By Mark Atkinson for MSN Autos
I just returned from Mazda's official launch of its new compact CX-5 crossover along the Monterey Peninsula, with the day's activities based at - where else? - Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. For those who aren't aware, Laguna Seca is an 11-turn road course that has lots of elevation changes, challenging corners, and annually hosts amateur and professional road racing and motorcycle racing, including the American Le Mans Series and Moto GP.
But the 'real' reason everyone wants to drive at Laguna Seca is because of Turn 8 - aka the Corkscrew - a six-storey plunge off what feels like the side of a mountain. Turns 9 and 10 continue down the hill albeit at a less violent grade, ending up at the relatively flat Turn 11 onto the front straight.
Being and avid fan of racing video games, I've turned plenty of 'virtual' laps at Mazda Raceway, but never had the opportunity to experience the track in person until now. I'll leave impressions of the CX-5 for the upcoming review, but in a nutshell, it was a great vehicle to use and never felt like it would bite back.
When you're powering up the hill towards the Corkscrew, there's no feeling that matches that first time. You have to commit to your line early by using a marked oak tree for reference and pray that you picked the right one. Then it feels like the whole earth falls away and you're just hanging on for dear life... What a thrill!
Racing fans will remember Alex Zanardi's last-ditch 'pass-in-the-grass' on Brian Herta back at Laguna Seca back in 1996, and now having driven it myself, all I can imagine is that Zanardi had major guts to pull off that move successfully.
So one track off my own personal bucket list. What track would you give anything to drive or ride on? Road America in Wisconsin? Road Atlanta in Georgia? Daytona in Florida? Indianapolis? Or even Canadian equivalents like Mosport in Bowmanville, ON or Le Circuit at Mont Tremblant in Quebec?
Photo courtesy David Dewhurst