A lap of Laguna with Frank Biela

The American Le Mans Series will compete in the Fry's Electronics Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., Sep. 5-7. In this first-person narrative, Infineon Team Joest Audi R8 driver Frank Biela of Germany, a ...

The American Le Mans Series will compete in the Fry's Electronics Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif., Sep. 5-7. In this first-person narrative, Infineon Team Joest Audi R8 driver Frank Biela of Germany, a four-time winner in the ALMS in 2003, describes how he drives a lap of the 2.238-mile circuit. Biela knows his way quite well as he has won the ALMS event at Monterey the past two years.

by Frank Biela
Infineon Team Joest

Laguna Seca is one of the most demanding tracks of the ALMS. It is a very beautiful track, sitting above a picturesque landscape, where the weather is always beautiful. Driving there is always a lot of fun. But the track is very difficult, especially finding the right line. There are some corners that are hanging to the outside. Then there are other ones where the apex is slightly banked before it becomes flat on the exit again. From a driver's point of view the track is very difficult and demanding.

Frank Biela.
Photo by Tom Haapanen.
Difficulties start as soon as in Turn 1. After a relatively long straight you come over a crest and must brake downhill which always gives a funny feeling. The first corner hangs to the outside. When you turn into the corner the car starts to understeer. As soon as you get on the gas, it changes to oversteer. You exit in second gear and accelerate for a right hand corner which is faster than you expect it to be. It's not so difficult to find the line through this corner as the classic outside-inside-outside thing works. The next right hand corner is very, very fast despite hanging a bit to the outside. It's very difficult to see the entrance and get the turn-in point right. You take it in fourth gear and change to fifth before the exit. While you normally avoid the kerbs at Laguna Seca because there is so much sand, you have to take them at the exit of this corner. You accelerate up into sixth gear before entering a left hand corner which is a little banked at the entrance. That's why you have to turn in earlier than you would tend to do. At the apex, the grip level is very high. You don't want to have an understeering car in this corner because you have to be early on the throttle. You have a slight oversteer at the exit, which is no big problem because you are going in third or fourth gear and have no wheelspin.

Accelerating uphill to sixth gear you enter a fast left hand corner with an almost blind entrance because it is situated behind a crest. To take as much speed as possible for the rest of the uphill part, you take the kerbs on both side of the track. However, you can't drive too hard over the kerbs on the inside because the car would jump. After the rest of the uphill section you arrive at probably the most famous corner of all the ALMS circuit, the famous "Corkscrew". You can't see the braking point which is as difficult to find as the point to turn into the corner. It's also easy to lock the wheels because the track is going downhill again. You lose grip and it is difficult to control the car and to enter the left hand corner. The Corkscrew itself is always a strange feeling for the driver. It's interesting but very difficult. If you get the right line, you are very fast, changing from second to third before the next right hand corner where you feel a compression. If you don't get the Corkscrew right, you can easily go off there.

The next downhill left hand corner is very fast. Again you have to turn in earlier than you would normally do. You take it in fourth or fifth gear before entering a fast banked right hand corner. You run over the kerbs at the exit, but you risk going off there into the dirt with the left side of the car. If you do so, your lap is destroyed. This downhill right-left section is very fast and physically demanding for the driver because the grip level is very high and you have so much g forces.

The last corner is no big deal. You have to brake as late as possible. The exit is very important because quite a long straight follows. The corner is not so nice because it is very slow. You do about 80 kph which means you get a lot of wheelspin which gets worse and worse during the race with the tyres going down. So, every time you do this corner quite well and you do not lose too much speed at the exit, you feel quite happy.

-alms-

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Series ALMS
Drivers Frank Biela