Laguna Seca: Corkscrew Memories
Video Game Racers

Like most of you Speedhunters out there, I’ve spent countless hours in front of a glowing screen, fingers raw from the control pad or steering wheel, lapping Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca over and over again… Virtually of course.

It’s fun to think about it, but we live in an age where almost anyone can experience the joy of driving the best race tracks in the world without leaving the living room. That magical thing that plugs into your television can transport you to the best race tracks in the world. You have memorized all those tracks, yet you have never stepped foot on them in real life. What an amazing world we live in. What’s next? Ordering pizza over the internet?

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It’s a phenomenon that has been happening of recent. Fans of car culture like me drive racing circuits virtually as a child, and then get to try them out for real later on in life. Last year I got to do just that when I raced in the 12 hours of Motegi.

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I must have put in hundreds, if not thousands of virtual laps at Twin Ring Motegi, while not having the slightest idea that later on as an adult I would actually get to participate in an endurance race on that very circuit, in real life.

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Whether you’re just some dude in his underwear hot lapping in a lounge, or you’re Corvette Racing driver Tommy Milner; we are all part of this generation of car nuts who get to experience Laguna Seca on different levels.

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I asked a few of my friends, fellow journalists, as well as some racing drivers – including Tommy – what their favourite Laguna Seca moments from over the years have been. But before I get into that, let’s talk about the track itself…

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Two weeks ago at the Monterey Grand Prix, I had a chance to shoot trackside at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – something I haven’t done since 2006.

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Back then I was just starting my lust for motorsports photography, and with my entry-level camera I shot Champ Car practice from the spectator areas. I ended up with around ten useable shots from that day.

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It’s been all too long, and I have been meaning to come earlier to shoot MotoGP or some other sports car race. But even though it’s just a few hours away from my house, I’ve always had a scheduling conflict.

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I even tried to make a trip out there to drive the course during one of the open track days, but something always came up. So you guys can imagine how stoked I was to attend the recently first running of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.

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Laguna Seca, of course, is home to the most famous corner in motorsport. It’s instantly recognizable to any real motorhead.

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It has claimed human life, and it also has given glory to those who were brave enough to stare at it in the face and say, ‘Screw you, Corkscrew.’

The most famous pass happened nearly two decades ago when Alex Zanardi slipped by Bryan Herta on the last lap of the last race of the ’96 CART season. Like Achilles says in the movie Troy, “Immortality! Take it! It’s yours!” Well, Alex took that risk, and now that will be forever known as the best pass to ever occur on that track.

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When I saw the Karussell at the Nürburgring for the first time, I just put down my camera and soaked it all in. I listened to the bodies of the race cars scraping the concrete blocks. I did the exact same thing at the Corkscrew, except here I watched drivers go off in a spectacular fashion.

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Even after getting towed off, this Aston Martin was bleeding gravel from every tiny orifice.

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Do you guys ever watch track and field during the Olympics? Well this Ferrari went off in such a way it looked like it was doing a triple jump; skipping a few times and eventually landing in a big pile of sand. The driver was unhurt.

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One of the scariest moments of the weekend was this pass on the inside of the Corkscrew. The Mustang driver got punted in the wall and the car flipped immediately.

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The driver of the Mustang got out, and my heart dropped for a moment as I thought he was going to run into race traffic. But he stopped and just pointed at the Aston Martin driver, shaming him for what he had done. It’s definitely a moment I will never forget.

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A racing circuit is really just a series of paved roads – most of the time in the middle of nowhere. What makes places like Mazda Raceway special are the memories made over time.

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The course was originally built in 1957 and is currently the only race track located inside of a National Park.

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Laguna Seca is Spanish for ‘Dry Lake’ which is what the area was originally. That’s an interesting fact, because the course actually follows with the natural elevation of the area.

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What’s even more interesting is that the Corkscrew was not originally in the construction plans back in the late 50’s. It was only after they begun building the circuit that they realized that there was no way they could continue the straightaway because of the steep ridge on the other side. So they just decided to turn left, which in turn created one of the most unique corners in the world.

Bedtime Stories
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As I mentioned before, even though it’s just a series of paved roads, the racing circuit has touched many lives.

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I asked Tyler McQuarrie what his favorite memory was, and it turns out he used to go to the track with his father as a little boy. That is where he first fell in love with racing, which led him to drive go-karts.

