WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca is a track that was sorely missed on the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup presented by BFGoodrich Tires schedule last year. The picturesque circuit is where this series made its debut in 2006. Since then, it’s been nothing but door-to-door, action-packed racing.
The only West Coast race on the 2021 calendar, this California track will host Rounds 11 and 12 of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup this weekend. Laguna Seca’s challenging layout, variable weather and slippery track surface might just bring the championship picture into focus by separating the better from the best.
Michael Carter (No. 08 Carter Racing Enterprises) comes to Laguna Seca with an 80-point lead in the championship over Gresham Wagner (No. 5 Spark Performance). A further 130 points behind Wagner is Selin Rollan (No. 87 Hixon Motor Sports). Of the three, only Rollan has notched a victory there.
“Laguna is definitely a track where passing opportunities don’t come easy,” Rollan said. “I’m expecting not to hit fifth gear at all on this track, meaning the draft won’t play much of a role. Most passes will be done by capitalizing off of others’ mistakes.”
Laguna Seca’s most infamous turn is the Corkscrew; a blind, downhill, left-right, but the circuit is also notorious for something else: sand. It blows across the surface of the track and limits the amount of grip. This effect is exaggerated with each off-course excursion a driver makes.
“I don’t think it’s much of an issue as long as you are on the racing surface where you should be,” Wagner said. “Obviously, if you go way off-line, there will be marbles and loose gravel to contend with, but that’s not massively different than usual. The thing I have to keep in mind is dropping tires off the track. While we can usually get away with dropping wheels and small offs, the sand really grabs the tires and can pull the car into it. You have to be mindful of how much more punishing the loose sand can be compared to compacted dirt and grass.”
Mazda MX-5 Cup’s textbook photo finishes are likely to continue. A brief glance at prior margins of victory at Laguna Seca shows few that were over one second.
A man who knows a thing or two about close finishes is Carter, who won the most recent MX-5 Cup race at Road America by a mere 0.008s.
“I remember having a lot of good racing last time we were here in 2019, and I expect more of the same this time around,” Carter said. “I can see where it can be hard to pass, but I see a lot of good opportunities as well.”
Passes will have to be made with precision at Laguna Seca, because $250,000 is on the line for the series champion with only four races left in the season.
The current leader in the Rookie of the Year Championship is the “California Kid,” Chris Nunes (No. 32 JTR Motorsports Engineering). While it might be expected that he has experience at Laguna Seca, but that’s not quite the case as Nunes, who comes from off-road racing and has never been to six of the seven tracks on the MX-5 Cup schedule, is set to make his first start at Laguna Seca.
But Nunes won’t be alone, as his closest competitor for the rookie title, Sam Paley (No. 28 McCumbee McAleer Racing) is also making his Laguna Seca debut. After a phenomenal weekend at Road America, Paley is only 30 points behind Nunes. Rookies Luca Mars (No. 41 Copeland Motorsports) and Aaron Jeansonne (No. 24 Provision Motorsports) are also within striking distance for the rookie crown and the $80,000 that comes with it.
Saturday’s Mazda MX-5 Cup race is slated for 12:00pm PT. Sunday’s race will go green at 9:25am PT. Both races will be streamed live on.