Steve Davis – Driver Profile

SCD: Let’s discuss Laguna, describe a lap at Laguna for me.

SD: Laguna Seca for me is my home track because of all the Russell races there. I have close to 300 races at that track, so if there is any track that I think I know, Laguna would be it, so I am pretty relaxed in the car. I try to visualize the lap at each track over and over before I get into the car. I take some quiet time before I get into the car. Whatever nerves there are, once the car starts, are gone. I am pretty calm I try to focus. You break each corner down to about five or six pieces and you try to focus on each little piece. The mind can do time compression so it seems like a lot to think about in 8/10ths of a second, but oddly when you’re in the car it seems like all day, time slows down until you do something wrong and then it seems fast.

A lap at Laguna you want to be really serious. You want to be serious in the car. Any time you start the car up and you roll out on the grid you watch the grid control people, figure out who is around you and on that first lap or two you just try to bring the tires up to temperature and look around to see the condition of the track, where the corner workers are, and who is around you. A lot of guys will go out there and really stand on it from the get go. That’s just not my style. I like to build up slowly rather than have to dial it back after I’ve scared myself.

To describe a lap, once the tires are up to temperature, coming out of 11, we stay a little bit to the driver’s left up the straightaway so you’re going to come under the bridge probably about a third of the way over from the left side of the bridge in a straight line, over that hill. And in this car you’re going fast, maybe 150+ in fifth at the crest. Even with the wings, the car gets wheelspin over the top of that hill, so you want to keep everything straight, even though the track starts to bend to the left, you can’t turn yet. You have to wait for the car basically to land again. So you will come over that hill and you will be actually pointing off to driver’s right of Turn 2—there is some runoff room there if it doesn’t work out. As the car starts to come back down onto the ground you get onto the brakes and make a turn there so you’re actually on the right-hand side of the track by then. You turn in and you want to make what would appear to be a diamond out of Turn 2. You can’t always do it. It depends on the track and how the car is handling. So you make the turn-in from driver’s right on Turn 2 and make a straight line down to about two feet off the first apex, onto the brakes and a little bit of trail brake and you turn left. The back end of the car will step out, and as it rotates around you can pick up the throttle and transfer the weight to the rear and you get some grip. Now you’ve actually created a diamond or a V shape out of Turn 2. You can feed the power in and clip the second apex. You should be in second gear as you are doing this, and right as you hit the exit and get the car straightened out you can upshift to third in this car. I try to hold third gear down to Turn 3 because I can pull the rpms, and then just kind of brush the brakes at about the one marker and turn in.

Steve's Eagle Mk5 in turn 2 at Laguna Seca

Steve's Eagle Mk5 in turn 2 during the HMSA June 2010 event at Laguna Seca

If the track is clean and the tires are good the car will hold through there with an even throttle, and you start feeding the power in before the apex. You up-shift to fourth at the exit, and in a blink you’re watching the markers fly by going into Turn 4, which is a flat right-hand corner. A lot of people will crab off the side of the track there, and what they are doing is making a sharper radius. What you want to do is stay all the way to the left before turn-in. Generally, if everything is working there, I’ll leave it in fourth gear and just back off the throttle, not enough to pitch the car just enough to get even throttle so it’s balanced, then turn in to the corner. From that point you can feed the power back in, pointing the right front wheel toward the apex. It’s pretty flat. You can keep feeding the power back in, and by the time you’re at the exit on driver’s left you would be pretty much wide open. Never drop a wheel off the track here. Now, if you’re in third you certainly have to go to fourth, if you’re in fourth it’s a very short time until you’re in fifth. So I would say going into Turn 5 you’re probably back up to about 150 mph. And going into Turn 5 you go back to driver’s right and about the two marker you lift and about one marker you’re on the brakes, down to third gear at turn-in, off throttle and the back of the car will start to come around. You can pick up the throttle just enough to keep it from spinning out from under you and point the left front wheel toward the apex. It’s actually banked, so as the car starts to slide from under you, it goes down into the pocket and the banking catches you and the left front wheel is pretty much unloaded. It skips over the apex and you can just floor it and just absolutely go full power-on and slide the car all the way out to the exit and catch fourth gear. By the time you realize you’ve caught fourth gear you’re at the bridge before Turn 6, it’s that fast through there. Turn 6 you can again do third or fourth gear through there, and again it depends on how slippery the track is. For fourth gear, about the two marker you’re on the brakes, but you need to be off the brakes and on even throttle before you turn in at the one marker. You don’t want to be off throttle or on the brakes because it will cause the car to over-rotate or miss the apex, and up there that’s really important. Just to emphasize how important it is, when you’re riding around on the reconnaissance lap, if you look on the left or on the right you’ll see every color in the rainbow on those walls.

As you’re getting even throttle before turning in you’ll get a feel for whether you’re going to make it to the apex or not. If you’re going to make it, you’ll start to pick up the throttle because again there is a depression right at the apex of 6 to catch you and you can brush the curbing on the apex with the left tire. You don’t want to hit it too hard because you don’t want to pitch the car out, but that depression will start to catch the car and you can start feeding the power back in and go up the hill. At the exit of the corner on driver’s right there are some rumble strips where there weren’t before, but you really don’t want to go over that far because if you drop a wheel off in the dirt then you just have to get even throttle and let it roll up the hill. You can’t possibly try to bring it back up onto the track right away because that’s what ends up putting people in the wall there. But once you hit the pocket and you feed in the power and you slide out to the exit, then you want to make a straight line to Turn 7, which people really don’t seem to think there is quite a Turn 7, but it’s important to get back over to the left side of the track there because that sets you up for a straight shot into the top of the Corkscrew, aligned with the right edge of the track in the braking area there.

