IMSA drivers looking forward to their first race on Laguna Seca’s fresh pavement

A newly paved track can be a blessing and a curse. IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship drivers found that out last year on the freshened Road America, where grip was greatly improved… until a driver got off line. Then it was absolutely treacherous.

WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca began its repaving project immediately after last year’s Motul Course de Monterey. The track had already added some pavement beyond the curbs in many spots, bringing both praise and derision, but this will be the first chance the WeatherTech Championship drivers have to tackle the new surface, which the NTT IndyCar Series raced on for its finale last year. The new pavement that both provides more grip and seems to have reduced tire degradation will certainly lower lap times and alter strategy, predict those that have tested on it.

“We did have time to experiment and try quite a few things,” explained Sebastien Bourdais, who tested the No. 01 Cadillac Racing V-Series.R he shares with Renger van der Zande at Laguna a couple of weeks ago. “Obviously, grip has gone up — a lot. It’s it’s probably going to be at least a couple of seconds faster. And and it’s always an awesome feeling when you drive on a repaved track like that. I’ve always very much enjoyed Laguna, but tire deg was high and grip was quite low at the end of the cycle of the old pavement. So now it’s it’s it’s full-force, maximum grip, maximum attack and commitment. So it’s a ton of fun to hustle those big GTPs around.”


Antonio Garcia, driver of the No. 3 Corvette Racing by Pratt Miller Motorsports Z06 GT3.R with Alexander Sims, echoed Bourdais’ thoughts.

“It took me a little bit by surprise, I wasn’t expecting as much grip as we actually had,” he said. “It took me a while to actually get up to speed because I had to reset or delete all the braking points, turn-in points, everything, in order to get used to the new ones, because I didn’t expect to be that much faster. There is definitely a ton more, way more grip, and it feels like there is no degradation either.”

The new surface appears likely to take one strategy element out of the equation — conserving equipment and tires to make it on two stops, or do three and go maximum attack. The belief of many drivers is that it will be a two-stop race unless caution periods make a three-stop strategy work. But the low tire degradation could also open up some other strategy elements, such as allowing teams to go longer and making an overcut work better.

“It’ll open up the strategy, I believe,” said Garcia. “But maybe not as much as before — Laguna has always been a race where would where you would get into the race not knowing if you would go for a two stopper or a three stop. Two stop, saving tires, and extending and taking care of the equipment or going three and going flat out. So now it’s definitely going to be two stop knowing that there is not much deg.”

Richard Westbrook didn’t have the opportunity to test the No. 85 JDC-Miller MotorSports Porsche 963 that he drives with Tijmen van der Helm at Laguna Seca, but based on the feedback from other drivers, he expects the grip to possibly make passing more difficult, making strategy that much more important.

“I kind of quite liked the old surface; it threw that big curveball of degradation, and overtaking became quite easy on a track that’s very difficult to overtake, normally,” Westbrook said. “So I think overtaking is going to be at a premium this year. The fact that there is going to be low deg, I’m assuming, and the cornering speeds are just going to be that much higher. So maybe strategy will come into play more than just straight fighting on the track like we’ve seen over the last few years.”

Cool weather could further complicate the tactical picture at Laguna. Richard Dole/Motorsport Images

The good thing — especially on the Michelin medium-compound tire that the GTP teams will be using — is that the out-laps should be a little less treacherous; but that also makes a tire play like Chip Ganassi Racing used to deliver victory at Long Beach for Bourdais and van der Zande less likely..

“I think the asphalt is really grippy and it tends to switch on the tire really well, so I’m not really expecting it to be a huge issue,” Bourdais explained. “If it’s cold, and particularly if it’s overcast — because temperature is one thing, but if it’s sunny, and you can put this the tires in the sun before they get on the car, and they’re already somewhat ready and the track is hot. But if it’s overcast, it definitely gets trickier.”

Temperatures are expected to be cool, with highs in the high 50-degree-Fahrenheit range, but partly cloudy.

Drivers have praised the greater grip — Garcia said that Turn 4, which was always difficult to nail, becomes a more natural-feeling corner now, and dropping into the Corkscrew reminds him of the GTLM days. Whatever direction the new surface takes Sunday’s 2h40m race, Laguna Seca is always a favorite, and not just for the new pavement.

“It’s a proper race. It’s a proper track. It’s an amazing event that’s well supported by the fans,” said Westbrook. “You feel very privileged in doing what you do when you’re racing at somewhere like Laguna Seca.”

Story originally appeared on Racer