Motorcycle champions discuss the curves MotoGP racers will face at Mazda Laguna Seca.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
When the premiere class of world championship motorcycle racing returned to the United States in 2005, Marco Melandri said the twisty track of Laguna Seca was far too dangerous for the 990cc 4-stroke race machines. The Italian racer crashed three times that weekend, including a high-side slide on the infamous turn 8 corkscrew.
The 2.243 mile circuit – the smallest track of the 18 international races – winds around the hills in Monterey near Fort Ord, creating one of the most technical tracks in the worldwide Grand Prix circuit. Those who have been lucky enough to win at Laguna Seca say it is a rider’s track, where success emanates more from the racer’s ability than the bike manufacturer.
“Laguna Seca is not more dangerous than any other circuit, but when you make a mental mistake, you see it very directly,” says three-time 500cc world champion and Peninsula resident Wayne Rainey, who won three consecutive Grand Prix races on the circuit between 1989 and 1991. “If you won [at Laguna], you accomplished something very few have.”
Salinas native Doug Chandler raced with Rainey on the GP circuit during the early ’90s, but won at Laguna Seca during his years in the American Motorcycle Association (AMA), winning both the superbike races and the overall championship in 1996 and 1997.
“It is a lot of work riding at Laguna, because it is so short and there is no real straightaway,” Chandler says. “The track has pretty good [corner] banking with lots of g-force.”
Between sales and repairs at his bike shop in Salinas, Chandler laid out the logistics of each turn and the characteristics that combine to make the track tricky.Turn 1, left hand blind entrance, 160 mph
A rising, blind entrance into the slight left hander leads riders into the first-gear hairpin. Chandler says a good exit can help riders gain or lose lap time. Passing is possible here, but it’s a ballsy place to do it.Turn 2, left hairpin, 60 mph
Dubbed the “Andretti Hairpin” after the famous American car driver, the second turn is a double apex, left downhill bank that demands a drop of 100 mph from fifth gear to first. “I try to sight my line in the middle, between the two apexes,” Chandler says. “You want to use as much much track as possible [on the turn 3 exit] to make up time.”Turn 3, flat right, 75 mph
This marks the first of the “flat corners,” and the entry into the lake bed of the circuit. Riders have trouble due to the wider entrance and an extremely tight exit: “It is easy to run out of racetrack,” Chandler notes, “because [the turn] is so tight and short.”Turn 4, flat right, 95 mph
Chandler says it’s a very square corner, meaning there’s no difference between entrance and exit length and speed. “It has always been a difficult corner for me, because of the confidence needed to lean into it really hard to the right.”Turn 5, left uphill exit, 90 mph
The popular spectator corner leads riders to the backside of the track. This is one of the most important exiting corners as you head up the long hill that demands momentum.Turn 6, left dip uphill exit, 100 mph
A combination of a high rise entrance and the slight dip on the exit causes the bike’s suspension to fully load as it goes into the turn and completely unload as the rider accelerates towards the corkscrew.Turn 7, slight left kink, 145 mph
A blind kink at the top of the hill is a key passing spot for riders as they dive into turn 8. A good line is needed to not overrun the entrance to the corkscrew and skid into the gravel pits. “Going into the corkscrew, you can’t see nothing,” Chandler says.Turn 8/8a, steep left-right chicane, 45 mph
The ’screw drops riders in a quick downhill double opposite curve, more fitting for mogul skiing than motorcycle racing. The track falls five-and-a-half stories over 450 feet of asphalt and is considered one of the most challenging circuit features in the world. Every corner leads into the next one until the finish line (after 11). If you mess up once, you are toast.Turn 9, long left bank, 90 mph
The so-called “Rainey Curve” traces a long left downhill bank as riders make a high-speed coast down the back of the hill, which “feels like you’re leaned over [to the left] forever.”Turn 10, right downhill entrance and flat exit, 90 mph
“It’s a fun corner,” Chandler says, “but tricky and catches a lot of guys off as they head to the end of the track.”Turn 11, left flat exit into finish line straightaway, 40 mph
The 90-degree turn is “hard, because you have to slow everything down, like you’re going into a hairpin.” Riders then sprint to the finish line before the turn 1 crest.