WE HAD heavy equipment that had to try to get around on basically swamps,” Gill Campbell, CEO and general manager of Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, said this week. Despite the Peninsula’s rainy March, the $7 Million construction project to prepare for July’s Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix motorcycle races is only about 10 days behind schedule. “It has slowed us down a little bit.”
Though they undertook extensive safety work last year, track officials learned they would need to make more changes before this year’s USGP. The work that began this winter and must be completed by July includes completely resurfacing the track, adding more runoff space in Turns 1, 3, 4, 6 and 7, and smoothing out a dip on the back straight approaching the signature Corkscrew.
The most massive undertaking involves carving away tons of steep hillside outside Turn 1, the high-speed bend at the top of the start-finish hill. The only way to expand the runoff area there was to excavate tons of dirt and raze the old media center.
“All the earth moving work on Turn 1 has been done,” Campbell told The Pine Cone this week. “The old media center was torn down over the winter.” A new media center is under construction, with the exterior being installed this week, “so that’s moving along quite well.”
But work isn’t progressing according to plan at Turn 6, where workers “are literally moving a mountain,” to provide more visibility through the corner.
“We’ve started moving dirt there but have had to wait on that so it could dry out,” Campbell said.
Following the May 5-7 U.S. Sports Car Invitational, the track will be closed for construction that must be finished by July.
The weather may have been a hindrance, but at least the nonprofit track can pay the bills. Mazda and Yamaha announced this month they would re-up their support through 2010. To retain its naming rights, Mazda will provide an additional $7.5 million to Laguna Seca during the next five years, according to Campbell. Yamaha, which wrote the $2 million check for safety improvements that enabled last year’s Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix, also agreed to deliver another $3 million specifically for track work.
Ticket sales down
The Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix marks the only North American visit of MotoGP, which features some of the world’s best racers on motorcycles capable of 200-plus mph speeds. Last year’s event — the largest in the track’s 50-year history — marked grand prix motorcycle racing’s return to the United States following an 11-year absence.
This year, attendance will be capped at 48,000 spectators daily, compared with the 53,000 who swarmed the track last year.
“We need to do everything right this year, and once we get the comfort level back where we can control and accommodate our fans, we will readjust the numbers,” Campbell said.
USGP ticket sales are down about 20 percent from 2005, according to Campbell, likely because the races lack the novelty of last year’s event, some Peninsula hotels gouged fans who swore never to return and spread the bad news, and people have been waiting to see how organizers plan to resolve the heinous traffic gridlock that stranded fans at the track for hours.
That last question was answered April 14, when Campbell released the traffic plan for race weekend, and she hopes fans will begin calling the ticket office in response.
Noting the success of the popular AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am’s efforts to minimize traffic jams in Del Monte Forest by busing ticket holders from the former Fort Ord, officials decided all general admission parking should be offsite at California State University Monterey Bay. Visitors will park for free and take shuttles to and from the track, carrying their coolers, cameras, backpacks and other possessions on their laps.
But motorcycle-riding fans — and Campbell prays there are a lot of them — will still be allowed to park for free at Laguna Seca on Wolf Hill. The plan also calls for a motorcycle-only entrance and exit on Barloy Canyon Road from Marina.
Some car-driving members of the general public will also park on Wolf Hill during the weekend — if they act quickly to pay $50 in advance for the privilege — and VIPs, teams, officials and media can still drive to the track.
And of course, as with all major Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca events, Monterey-Salinas Transit will let anyone with a ticket ride for free.
In addition to the U.S. Sports Car Invitational May 5-7 and the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix July 21-23, the Rolex Monterey Historic Automobile Races featuring the Cooper marque are set for Aug. 18-20, and the Monterey Sports Car Championships featuring the American Le Mans Series will be held Oct. 20-22. For tickets and information, visit www.laguna-seca.com.