Laguna Seca received a full track repave over the summer, with a fresh new layer of tarmac greeting the 27 IndyCar drivers during this weekend’s season finale.
The new track is very smooth and provides a ton of grip, similar to the resurfaced Road America track that the series visited in the summer, leading to lap times that are four seconds quicker than they were last year.
Along with the speed comes an added physicality element, as drivers have to muscle their cars around with even more force than a typical course would demand.
IndyCar is already demanding on the drivers due to the cars not possessing power steering, but the added challenge this weekend will push the athletes to the limit.
“It’s fast,” said Kyle Kirkwood after just one session. “It’s so fast. It’s incredible how heavy it is, as well. Like the steering effort is like astronomical, and I can only imagine with full fuel.
“I don’t think anyone is going to be able to turn around this place. Yeah, it’s fast, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s cool to go there and go out and just do a lap because of how fast it is.
“[Stamina] is definitely a concern. If [the steering] going to be as heavy as it just was there on the alternate tires throughout the race or heavier, I think you’ll see people crash because they just can’t turn the wheel. I think that’s very possible.
“You have this one input, right, and it’s either enough, too much or not enough, and you’re kind of just guessing. To make a correction with that, you usually kind of go off line and you’re trying to gather it up with a super heavy steering effort.
“It’s probably double here than I think anywhere we’ve gone this year. We’re doing everything we can to try and lighten it up to make it easier on ourselves.”
The consequences for running slightly off course have been relatively severe so far this weekend, with multiple drivers finding the barriers due to small mistakes.
As the race wears on and drivers become fatigued, those small mistakes could happen with relative frequency.
Any caution periods could help to give drivers a break in the middle of the 95-lap race on Sunday, but regardless the signs are pointing to a very physical round to finish off the 2023 season.