Column: A Sim Racer's Fleeting Visits to Laguna Seca and Monaco

Angus in Monaco.jpg
Image: angusmartin1 on Instagram
In the past few weeks, I have been lucky enough to travel to two iconic venues in motorsport, Laguna Seca and Monaco. Here is what it is like visiting such brilliant circuits as a sim racer, and the little things you don't expect.

Those familiar with the OverTake name over the past year and a half will no doubt recognise my name, contributing to the website in both OT and RaceDepartment forms since December 2022.

But starting a new full-time job in February of this year, my activity in the sim racing sphere is less. In fact, I am now lucky enough to write about cars and film motorsport around the world. The first two weeks of this month in fact involved a lot of filming and a lot of travelling. Getting to attend racing both at Laguna Seca in California and Monaco, here is my experience as a sim racer visiting such impressive venues.

A Weekend In Cali​

Throughout the course of this year, I will be travelling to a selection of motorsport venues in the United States of America, making for my first steps in the land of the free. Previously, a two-week trip took me to the opening round of the TransAm series at Sebring, followed up with a quick stop in Northern California to the little-known but absolutely fantastic Thunderhill Raceway.


Well, the first weekend of May saw me returning to California, this time to a slightly more recognisable location: Laguna Seca. A dozen hours in the sky and a long taxi ride led me to the Monterey area on the Friday evening before beginning work on the Saturday.

This meant an early rise, so at 7 am, a rental car packed full of camera equipment and creatives took on the ridiculously steep hill that is the circuit's South entrance. A gallon of fuel burnt, we were now in the infamous Lake Bed portion of the racetrack lying on the infield between turns 1 and 5. In fact, it would be here that work would ensue all weekend, filming the cars, action and drivers of the Ultimate Street Car paddock, as well as conducting the odd interview.

A Sim Racer Experiences Laguna​

This rather low base on a packed weekend did mean that venturing around the circuit was not something I would be lucky enough to experience. But catching glimpses of the famous foot bridge after T3 and spotting the run up the hill towards the Corkscrew was good enough for the motorsport fanatic inside me. Seeing this area of the world in person really puts into perspective just how undulating the scenery really is.

Honda S2000 at Laguna Seca

See the hills of Laguna Seca behind this stunning Honda S2000.

Sure, the Corkscrew is famous for its multiple-storey drop. But you do not realise just how steep the surrounding hills are from iRacing or Assetto Corsa Competizione, nor the odd IMSA broadcast. Take a look at your phone after a day's walking around the track and it isn't just your step count that will leave you with wide eyes. the flights of stairs climbed statistic will no doubt reach record-breaking heights - pun intended.

The elevation is also clear just from walking around the paddock. Taking a look at Turn 1 from the main centre of the circuit, you spot a massive concrete wall retaining what is essentially the pit lane. Look up and you won't spot said pit lane without significantly straining your neck.

Twice now I have visited the Golden State and yet twice has it not presented as one would expect. Both visits featured excessive rain that quite literally dampened the experience, curtailing on-track action for this particular Saturday. But what is motorsport without a bit of rain, right?

Rain at Laguna Seca.

Go to California they said. It'll be sunny they said.

Getting busy in Monte Carlo​

I'll tell you what motorsport is without rain; a fantastically glamorous weekend away in the sunshine. Just don't forget the sun cream. In fact, as soon as I got off the plane from Laguna, it was time for a seven-hour drive from my home in Toulouse, France, to the Principality famous for low tax rates and even lower space per capita.

The second weekend of May saw the Monaco street circuit close its barriers and welcome a whole host of classic racers for the Grand Prix Historique. From pre-war machines to some of Ayrton Senna's most iconic seats, this year's event really had it all. At the centre of it all was a wide-eyed racing fan helping out with filming.


Media pass acquired and tabard donned, it was time to get into the thick of it in the paddock. Best not be clumsy in this multi-million car park where a wrong step could see you crushing a priceless Maserati 250F or Lotus Type 49.

