Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca has had a tough introduction to the world of hosting a MotoGP event. In its inaugural '05 weekend, the facility was obviously surprised and overwhelmed by the huge spectator turnout, which ended up being the largest crowd for a racing event in the facility's 46-year history by a wide margin. The massive influx of people caused numerous problems, ranging from human logjams at various spectator areas, to concession stands being depleted of product, to long lines at overflowing port-a-potties, to unprepared traffic enforcement that resulted in immense traffic jams both arriving and leaving the circuit.
And the problems weren't limited to the spectators. Some of the MotoGP riders arriving at Laguna Seca for the first time felt the facility wasn't up to the normal safety standards they enjoy at European circuits, and one even labeled it "scandalous" that the MotoGP circus was even racing there. While the several American competitors who had grown up forging part of their racing histories at Laguna Seca had no problem with Mazda Raceway's layout, there was some mumbling and rumormongering from the European press about a possible boycott if changes weren't made.
So Mazda Raceway management took steps to improve most everything they could. With Yamaha Motor Corporation U.S.A. generously anteing up a reported $7 million to help defray costs, the entire circuit was repaved (with the challenging rise leading up the infamous Corkscrew partially shaved down, much to the chagrin of many U.S. riders) and run-off areas widened for improved safety. More port-a-potties were ordered, a traffic plan utilizing buses to carry spectators from off-site parking lots was drawn up to reduce congestion and various moves were done to improve access and the overall spectator experience.
It looked like everything was in place the following year for a trouble-free event. Unfortunately, Mother Nature stepped in and threw a nasty curveball, delivering record triple-digit temperatures during the '06 weekend rarely seen in the normally pleasant Monterey area. The sweltering heat was brutal on the exposed spectators, and shortages of bottled water were encountered at numerous areas in the facility (there were some reports of price-gouging by a couple of vendors, until Mazda Raceway management stepped in). The ambulances were kept busy carting off heat-stricken race fans all weekend long. To make matters worse, one of the bus lines hired to ferry spectators to the off-site parking canceled at the last minute, forcing many people to wait in line for almost two hours just to get a ride back to their cars at the end of Sunday's race.
And again, the high temperatures didn't limit their damage to the spectators and attendant facilities. While the new pavement and track changes met with mostly favorable reviews, a problem developed on Sunday with the tarmac after the Corkscrew and leading into Rainey Curve: The new track surface began breaking up. Stopgap repair measures were unsuccessful, and race officials had to postpone several AMA National events until after the MotoGP race to prevent any more damage to the racing surface before the main event. This created a huge dead spot in Sunday's activities (hot and bored spectators aren't usually very happy), and when the MotoGP race did take place, the pavement deterioration was an unavoidable issue that created more consternation among the riders and media.
So this year, Mazda Raceway came loaded for bear. More millions of dollars were spent in a very careful repaving of the entire circuit. A phalanx of buses was readied to ferry spectators from the off-site parking areas. Concession stands were stocked up to prevent sell-outs, and "track crossings" at key areas of the circuit were opened up at various times to ease congestion on the two access bridges. The track even rented water misting fans in case of a repeat of the extreme high temperatures of '06.
The report card for the '07 USGP? The repaved circuit didn't break up and, while perhaps not as smooth as some would have liked, was given a thumbs-up by the majority of the riders. Weather conditions were more in line with normal Monterey climate, so oppressive heat never was an issue, but, regardless, there were no reports of concession sell-outs, other than some T-shirts and assorted paraphernalia. While the timed track crossings alleviated some of the spectator bridge congestion during the day, there were still many times when the main bridge linking the paddock area with the vendor row in the middle of the circuit was in complete human gridlock-still some room for improvement here. Most of the spectators we talked to taking the buses to off-site parking reported little waiting time, and the ride was fairly quick. Motorcyclists had to park in a dirt lot just outside the circuit, and although each bike was given a kickstand pad to prevent it sinking into the dirt, we think that riders contributing to less traffic congestion should be given a little better treatment than that. Case in point: Trevitt and myself narrowly avoided a major traffic snarl-up on one of the access roads caused by an overturned automobile.
Overall, however, the '07 USGP was the best yet as far as preparation and organization. Kudos to Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca's management.