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Fast forward a few years and in 1995 Tyler found himself at the Jim Russell Racing School at Laguna Seca. It was the very first time he got to drive on a real racing circuit and the stuff he learned from that class was ingrained in his head, and helped make him the racing driver he is today.

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I asked a friend of Speedhunters, Tommy Milner, the same question: what is your favorite memory from this historic race circuit?

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Tommy: “My favorite memory was last year at the Historic Festival. I was a guest speaker with Jackie Stewart and I got to drive the Corvette Racing C7.R in its first public appearance.”

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It’s interesting because I remember that exact moment last year. I did not have trackside access so I was just walking around the pits as a fan, and was not shooting anything. Tommy came up to me and told me that in exactly one hour he was going to debut the C7.R to the public. I felt a little helpless, as I didn’t even have my gear with me.

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I asked him again what he was thinking when he was driving it and he said he just was trying not to put it in the gravel. Nice one, Tommy!

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As it turns out Speedhunters driver Charles Ng also has some history at Laguna Seca. He won the MX-5 Cup here back in 2008.

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For his victory lap he went ahead and drifted the entire course with that little underpowered Mazda. At that point he had won a few small races here and there, but had only just fully committed himself to a full season of racing.

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It seemed apparent that this raceway has impacted the lives of my friends who are racing drivers, but what about my peers? What about the guys that I spend time with in the trenches?

Dreamers
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I asked my dear friend and journalist Kenneth Stouffer from My Life At Speed what his favorite experience was. I had an idea that it would be a good one since he is a racing driver himself. Linhbergh has even featured his car here on Speedhunters before.

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Kenneth: “It happened this past Saturday at the Ferrari Challenge race – I got a ride along with Anthony Lazzaro in a 458 race car. It was incredible. You really don’t get a sense for how fast the course is until you’re in a car capable of exploiting every nuance the track has to offer. We came up over the hill through Turn One, hitting over 133mph, and he was still accelerating well past where you felt it was responsible to do so.”

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“Then hard on the brakes and smooth through the corner. Incredible. I was never scared, but after riding around in that car I realized just how poorly the brakes on my race car work. Anthony is a driver I’ve looked up to for years.”

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“To get a ride along with him was really special. Oh, and cresting the Corkscrew and not being able to see the bottom of the turn over the edge – wow.”

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I’m so jealous that Kenneth got to ride around in a race car, but hopefully I will get to do the same soon. Speaking of Linhbergh though, I figured it would be appropriate to ask some of my fellow Speedhunters as well…

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According to ‘The Eater of Light’, his favorite moment was when he was doing car-to-car shots from the passenger seat of a Miata, shooting other Miatas.

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He even went down the Corkscrew standing up facing backwards at speed without a seat belt, and thought he was going to fall out. Nice one Linhbergh – anything for that shot, eh?

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Of course, I had to ask resident Porsche lover Sean Klingelhoefer about his experience with Laguna Seca. His perspective, however, is purely a virtual one as he’s never actually stepped foot on the hallowed ground.

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At 14 years of age, like the rest of us, he was into R/C car racing. I remember having those three to five minute backyard bashing sessions too, because battery technology was crude back then. However, Sean got a head start on me playing racing games on the first generation PlayStation.

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His favorite car to hotlap hours on end? A Saleen Mustang race car, because it would slide around all over the place and was generally just a handful to drive. Hours everyday were spent in front of the tube trying to achieve a faster lap.

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Sean brought up an interesting point about Laguna Seca, and that is, there’s not one easy corner on the track. It doesn’t help that anyone playing a racing simulator just thinks about how they will take the Corkscrew while forgetting about the rest of the corners. In essence though, the Corkscrew is the easiest to tackle in the virtual world, because when you go off you can just hit the reset button.

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Sean also mentioned that it’s one of those tracks where you always leave each corner exit feeling unsatisfied, and thinking that you probably could have gone faster. Of course, if you actually did go faster, then you’d just plow straight off the course.

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I completely agree on this point. I remember when I used to play time attack with my roommates. We would be so focused on beating each others times, we would always forget that we still had to take the final corner fast, without going off. Messing up that last corner resulted in so many botched lap times.

Hitchin’ A Ride
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I asked one last driver the same question, and I thought his answer was funny because it doesn’t even have anything to do with driving on track. There was a drift demo at Laguna Seca back in 2005, and Vaughn Gittin Jr. was driving with Chris Forsberg.

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The two Drift Alliance brothers were leaving the track in their rental car, which happened to be a PT Cruiser of all things. As they were about to exit two drift fans asked if they could take them home, because somehow they got a ride out to the track, but they did not have a ride back. Of course, Vaughn agreed and all the way to the destination he was yanking that e-brake around corners like it was his job. He said it was almost as fun as driving on track. Looking back on it today, Vaughn was wondering how the story would go from the perspective of those two fans. I guess we will never know…

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Out of curiosity, I posted my Laguna Seca memories question on Facebook to see what people had to say. Speedhunters videographer, Will Roegge responded with his first experience in his Porsche going down the Corkscrew. “It felt like I had the wrong line even at half speed – like there was no way the track would continue in front of me and that I was about to nose-dive off the track to the right into the dirt. The Porsche continued forward and magically the track was there! A huge smile came to my face.”

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Just when I thought I’ve heard it all, my Facebook friend John Mueller replied. “Marrying my wife while standing on the Corkscrew, and letting my father’s ashes go above the Corkscrew. Fifty years of my family winning at Laguna!” I think this guy just won…

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There are so many stories out there, and it seems like no matter where you are in the world, people have something to say about Laguna Seca.

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Whether it be the fastest lap in a production vehicle (which is held by a Dodge Viper in case you’re wondering), or sitting at home playing video games with your friends.

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For the fans that actually come out to the races, it could be something as simple as their first time meeting Patrick Dempsey – aka McDreamy.

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I really respect what he has accomplished as a racing driver, and I know for a fact that if he had to choose between racing and acting he would be behind the wheel.

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Here’s a question that I get asked quite often in the photography trenches. Would I rather drive race cars for a living or would I rather continue to shoot race cars for a living? I don’t try to hide my love for driving, as it was the first thing that I truly enjoyed doing. I was competing on autocross long before I even picked up a professional camera.

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So, would I trade in my camera for a shot at glory? Realistically, no. I know I am not that fast, and I don’t feel like I have the pure natural talent that lots of my friends do. The clock does not lie.

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However, when I close my eyes at night and drift off into a deep sleep, I do find myself dreaming about shifting through the gears in a full-on GT car. I guess that is why my favorite memory of Laguna Seca is staying up all night with my roommates hot lapping race cars over and over, and going off at the last corner – again and again. What’s your favorite memory of Laguna Seca?

Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto
larry@speedhunters.com

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47 comments

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1

Im so glad that all you guys cover are hard parking events ;)

I know I am not alone when I say thank you to EA for the site existing, and thanks to all who contribute - every single one of you has provided coverage on some level that I have drooled over, or enjoyed reading, or both.  

As a side note: Larry, I don't know anything about photography except for how the final result looks to my eyes.  I don't know what level you edit your photos, but I want to say that these have such a natural look to them, as if I was standing where you were standing.   The pics looks terrific and thanks for capturing the event.

2

Definetely my favorite American race track. My favourite memory about the circuit is actually related to motorcycles and not cars when in 2008 Valentino Rossi overtook Casey Stoner at the exit corner of the corkscrew going off track (i'm still sweating) and last year when Marc Marquez did the exact same thing to Rossi. Later i thought that those moments were the epytome of the determination and the will to win that every true driver has.
Also thanks Larry for your story and pictures. Amazing as usual. I don't know how good you are as a driver but whatever you'll decide to do don't you dare drop your camera!

3

@revtil9k  I second that, Many, Many thanks.

4
Steve Hayward

How?  How do you do it, Mr. Chen?  We endlessly sing your praises as a photographer, but that shot of the MX5s taking Turn 2 with the fog is just breathtaking.

