supposed to be. It isn't supposed to be easy."
The Audi Sports Car Championships event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca will get the green flag at 4 p.m. (PDT) on Saturday, October 16. The American Le Mans Series Radio Network will have live coverage that can be heard online at www.americanlemans.com, and MotorsTV will have live flag-to-flag coverage that can be seen in Europe beginning at 24:00 (UK) and 01:00 (Paris).
In North America, NBC Sports will have coverage of the event on a one-day tape delay beginning at 2 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday, October 17.
Event ticket information is available online at www.americanlemans.com or by calling the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca ticket office at 800-327-7322.