1969 Eagle Mk5 F-5000 driven by Steve Davis at Laguna Seca

Setting up for the entry into the Corkscrew during the June 2010 HMSA event at Laguna Seca

1969 Eagle Mk 5, Corkscrew at Laguna Seca

1969 Eagle Mk 5 dropping down the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca

In this car you can carry fourth gear all the way up the hill to 7. If you turn in early at 7 you’ll have to make another slight right adjustment in the braking area for 8 to be able to use all the road at turn-in for The Corkscrew. In this car I have to hit the brakes twice, so I’m braking on the uphill before the crest at 8. If I can get things worked out, then I can just brake once after the crest where the track flattens out. While braking in a straight line, I get down to second gear for the left turn into Turn 8, The Corkscrew. When I get it right, it puts the left front tire on the top of the curbing at the apex, the wheels are straight and I’m feeding power on. The car will actually lift the right front wheel off the ground as you come over the top of the corkscrew and then as you come down the hill you want the right front wheel right on the apex of 8A. As you go through the bottom the car is under compression, so you start feeding in the power, but not too much because the car starts to go off to the left side of the track, and you don’t want to use all of the track there. I don’t know if they’ve changed it, but the road used to start to drop away four or five feet from the edge of the track so people would use all the track there and they would start to lose traction as they crossed that camber change. So, even if it seems a tighter radius you stay about four feet off, you get better grip and you’re up to fourth gear moving up on the right-hand side of the track for a left turn into 9. Here again you don’t want to go all the way to the right-hand edge as the track is a bit banked but flattens out there to the right. So you stay about four or five feet in from the right edge of the track in fourth gear and lift off the throttle as you turn in to bring the back end around. And, if you get it right, you can start squeezing on the power 40 or 50 feet before the apex of nine and drift the car all the way out to the exit. The problem with the exit to 9 is the rumble strips are up the hill and too far away for this car. The other problem is it is really rough there and if I go off in 9, it is just going to beat the heck out of the car, I try to leave about a foot extra there at the exit.

As soon as the car’s settled at the exit of 9 you need to get back over to driver’s left for the turn-in to 10. Turn 10 is one of the most fun corners on the course. Just as an aside, the way I figured out how much grip is in 10 is I got my feet tangled in a Formula Mazda one day and I never made it to the brake pedal. There is so much banking in 10 that when you get over to driver’s left you can basically brush the brakes about the two marker and then stay off the throttle a little and turn in, and the car will start to slide and basically you’re just trying to get the nose pointed at the apex and pick up the throttle to keep the car from spinning. The banking and the pocket there starts to compress and it catches the car. You can feed in about as much throttle as you want and go through and slide up to the exit. You can use the rumble strips there at the exit, if you need to. I don’t like to use them. I don’t like to use the exit rumble strips on these cars, because they’re vintage cars and it beats them up a little bit. Once you’ve straightened out at the exit you can move over to driver’s right to set up for Turn 11. Eleven is very important as it sets you up for the longest straight and you want to carry as much speed as possible all the way down into 2. Coming into 11, at about the three marker, I start braking and downshifting because I want to be smooth and in a straight line and the track is kind of slick there for braking. I get down to second gear, turn in at the one marker and get a little off-throttle to rotate the car. Start to pick up the throttle once the car is pointed down the track. Again, clip the apex and by the time you get to the bridge you should be back over about a third of the way off the left side of the bridge. This might be more than you wanted to hear, and it’s just one guy’s opinion.

Comments

  1. Will Silk says

    Hi Dennis,

    Thanks so much for bringing Steve’s words to the pages of SCD. Always great to read about these classic stock block racers and the people that make them go.

    Cheers!

    Will Silk

  2. says

    Fantastic article. I learned a lot more about Steve and his car than I knew before. Steve is a great driver and an excellent story teller. Thank you Dennis for allowing Steve to tell his story, showcase the Eagle and give us all more insight on a hot lap at Laguna Seca. Seb

  3. Cove Britton says

    Great story Dennis. I always try to say hello to Steve at the races, he is definitely one of the good guys (with a great car) and it is very interesting to hear more about his back ground!

  4. Paul Smith says

    Dennis, this is terrific! I was glued to the text and learned a great deal. The “lap at Laguna Secca” really captivated me, I thought I was even feeling the G forces and worried about where the back end was going. Thanks to you and Steve for a fantastic read.

  5. Dennis Losher says

    Dennis & Steve,

    Thanks for a great article. Neat to discover the background of fellow drivers.

    Dennis

  6. Larry Goldsmith says

    Dennis,

    Thanks for the great article. I know Steve Davis and have seen him race. I have never driven race machines much less the kind such as Steve and the other vintage F5000 are driving, but I find the events exciting and fun to watch. When reading Steve’s detailed account of preparation and the amazing turn by turn recall of racing Laguna Seca I was more impressed than ever about the man and his machine…

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