CIRCUITS: LAGUNA SECA
Name: Laguna Seca
The most spectacular permanent racing circuit on the West Coast of America, Laguna Seca is hidden away in a natural bowl in the hills which overlook Monterey Bay. It is two hours drive south from San Francisco but the beautiful and rugged Monterey Peninsular provides a wonderful place to spend some time in quaint Carmel, along Cannery Row or in among the cypress trees at Pebble Beach and along Seventeen Mile Drive. Originally there was a road circuit laid out around Pebble Beach - there is still an annual Monterey Historic race - but in 1957 the local people and businesses got together to support the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsular in its plan to create Laguna Seca Raceway. The plan had the support of (and assistance) from the US Army, which owned the land which formed part of the Ford Ord Military Reservation training camp.
The first races at Laguna Seca took place in 1958. They were local events and truly international racing did not appear until 1960 when Stirling Moss won the Pacific Grand Prix sportscar race in a Lotus. He won again the following year but in 1962 victory in the event went to the Zerex Special driven by Roger Penske. In 1966 CanAm arrived and Laguna Seca was one of the big races of the series: the early winners including Phil Hill, Bruce McLaren (twice), Denny Hulme and Peter Revson. The track also hosted a variety of SCCA open-wheeler series in the late 1960s and in the 1970s was an important track in Formula 5000, the winners including David Hobbs, Brian Redman and Mario Andretti. TransAm, Formula Atlantic and SuperVee were all regularly held at Laguna.
In 1974 the army handed over the area to the County of Monterey's Department of Parks as part of what is now known as the Laguna Seca Recreation Area. SCRAMP continued to run operations on a non-profit-making basis, giving any money made to local charities and civic organizations. The business is very successful and by the end of the 1990s was generating around $300,000 a year from races, track hire and income from functions.
After CanAm faded away in the early 1980s, the organizers switched to CART, the first event in 1983 being won by Teo Fabi. The track has remained a popular CART venue ever since.
In 1988, in the hope of attracting Formula 1 racing after the demise of the Detroit Grand Prix, SCRAMP agreed to lengthen and upgrade the circuit from 1.9-miles to the present 2.2. This was done by creating an infield area which did away with the daunting old Turn Two. In the end F1 never went to Laguna but it still remains a popular track for racers and spectators. The access roads are not great and it is a long way from major population but it is a place where racing cars can be seen at their best. There is a 300-ft change in elevation which includes the infamous Corkscrew, an incredible curling downhill series of turns. It was exiting the Corkscrew in 1996 that Alex Zanardi pulled off a breathtaking overtaking maneuver on the last lap of the race to beat Bryan Herta. The death of Gonzalo Rodriguez in 1999 led to major safety changes at Laguna and a naming rights deal with Mazda has provided the funding for other development including new access routes and proper pits.