The storied Corkscrew turn that stands at the summit of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca heralds a precipitous 300-foot drop to the dry lakebed below. Known officially as Turn 8, the Corkscrew is the track’s signature corner. Corvette Racing’s twin Compuware Corvette C6-Rs will take the plunge through the Corkscrew more than 200 times in the six-hour endurance race that is crucial in the team’s quest for the GT driver and manufacturer championships. While the Corkscrew commands the attention of photographers and fans, the other 10 turns on the 2.238-mile circuit offer ample opportunities for cutting lap times.
Round 8 of the American Le Mans Series season will be contested on a track reflects the harsh reality of top-level motorsports competition, a circuit with enough ups and downs to qualify as America’s fastest amusement park ride. Corvette Racing understand the progress and pitfalls of the 2011 season, with both victory celebrations and bitter disappointments. When the season ends, Oliver Gavin and Jan Magnussen intend to be the last ones standing.
Second in the standings going into the series’ eighth round, the drivers of Corvette Racing’s No. 4 Corvette C6-R are focused on success at Laguna Seca. “We’ve got to perform at the top of our game, while keeping in mind that we have to score maximum points and not take any unnecessary risks,” said Oliver Gavin, who co-drives with Jan Magnussen. “Jan and I have been in this position before with championships on the line. You’ve got to be smart, respect the machinery, and keep one eye on a good result in the race and the other on the championship. These final rounds are always gut wrenching.”
Gavin and Magnussen are second in the standings on the strength of consistent podium finishes: a win in Mosport, runner-up finishes in Long Beach and Mid-Ohio, and third on the streets of Baltimore. Now the pair must overcome a 25-point lead held by Dirk Mueller and Joey Hand in the next two rounds, while Chevy must overcome BMW’s 30-point margin in the manufacturer race. With 55 points on the line in the series’ season-ending events, the objective is clear.
“We’re still very much in the championship hunt and we definitely have a chance to win the title, but we need a good result and the BMWs to be a bit unlucky,” Magnussen said. “It can be done, and the whole team is pushing in that direction.”
“A six-hour race suits Corvette Racing’s strengths – speed and reliability, getting the strategy right, and making consistently quick pit stops,” the Dane explained. “I have high hopes for this race, and I’m looking forward to racing at Laguna Seca.”
“The hairpin at the end of the pit straight and Turns 3, 4, and 5 through the infield are vitally important to getting a fast lap,” Gavin said. “Similarly, getting off Turn 6 that takes you up the hill to the Corkscrew is crucial.”
Magnussen agreed: “The medium speed corners are the key – Turns 3, 4, 5, and 6. There’s time to be gained and lost in every one of them. When the car is working well, the track has a natural flow, and I get into a zone that I don’t experience at many other circuits. So for me, Laguna Seca is just super enjoyable – in fact, it’s my favorite track in the U.S.”
Sunset on the Monterey Peninsula will arrive at 7:12 p.m. on Saturday evening, and the closing laps will be run in twilight until the checkered flag falls at 7:30 p.m. The combination of gloaming light and a cooling track will add to the degree of difficulty in the final minutes.
“We learned a lesson at Road America when the temperature changed more than we had anticipated and affected the balance of the car,” Magnussen said. “This time we’ll strive to make the right decisions at the right time.”
“The last stint when you’re racing at dusk can be quite brutal,” Gavin added. “It can be difficult to make out the line between the edge of the track and the dirt that borders the circuit because they are similar in color at twilight. That can lead to drivers going off the track and dragging sand onto the surface, and then cars going off on that.”
With six hours of hard racing in store, this year’s race at Laguna Seca promises to be another physical and emotional roller coaster. “It’s a fantastic place to race, and usually we’re quite competitive there,” Magnussen said. “We’ve had some great races there and some interesting finishes. It should be good.”