After rolling with winter’s punches, WeatherTech Raceway shows off track improvements
WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is undergoing a much-needed makeover. However, that makeover is a tad behind schedule, exacerbated by a series of pounding winter storms that brought an excessive amount of rain to the Monterey Peninsula. But with a renewed commitment from WeatherTech, a new partnership with Hyundai, and a solid commitment from the County of Monterey for the renowned facility inside a county park, the future is looking good.
John Narigi, president and general manager of WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, promises that the new bridge over start/finish, new curbs, extra asphalt in some runoff areas, and a complete repave – all of which were scheduled to be completed before this weekend’s Motul Course de Monterey for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship – are going to be completed in the very near future. In fact, the grinders will be staging in the paddock as the race teams depart, ready to begin prepping the old asphalt on Tuesday.
“It’ll be completely done by right around June 28,” says Narigi. “We’ve done all the shoulder work and drainage work around our track, but Tuesday morning, 8 a.m., the grinders will begin grinding the track and then the track will be resurfaced, and completed by by that deadline as well. So, we’re moving right along. The county has been more than generous. This is turning out to be about a $19.8 million project. The storm held us up by two months. Originally, this was a five-month construction, start to finish. We started Nov. 1 to be completed for these events — we just had SVRA last weekend.”
That rain — all of California has received more than typical this winter — left hillsides in danger of sliding down, and in the case of one above Turn 1, bringing a permanent bathroom tumbling onto the track. So not only did the rain interrupt the scheduled construction, resources had to be diverted to shoring up hillsides. That done, and the rains subsiding as summer approached, meant the rest of the work could continue.
The structure of the new bridge is in place, but it’s not quite usable yet. A new flag stand at start/finish has been built — the previous one sat right under the old bridge. Some new curbs are in place, asphalt has been poured beyond the curbs in some corners, notably drivers’ right between Turn 5 and Turn 6, and drivers’ right at the exit of Turn 9 all the way through the apex of Turn 10. These asphalt strips are a car-width wide, leading one to wonder if “track limits” discussions are going to become a part of the races at Laguna Seca.
“The drivers will love the new curbs. The old ones — I call them cobblestones — this particular series and IndyCar did not like, so now they’re the wide ones and they’re consistent around the track,” Narigi explains. “We added a fair amount of asphalt on many of the shoulders, they’ll see between Turn 5 and 6, much more asphalt past the curbs. We resolved a lot of the drainage issues; we put in a lot more drainage. We’ve got conduit under the track we never had before for future IT needs or electrical needs. So it’s been a big project.”
As with any changes to a racetrack, especially one as historic and loved as Laguna Seca, not everyone is a fan. Jordan Taylor tweeted a couple of photos after the track walk with the caption, “Another great racetrack has lost its character. Sad…” Free Practice 1 Friday afternoon will give a better idea of how the extra width actually affects the drivers.
Several GTP drivers have, on the other hand, expressed appreciation for the fact that the rest of the track surface hadn’t changed, simply to give them one less variable this year as they figure out the new machinery. But the current surface is 14 years old, and while the track crew has kept it in decent and safe condition over the years, most drivers are looking forward to a grippier surface that’s easier on tires.
“We’ve hired a consultant to take care of making sure the mix is accurate and correct and making sure it goes down the way it’s supposed to and in the right timeframe and the right temperature. We had a two-and-a-half hour meeting on just asphalt and I could have kept them there eight hours asking questions; it was it was pretty amazing,” says Narigi, adding that the asphalt will be laid down by two trucks and two spreaders working in tandem so that the entire width of the racing surface goes down at once. That will be done around the entire track, except for the Corkscrew, where the topography requires it to be done in two parts.
“I think people are going to really be amazed with the bridge and the ramp and the track resurfacing,” Narigi told RACER. “It’s a new signature item for Laguna Seca. I like saying WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is kind of being reborn. It’s a new place. Working under the parks department now, our team approach with county staff and the generosity and the support by the Board of Supervisors, and really the residents of Monterey County, has been pretty phenomenal. As we all know, not a lot of money has been spent here on this 65-year-old facility, and I’m just grateful that everybody’s coming together for the future of the Laguna Seca Recreational Area, and obviously for WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.”