Attacking the Trickiest Turn
My name is Jeremy Barnes, and I’m the Director of Public Relations and Brand Experience for Mazda North American Operations. I was flattered when I was asked to write a blog piece for Mazda Raceway describing my trickiest turn at the track.
“Oh great,” you’re thinking to yourself right now, “a corporate guy’s view of the track. I’ll bet he picks the Corkscrew, like everyone else…” If you did think that, you’d be both right AND wrong…
Yes, I’m a corporate guy (as well as being the logo police inside Mazda, and collecting $1 each time someone says “Laguna Seca”, that we donate to the track fund!), but I’m a club and vintage racer too. I race a Spec Miata with NASA at tracks up and down the west coast, as well as being entrusted a couple of times a year with one of the cars from Mazda’s wonderful Heritage Collection: the 600+hp four-rotor, tube-framed 1991 RX-7 that Pete Halsmer used to win the driver’s and manufacturer’s championships in IMSA GTO in 1991. Both cars are a thrill, and more similar than you’d guess, especially in my trickiest turn…Turn 6.
So I chose Turn 6 as my trickiest turn – bet you didn’t see that one coming! Why not the Corkscrew? Simple – while it’s a thrill the first few times you drive over the edge and plunge all the way down to the entrance to Turn 9, and it’s terrifying from the passenger seat in one of the MRLS pace car hot-laps, the Corkscrew is one of the slowest corners on the track and, in all honesty, not the one that makes me hold my breath and pucker my…uh, sorry, got carried away there!
So, let’s talk about 6. In the old days, when the track used to go left at what is now Turn 2 and head straight up the hill, before the infield section was added to lengthen the track to over two miles, the old joke was that if you got this corner wrong, you didn’t stop until you got to Salinas! It’s not that bad now, with a big gravel trap right behind the alligator teeth on the exit and a healthy chunk of Armco to catch you, but there are plenty of cars that have hit the tires on driver’s right after a rough ride through the gravel, or spun back to driver’s left and smacked the tires protecting the inside wall. So whether you make it all the way to Salinas or not, an off here is seldom good…
Right then, what’s it like to drive 6? You come out of Five and go storming up the hill under the road bridge. In the GTO RX-7, you’re up to fourth gear about half-way up the hill. At the back side of the bridge, I lift, brake hard, heel-toe down a gear to third and get back on the power well before the dip at the apex. Turn in slowly – slow hands are the rule of the day with a bunch of HP on tap –but decisively, and get the left-side wheels on the blue apex curbing. Whatever you do, however, don’t hit the red curb on the inside, as you’re sure to bend something or even break a wheel. Roll on the power as you turn in (gotta do this, because if you’re not on the power when you get to the dip at the apex, the suspension releases and just tosses you off into the gravel), then on the power hard just before the car bottoms in the dip and throttle wide-open as you unwind the steering wheel, letting the car run all the way out to the blue and white alligator teeth, on the exit. Grab fourth about half-way up the hill to 7, if you got the exit just right.
At the exit, some drivers like to pull back to the left immediately, but I was taught by a Skip Barber instructor a long while ago to let the car have its head at the exit, and I like to run up the right side of the track until the car’s thoroughly settled, and then move back to the left for 7 and then up to the Corkscrew (Turn 8). I think the car feels more settled that way, and I’m getting the power down more cleanly and smoothly.
So why is this my trickiest corner at Mazda Raceway? Sounded pretty simple, just brake, change down, turn in and go, right? I think it’s a hard one, because I also think a quick run through 6 defines an entire lap, especially so if you’re racing with someone. The hill up to the Corkscrew after 6 is the steepest at the track, and whether you’re in a 115hp Spec Miata or a 600hp IMSA GTO car, the name of the game is exit speed, so you can carry as much speed all the way up the hill. I’ve passed many a more powerful car running up that hill, all because of my exit speed. However, the consequences of braking too late and not being on the power at the dip, or getting on the power too soon, or turning in too early, or letting the car run too wide at the exit, are all ugly, ugly, ugly!
I really hope that everyone reading this has a chance to experience the magic of Mazda Raceway from behind the wheel, but if you can’t, make sure to get out to the track and watch the cars up-close and personal. Strangely enough, my favorite place to watch is from the campground on driver’s right, past the bridge, at the entrance to Turn 6! You want to see who’s on a committed lap? Watch ‘em though 6.