Navigating The Circuit​

But it is not the paddock that becomes a revelation to those first visiting Monaco whilst the city is invaded by racecars. Instead, those lucky enough to go exploring around the circuit will find themselves travelling through a labyrinth of tunnels, marina docks and trackside pavements. From discovering the fastest route to Casino Square through the actual casino to making your way through shut stores between Tabac and Sainte Devote.

Speaking of the first corner on the infamous track, did you know a church - giving its name to the corner - lies to the left of the turn, just under a pair of high-rising bridges? This alone is a sight one could only imagine in a Pixar movie.


In the world of sim racing, Automobilista 2 is known for featuring a system of tunnels under the Cleveland Airport circuit. So don't mind me, I will now try to lose myself looking for tunnels in the Brazilian game's recreation of the Monaco GP track. Forget no VR, no buy. This is no tunnel, no play.

Real Circuits In Sim Racing​

Unfortunately, having lowered writing articles about sim racing on the priority list following my recent employment, I do find myself spending less time doing the hobby I enjoy so much. When I do get behind the fake wheel currently, it is usually to run offline races in Le Mans Ultimate. But with this pair of iconic motorsport venues fresh in my head, I am now gravitating to the idea of running endless events at both Laguna Seca and Monaco.

Can I spot that one media booth I spent so many hours in at Monaco and will I recreate the crash I witnessed first hand at Laguna Seca's turn 5? With my driving skills, I would suggest that the latter will be an easy task.

With this in mind, I want to ask you reading this: How has visiting real racing circuits impacted your vision of these venues in sim racing? Let me know in the comments - I look forward to reading how well travelled the OverTake community really is!
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About author
Angus Martin
Motorsport gets my blood pumping more than anything else. Be it physical or virtual, I'm down to bang doors.

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Just come back home from Imola. On Fri was driven around for a lap on the back of a truck. I was surprised by the gradient changes. I knew Tosa & Aqua Minerale were hilly but was particularly shocked going down the hill to Rivazza. Even in VR you don’t realise how dramatic it is (same can be said for Spa & Monaco)!
 
Just come back home from Imola. On Fri was driven around for a lap on the back of a truck. I was surprised by the gradient changes. I knew Tosa & Aqua Minerale were hilly but was particularly shocked going down the hill to Rivazza. Even in VR you don’t realise how dramatic it is (same can be said for Spa & Monaco)!
Wow! What a fantastic experience that must have been. Imola is definitely on my bucket list. Yes, there's nothing like being at a track in person to understand just how undulating they really are.
 
Great article. I've been to Laguna Seca more than a few times (Monterey Historics, and the WSC in the late 90's), and that track never fails to impress. Hearing a Panoz, or an old 917 thundering by me at speed definitely made the experience special. Good stuff.
 
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Last summer I attended an IMSA sprint rate at Road America. The track is my favorite sim racing North America venue.
Viewing the race in person was an eye opener. Turn 12 (end of back straight) is a lot more cramped than I thought from sim racing. And the climb from Turn 14 to the finish is much steeper/higher than I expected.
 
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I had a business trip to Germany, and before I left from the USA, I asked my work partners in Germany if they could help my get to the Nordschleife after I arrived. They surprised me by disguising a trip to evaluate test vehicles with a trip to the Ring. It was the most enjoyable day of my career.

Prior to my trip to the Ring, I had the track memorized from sim racing. I can honestly say I was shocked how familiar the track felt on the very first lap. I knew every turn. Even the elevation felt well modeled in the sim. Truely amazing. This experience helped make this track a favorite.

