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Learning Laguna Seca

“Left! Stay left! More Left! No, no, WAY more left! Ohhh boy!”

Jim Davis, a BMW performance driving instructor, was in my passenger seat. We were in a borrowed 2012 BMW 335i approaching the infamous corkscrew at Laguna Seca. Jim had been around it a million times. It was my first time.

“WHOA!” he blurted out with concern, while reaching across, grabbing the wheel, and forcing it even farther left than the not-quite-far-enough left I had dialed in.

This corkscrew is a doozy. Like, for serious.

2012 BMW 335i interior
Photo: Michel Deslauriers/Auto123.com

First, it’s blind. You can’t see it until you’re right on it. If you didn’t know Laguna Seca, you might think you were about to drive off a cliff. After an initial drop (the kind that sends a funny pang through your stomach) it twists to the right and down a hill. And my nerves were already rattled from hauling ass up the big climb onto the slight-right just before said evil corkscrew.

This bit was also blind. Not to mention so high up, you wouldn’t be surprised to see a cloud on top of it.

So, sorry, Jim, that you had to grab the wheel. But for all I knew, you had a death-wish hopping on board with me, and we were about to go off the end of a cliff.

But not a bad first attempt at the corkscrew. The killer corkscrew. The corkscrew that had written-off many a digital racecar I’d driven through it in video games.

But then, nothing two-dimensional can do this bit of pavement-coated, momentum-challenging track any justice. If you’ve seen Laguna Seca’s corkscrew on a TV screen, computer monitor or in a photograph, you haven’t really seen it. It’s three-dimensional as heck. And seriously, the sensation it causes is just something else.

You feel yourself simultaneously heading for the car’s ceiling, seatback and rear driver’s-side door. You’re going in, like, 83 directions at once. And with the composure and stability dialed into the 335i’s suspension and chassis, you feel it with no drama from the vehicle itself.

Granted, I wasn’t going near the 335i’s adhesion limits. Or pushing it as hard as Jim could. Hell, I bet the corkscrew was probably laughing at me. But still, what a rush.

Lap after lap, I got better at tackling it. I think. Stay wide to the right and then cut across sharply, about a car’s width more left than your brain wants to put you. Then let it drop into the funny camber change on its own, and smoothly but quickly dial in a bit of right-hand steering.

Get it right, and that single steering input as you drop into the corkscrew lines you up perfectly for the following downhill corner.

And despite the sharpness of the drop, camber change and corner itself, it’s a smooth bit of track if you get it right. In the 335i, anyway.

The Laguna Seca corkscrew is really driving in 3D. And a piece of track like no other — on a track like no other. It’s dizzying, frightening, nerve-wracking and rewarding all at the same time.

If you’ve got a pulse and testosterone in your veins, you’ll want to put the Laguna Seca corkscrew on your bucket list.