The first three circuits on the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, as different as they are, have on thing in common: they’re flat.
From the Daytona road course, where the only elevation change is coming off and onto the banking, to the former airport of Sebring to the Long Beach street course — the combined elevation change is probably less than that from Turn 11 to Turn 1 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Several drivers this weekend are making their first laps at Laguna Seca. They’re already pretty familiar with the circuit, having done as many simulation laps as possible, and in the days of hyper-accurate sims, drivers have a pretty good feel for their marks. A sim can’t quite prepare you for the drop down the Corkscrew, where the track loses nearly 60 feet of elevation in only 450 feet of length, and the difference between the top of Turn 7 and the exit of Turn 10 is equivalent to a 10-story building.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Philip Ellis, who is partnering with Russell Ward in the No. 57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG GTD entry. “It’s very different than running on the sim of course, because you don’t feel the elevation change, and it’s super steep and super tricky. I like that it’s old school so you actually get penalized if you have a little moment. If you make a mistake you actually lose track time. The Corkscrew is very different to run in real life and get used to where you actually have to place the car.”
Daniel Juncadella picked up any disparities between the sim and the real track quite quickly, setting the second-quick time in GTD PRO in Friday’s practice, plus topping the time sheets this morning in the No. 79 WeatherTech Racing Mercedes-AMG he shares with Cooper MacNeil in GTD PRO.
“I felt completely at home from the first moment yesterday. On my fifth lap I was already quickest, which was quite a surprise,” Juncadella said. “It’s a really cool track to drive; a lot of flow. The asphalt is very tricky so it’s a lot of sliding; a lot of pushing right at the limit where the tire is going to slide and I like that.”
Juncadella says Laguna’s low grip was the biggest surprise, even though he was warned about it by others.
“It’s very different to what it feels on the sim. With all the sand coming onto the track, it gets even worse during the weekend.”
Even with limited time on the track, the drivers have found sections they like. For Juncadella it’s the higher-speed corners, especially Turn 6 onto the backstraight.
“I really like that corner. It’s a very high-speed one where you sort of just see the apex when you’re already committed to turn-in so you really need to think [about] where you want to position your car. The Corkscrew is fun because it’s a very different corner to what you’re used to, but I like all the high speed sections,” he explained.
For Ellis it’s the section with all the elevation change from the braking zone at Turn 5 to halfway between Turns 9 and 10.
“I think the entire second sector is pretty cool,” he said. “It’s very fluid. It’s a good rhythm to the track, even with the DPis and LMP2s passing. It’s quite easy and you still have a nice kind of rhythm. You don’t have any sketchy corners with traffic.”
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Lynn is another driver happy to be racing at the “iconic” Laguna Seca for the first time and he, too, has found his groove rather quickly. Lynn was the quickest of the Cadillac drivers in qualifying and will start inside the second row. He had a rather unique description for the famed Corkscrew:
“It’s like when you were a kid on a BMX bike and you’re dropping into a half-pipe,” he says. “You just kind of fall into it.”