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Toyota showcases Formula One in U.S. at Laguna Seca

The Toyota Formula One team took advantage of a warm day, an enthusiastic crowd, and a new set of Bridgestone tires to break the all-time track record at the Mazda Laguna Seca racetrack in central California this past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Test driver, Ricardo Zonta handled the driving and it was apparent he was having a wonderful time. His last vist to Laguna Seca was in 1998, driving a Mercedes.


Toyota has struggled in Formula One during the past few years and even though they have been much more competitive this year (currently 5th in the manufacturer standings), their engines are still suspect – having not lasted when it counts – on the race track. Even here at Laguna, it seemed engine woes may have caused Zonta to bring the car into the pits on several occasions. VehicleVoice contributor David Barrett spoke with team engineers and driver Ricardo Zonta to get the inside scoop on their California showcase.

Zonta was enthusiastic. “Everyone here is so nice, and this is a very nice track,” he said. “We have made adjustments to the car after each time on the track and I think we’ve made advancements.” The time sheets supported Zonta’s statement, with a better time recorded after each track appearance. By Sunday at 1PM, the all-time track record had been broken by the Toyota TF106-B three times. Sunday’s time of 1.06.35 (not official as of this writing) put the Toyota F1 car more than a full second clear of the previous record, set by Helio Castroneves in a Champ Car several years ago.
The record was not without drama, however. “The track is very bumpy, ” Zonta told Barrett. “We have to run the car much higher than we ordinarily would, and even so, it is on the edge in several places.” When asked about the key to breaking the record, Zonta added, “we made some adjustments, and today we put on new Bridgestone tires which are working very well for us here this weekend.” Another engineer told Barrett that the car was running well in part due to its tires. “Bridgestone has done a great job for us recently and in warm dry weather, such as we have here, they really help the car.”
The crowd did pay special attention to the F1 demonstration laps and there was cheering to be heard all around the circuit when each run was completed and the times announced. The Toyota garages were packed with spectators and the Toyota PR people were kept running all day, each day. For those not familiar with the Formula One “circus,” it is highly unusual for the public to get close to a Formula One car. At some circuits, a special pre-race weekend “pit walk” is provided, and in other cases, very expensive pit walk passes are sold. Here at Laguna Seca however, you could walk right up to the garage and watch the mechanics working on the car.
Zonta was friendly and spoke with anyone who asked for his attention. When asked if Zonta thought Formula One might visit the Laguna Seca racetrack as part of the annual schedule, he was cautious, saying, “They have done some very nice improvements, but if we were to race, more would have to be done in the areas of safety, runoff, and access.” Even without the entire F1 circus in town, the Toyota put smiles on the faces of thousands of spectators.
View photo gallery.
View weekend scrapbook.
View video (coming on Tuesday, 8/22/06)

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