/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

Photos: Track testing at Laguna Seca

Once a year, members of the Western Automotive Journalists association and selected auto-manufacturer representatives get together to put a fleet of road cars through their paces on Northern California's Laguna Seca racetrack. The Media Days event gives writers and professional drivers a chance to push the cars beyond the limits of public-road driving and to have a whole bucket of fun in the bargain.

Kevin Massy
waj07_094_440.jpg
1 of 13 CNET Networks
Laguna Seca racetrack is 2.2 miles of sweeping left-hand turns, hairpins, a stomach-churning corkscrew, and some blistering straightaways. We were invited to use the track to test a selection of dozens of road cars in a more spirited fashion than that of our everyday road tests, and we lost no time in availing ourselves of the opportunity.
waj07_002_440.jpg
2 of 13 CNET Networks
Among the cars up for grabs at this year's Media Days event were a couple of German V-10 flying mobiles: the Audi S6 and the BMW M5. The S6 features a detuned version of the engine found in the Lamborghini Gallardo. While it doesn't quite boast the performance credentials of the Lambo, the Audi's 5.2-liter plant still manages a respectable 435 horsepower--enough to scare the bejeezus out of anyone brave enough to take it on the track.
waj07_103_440.jpg
3 of 13 CNET Networks
Laguna Seca is a very technical track, and for those in need of expert guidance, professional driving instructors from California's Hooked on Driving school were on hand to advise from the passenger's seat on the best driving line and techniques.
waj07_020_440.jpg
4 of 13 CNET Networks
Two of our most enjoyable drives of the day were in the new BMW 3-series cars. We test-drove the manual versions of both the turbocharged 335i and the naturally aspirated 328i.
waj07_102_440.jpg
5 of 13 CNET Networks
The 328i was markedly slower than the 335i, but both displayed excellent driving dynamics with balanced handling, precise steering, and sharp, responsive braking.
waj07_166_440.jpg
6 of 13 CNET Networks
The crown for the best-handling car has to go to the supercharged Jaguar XKR. Like its more sedate XK sibling, the 420-horsepower XKR combines good looks with balletic balance and magnetic road holding. Steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters contribute to the Jag's track-friendliness.
waj07_098_440.jpg
7 of 13 CNET Networks
Perhaps the most notorious feature of the track at Laguna Seca is the corkscrew. Drivers approach this devilishly difficult turn at the end of a long uphill straightaway. Heavy braking is required as the driver holds a line tight on the right-hand side of the track, brushes the apex of the left-hand turn, and then with blind faith throws the car into a sharp right-hand turn, which disappears over the horizon.
waj07_162_440.jpg
8 of 13 CNET Networks
Audi's TT roadster was one of a number of soft-tops available for test drives. With Quattro all-wheel drive, the two-seater acquitted itself admirably around the turns, although we did experience some noticeable brake fade--perhaps due to the number of laps it had already done before we got into it.
waj07_164_440.jpg
9 of 13 CNET Networks
The awesome Shelby GT500 was one of three tricked-out muscle cars from Ford at the event.
waj07_163_440.jpg
10 of 13 CNET Networks
The souped-up Saturn Sky feels very brusque on straightaways thanks to its turbocharged, 260-horsepower power plant. In cornering, the car displayed some definite understeer, which can be countered with a good dose of throttle to bring the back end into line.
waj07_107_440.jpg
11 of 13 CNET Networks
The TT was one of the few manual-transmission cars in which we found ourselves needing the use of fourth gear down the long straights: most of the other cars managed to pass 100mph in third.
waj07_078_440.jpg
12 of 13 CNET Networks
Away from the track, journalists were invited to test their driving skills on the Mini Autocross track, which consisted of an obstacle-ridden course of sharp turns and chicanes. Three Mini Cooper S cars were available for time trials on the course.
waj07_080_440.jpg
13 of 13 CNET Networks
With traction control off and the Mini Coopers set to Sport mode, there was plenty of power sliding and wheel-spinning action.

More Galleries

The best games on Nintendo Switch

More Galleries

The best games on Nintendo Switch

41 Photos
The best Christmas movies and where to watch them

More Galleries

The best Christmas movies and where to watch them

18 Photos
Movies coming in 2021 and 2022 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more

More Galleries

Movies coming in 2021 and 2022 from Netflix, Marvel, HBO and more

67 Photos
2021 best new TV shows to watch, stream, obsess about

More Galleries

2021 best new TV shows to watch, stream, obsess about

65 Photos
The 51 best VR games

More Galleries

The 51 best VR games

53 Photos
Spooky space shots show creepy side of the cosmos

More Galleries

Spooky space shots show creepy side of the cosmos

29 Photos
The new Genesis G90 looks incredible

More Galleries

The new Genesis G90 looks incredible

6 Photos