Laguna Seca still thinking of Formula 1

FORMULA 1 would jump at the chance of racing at Laguna Seca. The spectacular race track in the hills behind the glitzy Monterey Peninsular is arguably America's best road racing facility, featuring a 300-ft change in elevation and the infamous downhill Corkscrew section.

As F1 tries to build up its profile in the United States, there is no doubt that an event at Laguna would be popular with the motor manufacturers and sponsors in F1 as it would give the sport access to the lucrative and cosmopolitan markets of northern California.

Fifteen years ago the Sports Car Racing Association of the Monterey Peninsula (SCRAMP), the nonprofit organization that manages Laguna Seca, announced that it had signed a five-year agreement with Bernie Ecclestone to hold an F1 race at the track. The circuit was lengthened and upgraded but the race never happened. The ambition remains for the track to host a Grand Prix and there are signs that things are rather more serious on this occasion.

Since 1994 SCRAMP has had a marketing deal with a company called Competitive Promotional Solutions, a subsidiary of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, which is run by Chris Pook. Pook says that Laguna has "tremendous potential for the future".

At the start of 2000 SCRAMP agreed a new 30-year deal to run the facility with the Monterey County Board of Supervisors. The club asked for a long-term arrangement in order to find the funding it needed to make important infrastructure changes to upgrade the track and its access roads. Most importantly the club wanted to save money by getting rid of the need to put up temporary structures for the race meetings by investing in permanent facilities of Formula 1 standard. At the same time a new sales team led by former banker Katie McDevitt was put in place. This resulted in the announcement earlier this year of a title sponsorship deal for the circuit, which has now been renamed Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca.

"We believe that Mazda's support will allow us to take the track to the next level," says the track's general manager John Stornetta. "This will allow us to embark on a capital improvement plan that will make it one of the finest racing facilities in the world."

That work has now begun with a huge 25-acre parcel of land being opened up for parking, dramatically improving traffic flow and easing congestion to the track. Although SCRAMP is only allowed to promote five events a year it is worth the investment as the track attracts large numbers of fans, 100,000 gathering for the annual Grand Prix of Monterey CART race in October. The Monterey Historic Automobile Races - which take place this weekend - are the world's leading vintage events and in addition Laguna Seca hosts the American Le Mans Series in September and a round of the Superbike World Championship. Last year marked the return to Laguna of a NASCAR event after 19 years. The NASCAR Winston West Challenge race is clearly a step towards getting a full Winston Cup round in the future.

According to local studies the track was responsible for boosting the local economy last year by $129m and, over the years, SCRAMP has donated more than $10m in profits to local charities. Organizing the funding that would be needed for a Grand Prix will be quite an achievement but there is no reason to suggest that it is impossible, particularly when a banker is running the organization.

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