Some Thoughts on Laguna Seca

Posted on 29 Jan, 2015 by Scott Jones
Marc Marquez at Laguna Seca 2013 Honda

Please click on the above image to view it larger.

Planning my travel schedule for the 2015 season, I’m reminded again that I won’t be going to Laguna Seca for MotoGP.

Each time I think of this simple fact, it inspires feelings more complex than I expect. It’s not simply one one hand, and on the other hand… There are quite a few hands involved.

Home Field Advantage

I don’t believe I’ve been to any single race track more often than I’ve been to Laguna Seca. An hour and a half from my home, and having hosted MotoGP from 2005 to 2013, Laguna Seca at some point must have passed Sears Point Raceway (formerly Infineon Raceway and currently Sonoma Raceway, but always Sears Point to me) on the tally sheet of my personal race track visits, if indeed it ever lagged behind.

Not only have I often worked there as a credentialed photographer, but over the decades I’ve attended races of many types as a fan. When I was getting back into photography after a long break, most of the time I spent rediscovering motor sports photography was at Laguna Seca.

Bottom Line

As each race I attend usually requires an expensive flight, a car rental, hotel, meals, and so on, all of which must be offset by photo sales, Laguna Seca was the only track I could drive to (I still can for WSBK, fortunately). The lower (much lower!) expenses were one of my favorite things about this round.

I always had a scooter, because I could bring my own in the truck. I had friends to visit and sometimes stay with. If I needed to come home for some reason, instances of which that happened more often that it seems they should have, I could do so with a three-hour round trip. I didn’t have to worry about lost luggage, minding my passport and foreign currency, a fender bender in a land where I didn’t speak the lingo, and so on.

In addition to these things, it was really nice to be the home boy, able to repay to my colleagues some of the help they had given me at tracks with which I was not familiar. I have received so much help from more experienced shooters over the years that this aspect of having knowledge to share at a home race is not to be glossed over. Indy and CotA, while in America, are not home tracks for me even though the local language is at least similar to my native one.

Good for bikes?

Speaking to David Emmett in a MotoMatters interview, former crew chief Jeremy Burgess referred to Laguna Seca as “a shitty little race track with low gearing and high RPM, and no rest at all, so it’s quite difficult, and to be perfectly fair it’s highly undesirable for the sort of motorcycles we’re riding.”

And yet I can’t say exactly how many of my fellow photographers in the MotoGP paddock have remarked to me that Laguna Seca was one of their favorite rounds, if not the favorite, when they considered the entire MotoGP season. It has been quite a few over the years to make this comment to me.

This sentiment always surprised me, not because I felt as strongly as Mr. Burgess about Laguna Seca, but because having been there so many times, the track seems very ordinary compared to places such as Phillip Island, Mugello, Jerez, Donington Park and so on.

And yet, Laguna Seca has that special something that makes for magic in spite of its flaws. If Laguna Seca is so unsuited for MotoGP racing, why have some of the most memorable moments in recent history taken place there?

Perhaps because it’s because it’s so different from other tracks, tracks that veteran crew chiefs might say are good for MotoGP, that remarkable things happen at Laguna Seca.

The Corkscrew is a unique place in motor racing, one that has been imitated at newer circuits but not duplicated. You simply see things at this section of track you don’t see, cannot see, anywhere else. The most obvious examples are Valentino Rossi’s pass on Casey Stoner in 2008 and Marc Marquez’ pass on Valentino Rossi in 2013.

But it’s not only the Corkscrew that makes Laguna Seca special. Also on my list of remarkable MotoGP moments are Nicky Hayden’s two victories in 2005 and 2006. In 2005, fellow American Colin Edward was second, ahead of teammate Valentino Rossi. In 2006 Hayden beat teammate Dani Pedrosa by three seconds, and Kenny Roberts Jr. just missed the podium, 1.012 seconds behind Marco Melandri.

In 2007 Casey Stoner won by almost 10 seconds on a track that didn’t seem suited to the GP7’s power. While we didn’t know it at the time, Stoner was displaying how good he was, rather than how good the Ducati was, and a 10-second victory on that motorcycle at that track was a remarkable performance indeed.

Something worth watching, worth being there for, seemed to happen at each Laguna Seca round in spite of the track’s imperfections. For me personally, the highlight of MotoGP’s modern Laguna Seca visits will always be Marc Marquez getting air at Turn 1. That this image will not be recreated for the foreseeable future and therefore completely unique is a small consolation.

Certainly there are many other circuits I enjoy being at for MotoGP more than I enjoyed being at Laguna Seca. Some of you have heard me say that no circuit compares to Phillip Island. I’m also really looking forward to returning to Donington Park, which, in spite of its own flaws, is a wonderful place to photograph MotoGP.

But in spite of all the other items from which to choose, I still regret the loss of Laguna Seca on the MotoGP menu. It was a tasty, affordable feast that never disappointed when the meal was done.

Photograph: ©2013 by Scott Jones / PHOTO.GP – All Rights Reserved

Camera Info: Nikon D4 with Nikon 500mm f/4.0

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