Laguna Seca Postscript-An Improved Finale

Photo; Turn 2 of lap 1.

I went to Weather Tech Raceway Laguna Seca with low expectations. When the race was announced as the season finale replacement for Sonoma, I thought it was just a lateral move. We would see the same processional race on another narrow track. The only similarity between the two is they are both in northern California. I was wrong on all counts. I was very impressed with the track. The racing was great. I was not anticipating any kind of decent crowd, but again I was pleasantly surprised.

The Track

Not since my first time at Road America have I been so impressed with a track at first glance. The top of the mountain was daunting as I entered the track grounds. My jaw dropped at my first glimpse of the Corkscrew. As massive as the track seems, it is really rather easy to navigate. The layout is actually quite simple.  Walking to the top of the corkscrew is quite a hike. There is a path to walk down from there to turn 10. It’s an easier walk down than up.

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Turn 9, 170 feet down from the Corkscrew

There are several vantage points from which at least 80% of the track can be seen. From the top you can see all of the track except for turn 6 and part of the front stretch. I watched the race from the outside of turn 2. I could see up to turn 5, the run to turn 10, and a bit of turn 11.

Another difference from Sonoma is the greenery.  Sonoma is green in the spring, but when Indycar came in September the scenery was brown. Laguna Seca has lots of evergreen trees and green grass.

The Crowd

I questioned the wisdom of the Indycar scheduling the  finale at this track  a week after the IMSA race. I thought for sure it would hurt attendance.  It was a pleasant surprise to see a good crowd there. I talked to several local fans. One fan told me he had attended every Indycar race at the track and was very happy the series had returned. Several fans were wearing vintage shirts.

A younger couple in the RV camping area told me when they called to reserve a spot the first day tickets went on sale, they each called on their own phones and were on the phone for three hours before one of them got through.

I have seen estimates of 25,000 on race day. I believe that is a credible number. So many fans are hidden from view at the Corkscrew, that it is difficult to gauge the size of the crowd. Sunday’s attendance is a good baseline to grow this event from.

The Race

I was expecting Sonoma 2.0, a race where position changes came about because of pit strategy. Fortunately, it was a good race with challenges for the lead all day, passing through the field, and fights for position in the top ten. Felix Rosenqvist and Sebastien Bourdais carved their way into the top ten from mid-pack. Colton Herta had his hands full holding off Scott Dixon after pit stops.

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Colton Herta leads Will power in the closing stages of the race

The brief yellow in the middle of a stint didn’t allow for pitting, which kept the caution shorter.  I hope this yellow period can serve as a model for the future, where the caution time isn’t extended to allow drivers to pit. I’ve always thought cars should pit under caution at the risk of the green coming back out at any time. IMSA has short yellows. It is something I’d like to see Indycar adopt as well.

It’s Still Not the Finale I’d Like to See

While the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey was a major improvement over the recent finales at Sonoma, I would still prefer the NTT Indycar series end its season on an oval and without double points. An oval provides more chances for drivers behind in the standings to overtake the points leader. If a driver is far enough behind that their only chance to win the title is to dominate a double points race, he or she likely doesn’t deserve the championship.

I’ll be back next week with a full season review and coverage of the aeroscreen test at IMS.

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