A lap of Laguna Seca with Stefan Johansson

LAGUNA SECA BACKGROUND: Prototype driver Stefan Johansson certainly knows his way around Laguna Seca Raceway. From 1992 to 1996, he competed in CART with Bettenhausen Racing, posting his best Laguna Seca finish of sixth in 1993. The 1997 GTP Le...

LAGUNA SECA BACKGROUND: Prototype driver Stefan Johansson certainly knows his way around Laguna Seca Raceway. From 1992 to 1996, he competed in CART with Bettenhausen Racing, posting his best Laguna Seca finish of sixth in 1993. The 1997 GTP Le Mans winner and former Formula 1 pilot recorded a fourth place finish in the 1999 ALMS race at Laguna Seca in a Ferrari 333 SP. The Swedish born driver who now resides in Indianapolis returns to action in his Johansson-Matthews Racing Reynard 2KQ/Judd for the October 15 GlobalCenter Sports Car Championships Presented by Honda, the tenth stop on the 2000 American Le Mans Series schedule.

by Stefan Johansson

INTRODUCTION: Laguna Seca is one of those tracks that I believe every driver loves to go to. It is a great track with a wonderful layout with a lot of variety. Track position is vital as it is very difficult to overtake. At the same time, this makes the racing very interesting from a drivers perspective as you have to use all your skills not only to go faster than the guy you are dicing with but you also have to try to trick him into making a mistake which will give you the opportunity to pass.

The lap starts with the slight uphill straight in which you are actually making a small right-hand turn (Turn 1) all the way until you get to the braking area. The braking makes up for a lot of the lap time on this circuit and you want to make sure you can brake absolutely as late as possible.

You go down through the gears from sixth to second and then you have a quite long radius corner (Turn 2), a left-hander where there is very little to do but roll through it and make sure you can get back on the power as soon as possible. It is a difficult corner to get the car set-up right. Typically, the car will understeer in the middle and then break the traction and power oversteer on the exit.

Then there is a very short straight until the next right-hander (Turn 3). You go up to third gear and keep it all the way through the corner. Here, you try to carry as much momentum as possible and not scrub any speed off by being as smooth as possible. You need every bit of road available to you, especially on the exit.

Another small straight where you accelerate through the gears up to fifth and then a very slight dab on the brakes and downshift to fourth into the next right-hander (Turn 4). Again, there never seems to be enough road available when you need it most! This is maybe one of the most important corners as far as gaining on the overall laptime. It is a very tough corner to get right.

You then accelerate through the gears until the next corner which is a third gear left-hander (Turn 5). You go down from sixth gear to third, braking very late and hard. It is important to get off the brakes at the right moment here as you want to carry as much speed as you can through the first part of the corner. This corner has a small banking which allows you to carry more speed than you first expect; but, it normally results in a slightly loose car on the exit when the corner flattens out.

Up through the gears again until you get to Turn 6 (a left-hander) which is a very fast fourth gear corner. You just dab the brakes very slightly here and shift down one gear as quick as you possibly can and then flat on the throttle again letting the car almost four-wheel drift towards the exit of the corner in order to get maximum speed up the hill.

Turn 7 is not really a turn as you simply are positioning the car to get the best braking line and entry for the next turn, Turn 8, or the "corkscrew" which is the more popular name for this left-hand corner. Visually, it is an awesome corner but in all honesty, it is not a particularly difficult corner to master mostly due to its relatively slow speed. You arrive at the top of the hill in sixth gear and again brake as late as the car will allow you, shifting down to second gear. Once you are at the apex of the corner, you want to make sure the car is pointing straight towards the outside of the turn. As soon as you feel the rear of the car take a set as it goes over the brow, you floor it letting the car go towards the outside of the turn and start actually turning a fraction later. This will allow the car to settle somewhat before you "load" it up again and will normally give a little better traction out of this turn. Because of the relatively wide exit of the turn, you can do this.

You then accelerate again down the hill turning first right and then left into Turn 9. I always find it is better not to use the whole track width here but to stay somewhere in the middle on the entry to the corner. It seems you can carry more speed in the first part of the turn. When you get to the middle of this corner, the steering feels like it is locked up for a brief moment and it is usual for the car to pick up an understeer at the exit of this turn. You stay in fourth gear all through and pick up fifth right on the exit.

There's a small straight before Turn 10 (a left-hander), accelerating up into fifth gear then a very slight brake and quick downshift to fourth. Then back hard on the throttle again and just hold on to the car until you get to the exit. There is a bump right on the apex on the right-hand side which sometimes means it is better to actually stay a foot or so off the typical racing line.

Accelerate again up to fifth gear and then hard on the brakes, shifting down to second or sometimes first gear for Turn 11 (a left-hander). Traction is very important coming out of this turn as it determines your speed for the next straight which is the longest on the track. It also has the only obvious passing place at the end of it which makes it critical to get a good run on your competitor on the exit.

That completes a lap of Laguna Seca where, again, most drivers love to race. It is all about finding your rhythm and getting a nice flow going in your driving here. The car set-up is very difficult which makes this track one of the most challenging we go to. Add to that one of the most beautiful areas I have ever visited and it makes you wonder why we don't race here more often.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Stefan Johansson