1997 Mazda Miata: Sunday at Laguna Seca
March 18, 2013
It's still raining.
The intermediate group is out on track and while I can tell the track is just soaked, I didn't know just how wet it was until the Evo VII tried, in vain, to put its mostly stock power to the ground going up the front straight. The driver was pedaling, trying to get the Evo to hook up, but every time he got back on the gas, the tires broke loose. There was so much standing water that an all-wheel-drive car was struggling to find traction.
I'd had enough of watching that, and since my run group was up next, I walked back over to the Miata. Before I could get in the car, I was met by a man with a warning for me.
"This is your car?"
"Well, yeah. It is."
"Stay in. Park it."
"It's too wet. There are huge puddles everywhere and there's mud in Turn Five."
"I'm not going to do anything crazy. If it's too wet and I can't hook up, I'll come in."
"You're a novice and these tires aren't going to cut it. It's not worth the sheet metal, man."
"Thanks, but I'm going to give it a shot. The tires did all right yesterday."
"I'm just sayin'. No one wants to see anyone wreck."
As you can imagine, my confidence was sky high. But it's best not to have much of an imagination in conditions like this. I was going to drive the car to the best of my ability and have fun. Isn't that why we do this?
I never put a wheel off. That's just a sample of how much dirt had washed onto the track.
Overly cautious man was right. The track was a mess. Four or five ponds had developed on the front straight, and mud had covered the second apex on Turn Two. Turn Three was a creek, and the while the short straight between Turns Four and Five only had a minor lake forming, Turn Five had three rivers; one of them before the apex, one after and a third one was nearly pure mud. The rest of the way round, though really, really wet, was all right. You just needed to use some common sense. As luck would have it, the vending machines at the track were all out of that.
The first session out was an exercise in not losing the front. While the RS3s worked much, much better that the Advan's on Jay's Scion, the amount of water meant that these summer specials were at their absolute limit. I owe everything to the steering feel of the Miata. The first whispers of slip were always transmitted directly to my hands and while they were subtle, it gave me the opportunity to correct just as subtly. When it's this wet, there can be too much of a good thing. Remember, if the fronts can slip, the rears can too.
That's Cable. He's a dog, not a pony.
At nearly 100 mph, getting wet isn't much of an issue. It's when you slow down on your cool-off lap and it's when you're cruising through the pits, that you get drenched. I don't remember how much I paid for my waterproof jacket, but it was worth every penny.
Did I mention there was a motorcycle run group? Madness.
Session two came and went a lot like the first. Tons of water. Tons of self control.
Session three was an exercise in not losing the back. The rain had tailed off a bit and the track had stopped being hilarious, but it was still plenty wet. No curbs and no sudden movements, but at least I could finally start using a little more brake and a lot more throttle.
It looked like this. All Day.
The video below is two laps from my third session. It's not the rivers that you can see that you need to worry about, it's the ones you can't.
You can hear how much water I'm driving through on the front straight and again between Four and Five. Like me, you probably saw that water before I hit it, but going up towards Turn Six? I never saw that coming. One of those moments is enough for the day, thanks.
As the day went on, the crowd thinned out. People with trailers wanted to leave before dark and most of the bike guys had packed up, happy they got out of today unscathed. My final run of the day came after 30 minutes of no rain and clearing skies. I had wanted to mount the GoPro to the roof for one session, and as luck would have it, it was this one.
There were only five other cars on track with me, so you and I were treated to this view through most of the session. Amazing doesn't do it justice.
And that was it. I packed up, peeled the numbers off the cars, topped off the oil and left the track. Our little Miata had taken me from Los Angeles, over 300 miles to one of the most iconic tracks in the country. It lapped flawlessly. The Miata gave me a chance I'd only dreamed of having. Now, I only had to get it home.
Pit garages at Laguna Seca? This Miata's never had it so good.
Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor