Laguna Seca Now Has More Paved Runoffs, Whether Drivers Want Them or Not
On Thursday afternoon's IMSA track walk, drivers and fans alike were surprised to discover that corners 5 and 9 of Laguna Seca had suddenly been widened significantly by eight feet of new paved runoff. The change comes despite the track's celebrated reputation as a difficult place to race with unforgiving runoff areas.
Like so many extended runoff areas throughout the world, the change has not been popular with drivers. Racers from all over the world responded in agreement with a post by Corvette Racing's Jordan Taylor claiming that the track had "lost its character." 2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button noted that the track suddenly had "no penalty for overdriving," while 2021 IndyCar champion Alex Palou simply shared a gif of Michael Scott yelling "no."
Drivers are concerned not just because the new runoffs reduce potential consequences for a mistake but because the inherent competitive nature of auto racing means that racers will have to factor them into decisions throughout a race. Whether or not regulations are added to regulate the new pavement, history shows that new paved runoffs will always impact how a track races. This has already proven true at Laguna Seca, where an existing runoff at turn 11 is used as part of the racing line throughout most professional races on the course. In a more extreme case, Alex Zanardi's legendary pass on Bryan Herta in the Corkscrew was made possible in part by a paved runoff in the outside of the first and inside of the second corner that allowed Zanardi to fit his car through.
IMSA did not respond to a request for comment from Road & Track, but the course confirmed to the Drive that the new pavement is meant to both solve existing drainage issues and reduce off-track rutting from drivers going into the dirt inside of those corners. That quote came in response to a conversation with a track employee, who shared with the Drive that the decision is meant to solve track draining problems that occur at banked corners during the circuit's wetter winter season. The entire circuit is in the process of a repaving set to largely take place after tomorrow's IMSA race, and the runoff work is part of that process. That operation had already been delayed by major storms in the region throughout the winter, a track representative told RACER.
In their same response to the Drive, track representatives said that "feedback from drivers [on the new runoff areas] has been positive or it doesn't matter to them." Gradient Racing's NSX GTD duo of Katherine Legge and Sheena Monk may not have vocally favored the change, but they both believed it was not a significant problem. While both agreed that the runoff areas had changed the track's character, they believed that it was not necessarily a negative and, because everyone has to adjust to the same change, it would not be an issue during the race itself.
Another GTD driver, Bryan Sellers of Paul Miller Racing, was more concerned by the change. Sellers said that "It’s unfortunate to see the track changes that took place," adding that "part of the allure of our pinnacle tracks in IMSA is that they’re difficult and there’s less margin for error. As these kinds of adjustments are made, it takes away from what makes these tracks special. I would love to see drivers consulted in decisions like this so we can solve the drainage issues the track has, especially with the rainfall this year, while still maintaining the integrity of the track."
Both IMSA and IndyCar continue to feature Laguna Seca on their schedules, so the runoff areas will play a part in the country's two most notable road racing championships. IMSA's traditional round at Laguna Seca takes place tomorrow, while IndyCar will finish its season at the track in September.
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