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I haven't visited many race tracks, just two in fact: Montreal, where I live and Monaco. I think I know every inch of the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit from walking it and also biking on it countless times over the last 30 years and in my opinion, what you see on TV is pretty much the same as in person. But when I visited Monaco in april 2002, it was a revelation! I knew the layout, of course, and was able to walk it easily even if there was no race going on. But what astonished me is how tight it is. Also, no matter what camera angle is used, the broadcast never properly shows how steep some parts of the track are, especially the double hairpin that leads to the tunnel. I don't know how many times during my visit that I told myself that a F1 race in those streets was total madness. I left Monaco thinking that F1 drivers, even the less talented ones, are simply on a totally different level of driving than the rest of us.

One track that I absolutely want to visit is Indianapolis. I'm retiring in two years and I've already decided on my retirement gift to myself: I will attend the 2026 Indy 500.
 
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Last summer I attended an IMSA sprint rate at Road America. The track is my favorite sim racing North America venue.
Viewing the race in person was an eye opener. Turn 12 (end of back straight) is a lot more cramped than I thought from sim racing. And the climb from Turn 14 to the finish is much steeper/higher than I expected.
Road America is definitely a race that I want to go to. It's one of my favorite tracks in the world, but to watch and to simrace. My racing dream would be a Formula 1 race there. It will never happen, sadly. I'm sure F1 drivers would love it.
 
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Just come back home from Imola. On Fri was driven around for a lap on the back of a truck. I was surprised by the gradient changes. I knew Tosa & Aqua Minerale were hilly but was particularly shocked going down the hill to Rivazza. Even in VR you don’t realise how dramatic it is (same can be said for Spa & Monaco)!
Same for me! Looking at the hill after Tosa while standing down at the Villeneuve chicane and realizing that yes, the track goes up that high indeed was a bit of a revelation.

For me, the most surprising instance of this had to be at Spa, however. I knew the Kemmel straight went uphill, and it shows because you do not gain that much top speed for how long it is. But hiking up the track next to it showed me that it is actually a good bit steeper than I thought. Perception is a fascinating thing.
 
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One track that I absolutely want to visit is Indianapolis. I'm retiring in two years and I've already decided on my retirement gift to myself: I will attend the 2026 Indy 500.
I'll be at Indy this September for the IMSA endurance race. Never been there before, looking forward to it.
A few years ago I decided to attend all of IMSA's endurance races. Thought I had completed the list until IMSA added Indy. :)
 
I'll be at Indy this September for the IMSA endurance race. Never been there before, looking forward to it.
A few years ago I decided to attend all of IMSA's endurance races. Thought I had completed the list until IMSA added Indy. :)
I've never been to an IMSA race, but it's definitely something I'd like to see.

I did catch a race of the now defunct Champ Car series, at the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit in 2003, during the dark days of the IRL/Champ Car "split". What knocked me out was how accessible cars and teams were compared to the "Berlin Wall" that surrounds F1 teams. I've heard it's the same at IMSA events: cars and teams are very fan-friendly.
 
For me, the most surprising instance of this had to be at Spa, however. I knew the Kemmel straight went uphill, and it shows because you do not gain that much top speed for how long it is. But hiking up the track next to it showed me that it is actually a good bit steeper than I thought. Perception is a fascinating thing.
I had the exact same reaction at Monaco.
 
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I've never been to an IMSA race, but it's definitely something I'd like to see.

I did catch a race of the now defunct Champ Car series, at the Gilles-Villeneuve circuit in 2003, during the dark days of the IRL/Champ Car "split". What knocked me out was how accessible cars and teams were compared to the "Berlin Wall" that surrounds F1 teams. I've heard it's the same at IMSA events: cars and teams are very fan-friendly.
IMSA paddocks are open to fans, no charge. I've had some interesting conversations with drivers and mechanics. The pit lane walk before the race is free also.
The new IMSA hybrid prototype spec (aligned with ACO spec) brought more manufacturers in the top class (GTP). Acura, Cadillac, Porsche, BMW and Lamborghini prototypes are racing this year. Peugeot might compete next year.
Been a long while since I attended a F1 race - Watkins Glen in the early '70s.
 

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