The GTE Championship is still quite open as it’s early in the season.
Houston, TX – Just two weeks after racing on the short, tight confines of the streets of Long Beach, near Los Angeles, attention now turns to the second of the two Californian rounds. The venues are very different, and the four-hour race into the darkness will offer its own challenges and opportunities for strategic gain.
The Track: Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca resides in a state park, making it very picturesque.
The track has several long medium to medium-high speed corners, and a low top speed figure of 150 mph (240 kph), one of the lowest top speeds of all the tracks we run.
Certain sections are similar to street tracks, but with elevation changes, including the famous ‘Corkscrew’ turn; a steep drop away over a blind 90-degree left-hand bend that immediately sweeps away to the right. It’s the signature corner complex of the track and a great place to watch the action.
The surface is relatively smooth as the weather is very consistent all year round, and the track is not heavily used. The general grip level is typically low. The big issue at Laguna is the sand that surrounds the track edges, as opposed to grass at most permanent road courses.
As the higher down force cars run near the edge of the track (or, unintentionally, off it) the sand is sucked onto the surface which makes the track low grip and slippery, and not always predictable. A moderate wind will also bring sand onto the tarmac.
Shortly after the start, the track will only have one racing line and it’s difficult for GTE cars to go off line to pass (or get passed by faster classes) and retain any grip. If you go, or are forced, off line, it takes several laps to clean the sand off the tires.
Setup: Laguna is typically a low grip, under-steer track. The only real change of direction is in The Corkscrew section, but it’s relatively slow and falling away downhill. It’s a unique corner all to itself and you don’t spend any time setting up for this complex, although it does tend to set the minimum ride height for the car; cars usually ‘bottom’ here, i.e. the floor of the car touches the surface of the track.
A moderately stiff setup is better at Laguna Seca. Pitch platform is important for braking and turn-in, and you need support through the long corners which you can’t do with dampers (shocks). This track is hard on brakes.
The last corner is very slow - a good exit is important here as this leads to the main pit strait and to Turn 3 which is a prime passing area. The car needs good low speed traction to get off the last corner well for a run down to Turn 3.
The Race: The GTE Championship is still quite open as it’s early in the season. This is a four-hour race, which can work well to our benefit, and it offers two additional championship points per position. It should be a pretty easy three-stop (if green) race for all GTE cars as we can all go slightly over one hour per fuel stint.
Low grip typically translates to low tire wear, although the Ferrari (and all GTEs) haven't yet double stinted tires this year. There will likely be numerous yellows, often due to cars sliding off track because of the slippery surface, making strategy a bit of a crap shoot.
Pit work will again be pivotal for track position. If you go off here you get stuck in the sand which makes for long caution periods; there’s not much in the way of recoverable runoff areas.
The Corvettes, BMWs, Vipers and Porsches will all be fiercely competitive here, and include the new Core Autosport Porsche which adds another strong driver line up to the mix. The lack of long straits and several long corners play to the Ferrari’s handling advantage.
The balance of performance adjustments that were implemented at Sebring for 2013 still gives the field a torque advantage over the F458 and we’ve yet to see if the Corvettes’ fuel rig restrictor (largest in the field) was equalized to other competitors following IMSA’s regulations change after the 12 Hours of Sebring.
The #62 has a good history here at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca with wins in 2006 and 2007 and a podium on its last run here in 2011. We are hoping we will be able to repeat our Sebring form and boost our championship points tally.