Thursday, May 20, 2010
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, one of the shortest race tracks in the country that doesn’t star go-karts, stuffs so many turns and so few straightaways into its tiny 2.2 miles that it rattles the nerves of racers as much as their engines rattle eardrums.
But for those racers in the know, the track’s fast corners and tight turns are a competitive advantage. Or so believes San Jose resident Brad Rampelberg, who will race in Sunday’s Playboy Mazda MX5 Cup – and is leading the MX5 season after a win in Virginia and a second in Atlanta. Laguna Seca represents the third race of the 2010 season.
“The thing with Laguna is to pick up speed on corners where drivers unfamiliar with the track typically slow down,” he says. “Laguna is more about how you drive rather than how you set up the car. It is a driver’s track.”
That said, drivers and teams have to consider every change to their cars here carefully due to the track’s unforgiving technical tendencies.
Though he’ll be a blur most of the weekend, Rampelberg says he’s looking forward to spotting folks he knows.
“It will be fun to be racing on my home track,” he says. “And see some familiar people rather than lots of faces I don’t know.”
An eight-year veteran, in the past Rampelberg has earned track records here in the spec Mazda Miatas used for the MX5, which are modified versions of the street-legal model.
Another local racer in the 45-minute MX5 Cup is a little better known than Rampelberg. Former Indy 500 champ Danny Sullivan is racing for Laguna Seca’s neighbor, the SPCA for Monterey County. To aid the charitable cause, Mazda is financing his car, BFGoodrich donated the tires and the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) waived his entry fee. Fellow race enthusiasts also donated $5,000 to the organization.
Sullivan has not raced competitively since 1995, but enjoys driving at Laguna Seca.
“It is a fantastically exciting track to drive,” he says. “And in my career, [Laguna] typically produced great races.”
This is the only contest of the 11-race MX5 season Sullivan will be driving in and he understandably says it will be difficult to hop into the Miata – a car he has never driven – and race against guys who drive them all year long.
But having raced at Laguna, Sullivan knows how the track – and particularly the corkscrew – handles.
“I imagine that making a mistake going up the hill [before the corkscrew] is going to be very tough when the guy behind you doesn’t make the same mistake, especially with the lower power of these smaller Mazdas,” he says. “It will be harder to speed back up.”
Rampelberg and Sullivan are two big reasons race fans might rally as much for the undercard MX5 showdown as they will the main event, in which 36 cars complete nearly 300 laps in a 6-hour endurance race that crosses from Saturday afternoon into the night. It will be the only race here all year that hits the lights as dusk arrives, making the already daunting corkscrew – which drops more than five stories in a mere 450 feet of track – even trickier.
Monterey Salinas Transit will operate free-with-a-race-ticket hourly shuttles from Seaside’s Embassy Suites, the Monterey Conference Center and Salinas’ Transit Center. For a complete schedule, visit www.mst.org. For more on the races, visit www.mazdaraceway.com.
CHASE AWAY >> The speedy schedule for all the action.
8am-1pm | Practice (all races)
1:40pm | Qualifying - Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship
2:20pm | Practice - American Le Mans Series presented (all classes)
3:30pm | Qualifying - American Le Mans Series (GT/GTC)
3:55pm | Qualifying - American Le Mans Series (LMP/LMPC)
4:25pm | Qualifying - Patrón GT3 Challenge
5:05pm | Practice - USF2000 National Championship
5:45pm | Practice - Mazda MX-5 Cup
8am | Qualifying - Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup
8:40am | Qualifying - USF2000 National Championship
9:20am | Qualifying - Star Mazda Championship
10:15am | Warm-up - American Le Mans Series (all classes)
10:45am | Pre-race for Patrón GT3 Challenge
11am | Race #1 - Patrón GT3 Challenge
12:45pm | Race #1 - Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship
2:30-8:30pm | Race: American Le Mans Monterey
9:15am | Race - Star Mazda Championship
10:15am | Race #1 - USF2000 National Championship
11:00am | Race #2 - Cooper Tires Prototype Lites Championship
1:30pm | Race #2 - Patrón GT3 Challenge
2:30pm | Race #2 - USF2000 National Championship
3:15pm | Race - Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup