Laguna Seca set for MotoGP return
With the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix dates of July 8-10 fast approaching, the landscape at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca has begun to change – literally. Track improvements required by the Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme (FIM) to homologate the track for the July event are nearing completion. While no changes were made to the racing surface itself, the most significant upgrades have seen an increase and improvement in runoff areas and the installation of more motorcycle-friendly curbs.
Suzuki MotoGP rider Kenny Roberts Jr, the 2000 World Champion, visited the circuit recently as a Riders Safety Representative and was very positive about the changes made to the circuit.
"Laguna Seca has done 100 percent within their capability to make the track as safe as possible for the MotoGP," said Modesto-native Roberts Jr., the son of three-time world champion Kenny Roberts. "They have made significant changes in all areas that they were able to make changes in."
"In my opinion they have done the best job on the curbs in comparison to any other racetrack and this will significantly reduce the riders risk and workload.I believe from a Riders Safety Representative standpoint, that barring any freak accidents, then Laguna will be a very safe MotoGP circuit."
Work began on the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course back in January with the relocation of the Turn 9 bridge and excavation of the hillside on the outside of the turn. Following the rainy season, an intense 45-day period of construction began on May 2. The $2 million improvement project is being funded by Yamaha Motor Company and includes improvements in every turn around the circuit.
Just after the start/finish line, the bank of the hill on rider's right has been cut away to allow more runoff area through the very fast Turn 1. The runoff area there has been increased and features a 13% uphill grade designed to slow speeds in case of an incident. A gravel bed has been installed in Turn 1 and the gravel bed in Turn 2, the "Andretti Hairpin", has been enlarged to nearly four times its original size.
Riders will immediately see changes through Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca's signature "Corkscrew" (Turns 8 and 8A). The safety barriers between Turns 7 and 8 along rider's right have been moved as much as 15 feet from the racetrack, increasing the line of sight into the turn. Should a rider have an incident entering Turn 8, he will find that the runoff area has been improved with an uphill slope to help slow his slide. Runoff has been increased on both rider's left and right through Turn 8A.
The run-off area for "Rainey Curve" (Turn 9) has increased from 135 feet to over 310 feet by removing more than 35,000 cubic yards of dirt from the existing hillside. The previous relocation of the walkover bridge from the middle of "Rainey Curve" to 150 yards up towards Turn 8A, coupled with cutting back the hillside banking on rider's left dramatically increases the visibility through the turn.
The right-side wall on the front straight exiting Turn 11 has been moved between 8 and 10 feet away from the track. Artificial turf, six feet wide, has been installed just behind the exit curbing to keep riders from extending the radius of the corner and using the increased area as racing surface. Between 8,500 and 9,000 feet of new curbing has been installed throughout the racetrack as entrance, apex and exit curbing.
"We have replaced the old apex curbing at every turn, which was 3 ½ inch high step curb and we've changed it to what is called "Negative Vallelunga" curb. The step difference on the new curbing is only one inch," said Bo Beresiwsky, vice president of facility operations at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and supervisor of the enormous project. "All of the apex curbs have been extended and the exit curbs have been replaced, or installed on turns that didn't have exit curbs. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca has never had entrance curbing, and its been added to every turn."
Additionally, gravel beds have been enlarged to begin approximately 10 feet off of the racing surface, whereas they had previously started about 20 feet from the edge of the racing surface. New gravel beds have been built to FIM standards in Turns 1, 9, 10 and 11 and all existing beds have been enlarged up to five times their original size.
Spectators have also been given an improved viewing area through the changes. Much of the dirt that was removed to increase the Turn 1 runoff area has been used to lessen the slope of the spectator viewing area overlooking Turn 2.