5
silent ninja123

I was at this very same event the entire weekend. I've played every racing game that has featured Laguna Seca and 3 weeks ago was my first time seeing the track in person. The videogames DO NOT do the track enough justice. The extent of the elevation change is breathtaking. I'm not sure how it would be like from a drivers' seat, but I'm glad you were able to capture all the tracks best qualities, Larry. Standing on top of the hill, being able to see everything: Turn 11 all the way thru Turn 5, all the trailers with their cars and teams getting prepped, the vendor village, the hoardes of people parking. I think that is what heaven looks like.
Four memories from that weekend will always stick with me.
1) That corkscrew.
2) I was able to get into pit lane for the Lamborghini Super Trofeo. Hearing the cars scream up the front straight while the pit crews prep their stations was an eye opening experience.
3) The surprising GTD finish. Watching from the corkscrew last lap, I saw the Flying Lizard R8 sail by and all the Audi fans were cheering, but then the announcer says the car ran out of gas 200ft before the finish stripe! biggest heartbreak of the weekend as my family always roots for the R8s.
4) I missed out on a hotlap experience in the R8 LMS car by 0.01 seconds in a videogame challenge...It just wasn't meant to be, but I will be back at the track for sure. Probably to take Skip Barber school.

6

I remember a few years ago my wife and I went on a road trip down the coast from Washington through Oregon to Southern California on the PCH. We only had time to stop at one race track on our trip and I wanted to stop at Laguna Seca. It was kind of weird, we drove up and there was no one at any of the entrances, no security or ticket booths or any of that. IT seemed like it was all but deserted with the exception of a few cars down on the track from a driving school. All of the gates were open to get to the track (not on the track but to the spectator area). Laguna Seca has a small road/path you can drive around the entire track. We drove over the overpass and then over to the cork screw. Seeing that in real life was just surreal. I was able to drive right up to the fence by the cork screw and got some pictures with my wife and I and our Impreza. Just being there a few feet away from the track and seeing all of the corners and straights... That's something I won't ever forget.

7

Remmber Gonzalo Rodriguez, thanks.http://youtu.be/t_BdFtIEyN4

8

Larry as usual brilliant photos! looking at most of the shots just makes me want to get back out an taking photos 1st though I got to get my self a camera :)

9

ALMS Laguna Seca 2009 Magnussen vs. Börgmeister last lap battle. That's how i will remember Laguna Seca.

http://youtu.be/brNtbaMadX4

10

>> investing 100s of thousands of dollars on a GT car
>>  writing '911' in Arial

11

TatsuoShidayo  And which type of cars would they be? The Mazdas? The GTs? LMP? The vintage Mazda? You picked a pretty varied article to say such a thing!

12

Only a virtual on PC, Xbox & ps2. Very challenging, and I strongly agree with your comments about the rest of the track.
I have been on our equivalent though: rode my bike up and down through the dipper at Bathurst. 60-70km/h on a pushbike, front wheel sliding and grabbing through the change of direction. Of course, this is still a public road, so the surface is not as good as a dedicated track.
Laguna is on my bucket list for 'one day'.

13

All about that head image for me. Dat ass!

14
InnerToxicity

That pass was ridiculous.

15

Not sure if serious about online pizza ordering......

But in australia we have this https://internetorder.dominos.com.au/eStore/en/Home

16

I feel fortunate to have a gem like this in my area. I don't have too many memories from Laguna Seca, only visiting on three different occasions. Of the few memories I have, my favorite is definately from my first track event out there. I've been to other tracks in California, but this was my first at a 'professional' track. Never felt nervous about going out on track, but Laguna Seca is so rich in history... and the walls are so close, nothing like Thunderhill or Buttonwillow. And unlike those two places the asphalt is so smooth and the curbs are just right, won't bend or worse break a wheel and wont throw you off track either. Can't wait for the next in August.

Author17

3nigm4  It's kind of an inside joke to myself. I swear I only recently found out about online pizza ordering, and I nearly fell out of my chair.

Author18

Dyl_Whiteley  Heck, you can even just use your phone. Check out my instagram, it's all with my Samsung.

Author19

jhnosko  Cool story, I love the fact that you can just drive in there, it is a public park after all.

Author20

Steve Hayward  Yes, I've been to all three of those tracks now, but I have yet to drive one of them. I know I am missing out.

Author21

JDM_Luca  Thanks for the kind words :D

Author22

@revtil9k  I definitely try not to over edit like many other "digital artists."  I try to show what it really looked like from my point of view on the track. Not some fantasy world. So when you actually go there, you will get to see the same picture but in real life.

23

that pass is bullshit he cut the second corner. Should have been relegated back to second.

24

That opening shot.... Just gave me chills! Awesome photography, as always!

25

Gotta  rip that e-brake and power over on the last turn!

