December 24, 2013
Review and photos by Justin Pritchard
“Left! Stay left! More Left! No, no, WAY more left! Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh boy!”
Jim Davis, a BMW performance driving instructor, was in my passenger seat. We were in a borrowed BMW 335i approaching the infamous ‘corkscrew’ at Laguna Seca.
Jim had been around it a million times without incident, and his job today was teaching folks like me how to do the same.
It was my first time. I was a corkscrew virgin.
“WOAHHH” he blurted out with concern, while reaching across, grabbing the wheel, and forcing it even farther left than the ‘not quite far enough left’ I had dialed in.
This corkscrew is a doozy. Like, for serious.
First, it’s blind. You can’t see the corkscrew until you’re right on it. It starts with a right turn, but you have to stay very far left until you’re just about on top of it. And from the driver’s seat in the BMW 335i for your five-foot-eleven writer, the pavement simply appears to fall off ahead of you. If you didn’t know Laguna Seca, you might think you were about to drive off the end of a cliff. And, in a twin-turbo rocket sedan like the 335i, you’d go off that asphalt cliff at a fairly good clip.
So after an initial drop of the variety which sends a funny pang through your stomach, the pavement twists to the right and down a hill. And my nerves were already rattled from rolling coal up the massive climb onto the slight-right just before said evil corkscrew.
This bit was also blind. Not to mention so high up, you wouldn’t be surprised to see a cloud on top of it. This is a big-boy racetrack. Big speed. Big challenges. Minimal reference points. Big time stomach-knots for a ham-fisted writer like yours truly.
Laguna Seca Corkscrew. Click image to enlarge
So, sorry, Jim – that you had to grab the wheel. But for all I knew, you had a death-wish hopping on board with me, and we were about to go off the end of the world.
Still. Not a bad first attempt at the corkscrew. The killer corkscrew. The corkscrew that had written off almost every digital racecar I’d driven around it in my Xbox racing career. On the Xbox, I’d typically send the racecar in question (usually a Dodge Viper) airborne over the hill at the top of the corkscrew, get it all sideways and out of whack, and crash dramatically into the ground below – turning the A-pillar into a B-pillar and bursting into flames to the delight of my friends. This hadn’t helped my real-life confidence, today.
But then, nothing two-dimensional can do this bit of momentum-challenging pavement any justice. If you’ve seen Laguna Seca’s corkscrew on a TV screen, computer monitor or in a photograph, you haven’t really seen it. It’s three dimensional as heck. And seriously, the sensation it causes is just something else.
You feel your body simultaneously heading for the car’s ceiling, seatback and rear door. You’re going in like, 83 directions at once. And with the composure and stability dialed into the 335i’s suspension and chassis, you feel it with no drama from the vehicle itself. The 335i is forgiving enough for klutzes to feel like race-car drivers, and calibrated enough that pros like Jim could really get cooking around some hot bends.
Granted – I wasn’t going near the 335i’s adhesive limits. Or pushing it as hard as Jim could. Hell, I bet the corkscrew was probably laughing at me. But still, what a rush.
Lap after lap, I got better at tackling it. I think. Stay wide to the right and then cut across sharply, about a car’s width farther left than your brain wants to put you. Then, let the car ‘drop’ onto the corkscrew with no inputs, and smoothly but quickly dial in a bit of right-hand steering as the suspension settles to begin your descent back down the hill.
Get it right, and that single steering input as you finish dropping into the corkscrew lines you up perfectly for the following downhill corner. It’s actually not a lot of work, if you get it right. And despite the sharpness of the drop, camber change and corner itself, it’s a smooth bit of track if you nail it. In the 335i, anyways.
The Laguna Seca corkscrew is, really, driving in 3D. And a piece of track like no other – on a track like no other. It’s dizzying, frightening, nerve-racking and rewarding all at the same time. If you’ve got a pulse and testosterone in your veins, you’ll want to put the Laguna Seca corkscrew, and something with a bit of handling awesomeness, on your bucket list.