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Driving Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca - Shop Talk

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Over the past year, we’ve participated in a ton of events, from long-distance cruises to autocrossing and drag racing. And you know what? It’s been an absolute blast. We’re talking serious drive time along with the opportunity to meet new friends from all over the country.

With all of our latest excursions, we’re still producing the core engine stories we’ve always been known for, even integrating suspension tech as a regular part of our regimen. Of course, we weren’t sure how well it would be received, but all said and done, the responses have been outstanding. It’s allowed us to explore a completely different segment of motorsports, one that has quickly won us over.

More recently, I had the opportunity to head up to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas, California, with the good folks from Holley, where I had a chance to experience the next level of driving at the Skip Barber Racing School. I’m willing to bet--even if you’re not well versed in road racing history--that you’re familiar with the facility. The track is downright amazing, featuring 11 turns on a 2.2-mile course with a 300-foot elevation change; most notably the corkscrew with its 70-foot drop (equivalent to a seven-story building)--I have to say, words alone cannot describe the feeling as you’re negotiating through Turn 8 and accelerating out of Turn 8A.

We began the morning session in a Mazda MX-5 that was outfitted with the necessities: a rollcage, a five-point harness, and a window net. Once we were all strapped in, instructors led a pack of three, showing each driver how to maneuver through the course. By the end of the first session, we learned everything from vehicle dynamics to competition braking and cornering techniques.

For the afternoon session, we applied everything we learned and stepped into the open-wheel Formula car. This thing was sick, weighing in at just 1,250 pounds with a five-speed sequential transmission. Powering the svelte ride is a 2.0L SOHC four-banger, but don’t let it fool you. The horsepower-to-weight ratio is enough to produce 0-to-60 times as quick as 4.5 seconds with a 135-mph top end charge--this purpose-built hot rod will boogie from a dig and offers enough lateral grip to tickle the adrenalin meter. CAUTION: If you’re claustrophobic, this may not be for you.

If there was any downside to the outing, it’s only for the fact the day came to an end all too fast. But I was able to walk away without tragically veering off course or spinning out, and learned a thing or two that I can apply at future events. It’s frightening; if anyone would have told me that I would one day become a complete road racing enthusiast, I would have told them they were crazy. If you’ve tried it, I want to know all about the first drive that got you hooked.



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