26

"However, when I close my eyes at night and drift off into a deep sleep"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2IWxqvsSY8
dawg...

27

I remember back in 1995 or so, my dad took his GTO to car show in Monterey and they allowed participants to take parade laps around the track. We weren't going fast, but damn it was cool to drive down the Corkscrew.

28

Long live Laguna Seca!!! Can't wait for Rolex Reunion!

29

standing on top of the corkscrew is weird.  it looks so small on tv, but its like a 5 story drop...even watching from behind the fence at the bottom you dont really get a good gauge on how crazy it is unless you're AT the top, and imagine flying down that at full speed and hitting a hard left and right?  still hard to grasp

30

Your photography is amazing Larry.. Loving the shot of the pit crew in action

31
DannyPennington

There is one thing that I look forward to every week, your photography. Keep em comin' Larry.

Author32

DannyPennington  Thanks for the kind words and thanks for supporting Speedhunters.

33

You always make me read all the writing, good stories and emotional pictures :)

Have a nice day :)

34

I wish you guys would cover the whole TUDOR Championship season. :(

35

jhnosko It's a county park, you could camp there if you wanted!!! I live 15mins away so I prefer to sleep at home, lol.

36

I actually had the chance to drive at Laguna last year for Mazda's Friend and Family event (only Mazda would have their company picnic at a race track) and felt it was only right to drive a FD RX-7 at the event. I've spent countless hours playing the course on console but driving it in real life is truly surreal. I've been spoiled by Buttonwillow's lack of walls that I had to be really careful since the gravel rocks are huge and the walls are close. Overall, it was an exhilarating experience with the left turn after the cork screw to be the biggest shocker. None of the virtual games really showed the g-force that you're feeling while flying through that turn.

37

These articles are so inspirational and moving. Keep on the good job.

38

dovvv No kidding, that was all 4 off.

39
greenroadster

Sorry Larry Chen, but just because you are from USA, that doesn't meant that Laguna Seca really has or had the most famous corner in motorsport. Not even close. Maybe third. Maybe. No, fourth.
And let just end the discussion here - EAU ROUGE.

40

Larry you're doing great taking pictures and telling awesome and entertaining stories.  Indeed stick to your strengths as youre doing so well. Driving on the side for fun is definitely like what most of us enthousiasts are doing as well :p

Author41

greenroadster I've been to both, but the reason why I say it's more famous than Spa is because there are hardly any video games with Spa in it. Am I right? This entire generation knows these tracks because of video games.

42

Getting the Corkscrew right in a 2002 JGTC spec Supra in GT5 is my favorite memory of Laguna Seca, but the last corner before the main straight was harder for me! Thanks for the moving story, love it!

43
greenroadster

Larry Chen greenroadster  - I have few of them on PS3 and the iPad. And plus of that, it is really boring driving (and console driving is included here also) thru the dunes of sand, with no points for reference. The Corkscrew is a surprise in that landscape. Nothing great in my opinion. You should watch your speed and that's it. Wanna know a secret curve? In the tunnel, in Monte Carlo. Want a big adrenaline rush? Nurburgring Flugplatz. And did you see Monza?

44

Dammit Larry, I never want your posts to end. Great writeup and, of course, top-notch photography.

Given the Miata love going around, here's my Miata at the corkscrew :)

45

Larry Chen Sean has been there, I met him personally, maybe 6-7 years ago, He was handing out SuperStreet mags or something like that, haha. Didnt mean to rat him out, just saying maybe he forgot.....

46

Professional driver Dion Von Moltke had just finished practicing in his Audi R8 LMS and when I saw him at the track he said he couldn't drive the R8 but he'd give me a few laps in another car. Somebody offered their stock 2007 Audi A4 manual (I was 13 years old on vacation with my family so we couldn't borrow my dad's 2009 Audi R8 V8 or his 1997 Acura NSX). He took me around the course at a good pace the first lap and then as fast as safely possible the second. He explained the gearing and the speeds he would be at in his racecar but he had some interesting advice for the corkscrew. "You can't really see much from here, so you have to just aim for the trees and trust the car." That was probably the best vacation of my life...

47

Chri5 Duncan dovvv He didn't cut intentionally... He messed up the braking point with the pass. Are you really gonna blame him for that? It's like that one race where Prost and Senna collided and Senna went through the barriers and "failed to complete the turn." That call was BS.

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