Laguna Seca Paved Some Track Run-Off Areas, and People Are Real Mad
Critics say the added pavement on turns 5 and 9 mess with the track’s character as a place where tiny mistakes can be a race-ender.
For a sport that never stops evolving and thrives on the bleeding edge of technology, the auto racing industry—and its fans—can be extremely reluctant to change at times. This much you can deduct from a Twitter thread started by professional racing driver Jordan Taylor, showing two corners of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca undergoing some scheduled improvements. Specifically, the images show the newly-paved run-off areas on Turns 5 and 9 along with the caption, "Yet another great race track has lost its character. Sad…"
UPDATE 5/12/23 2:00 p.m. ET: A spokesperson for WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca confirmed to The Drive that the track recently underwent some planned maintenance. "Work at Turn 5-6 and Corkscrew area was required for much-needed drainage work. Additionally, so many cars went off course in those sections, and the ruts and dirt on the track had increased race yellows. There is also new kerbing throughout. This was primarily needed for IMSA and INDYCAR. Feedback from drivers has been positive or it doesn’t matter to them. We close again Tuesday after IMSA to finish the bridge and begin the repaving project to be open for MotoAmerica."
Dozens of professional racing drivers ranging from F1 world champions to IndyCar and Le Mans stars chimed in to show their disgust with the track modifications. Prior to being partially paved over, these run-off areas featured a mix of sand and gravel beyond the curbing. As a result, any driver who made a mistake and ventured off track would be severely punished. There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of examples where such a slip affected race outcomes, if not maybe even championships. Cars would rarely make it out of these traps, more often than not causing the rear tires to dig in and beach the car. As a result, these traps were seen by racers and fans alike as the ultimate price to pay for making a mistake.
The thing is, these traps still remain, they've just been pushed out 8 feet from the curbing. According to a comment in the thread by Dillon D., an alleged Laguna Seca Raceway employee responsible for track prep, these partially paved run-offs had to be implemented for drainage purposes given the track's extremely hilly terrain. Specifically, to keep the constant mudslides in the rainy and winter seasons from reaching the track.
"People need to remember we’re open all year round. Shoveling mudslides in [turns] 5-9 at 4 am in the rain isn’t fun stuff. It’s to help provide a safe track 365 days for everyone. No other runoffs are being touched in the paving project," tweeted Dillon D.
I reached out to Dillon D. via social media, who was willing to offer some context regarding this situation.
"Only two run-off areas were paved with an 8-foot shoulder and a very shallow V to hold water," Dillon D. told The Drive. "After this weekend's events we will be repaving the whole racetrack and in the two areas mentioned, there will be several drains installed to catch all the water that will potentially run. This is a very needed addition due to the faceted during our winter seasons in those banked corners dirt and mud would wash and slide onto the track causing dangerous conditions on the surface. This also created a lot of ruts and very soft mud so if you were to go off it’d be a muddy mess. The drains in the new asphalt run-offs are not installed yet, but they will be following this weekend’s event. Construction timelines were pushed back severely due to the crazy storms we had this winter.
"I don’t see these changes changing the characteristics of our track, that’s why we only approved 8 feet and didn’t pave all the dirt everywhere. Every other corner is exactly how it was. We’re just trying to keep the 66-year-old race track maintained all year round for everyone, not just a couple of weekends a year. We are open all year round," he added.
It's easy to see both sides of the coin here. Racers—and to a certain extent, fans—are upset because one of the track's unique traits has been partially altered. And the fact that old-school tracks with unpaved run-offs are on the brink of extinction further exacerbates this feeling. On the other hand, the run-offs are still there. Should a driver overcook it going into the turn, that 8-foot buffer may not do much to save them anyway.
Also, other corners around the circuit feature slightly similar paved aprons (as seen in the photo above), and this 8-foot gap is only happening on two out of 11 corners. If anything, rather than spoil racing, the newly paved apron will mostly be cause for Track Limits infringements more than "forgiving racers' mistakes."
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