Monday, August 12, 2013

Road America 2013 ALMS: The Track Post

Flying Lizard (Porsche), Corvette, and Risi Competizione (Ferrari) exit Thunder Valley past the no-longer existing
Billy Mitchell Bridge.  It has been replaced with a tunnel closer to Turn 14.

There have been some changes at Road America since I was last there 14 years ago.  Some for the worse, some for the better.  I guess this is a highly personal and idiosyncratic post from that perspective: mixing the significant with the trivial.  Later posts will focus on the racing cars.

In the trivial category, I was disappointed that the concession stand in the Paddock operated by St. John the Baptist now offers pre-cooked brats and bottled iced tea.  We used to get fresh-cooked brats and 32 oz. cups filled with ice and unsweetened, brewed tea.  "SJB Racing" used to be the best concession stand at Road America, by a wide margin.  (You can still get fresh-cooked brats at the stand at Canada Corner, although their tea is bottled too.)  In the non-trivial category, the Tech Barn has been moved into the Paddock, where it always belonged.  This is much more convenient for the competitors and interesting for spectators.

I was amused to be denied entry to a paddock lane by a high school student.  He was not sure what kind of pass I needed, but was pretty sure I didn't have it.  I didn't know: the Super Ticket used to allow you to roam the Paddock anywhere.  What amused me was his explanation that "It's a 'hot lane.'" With access to the False Grid being from the north end of the Paddock, and access to the Paddock from Pit Lane being at the south end, and the Tech Barn in the Paddock, the entire Paddock is hot, all the time.  You must keep your wits about you, as in the old, old days.  (CART mechanics pushed the cars if they needed to be moved.  The sporty-car drivers drive them, just as in they always have.)

A line of GT 3 Cup Porsches ready to exit the Tech Barn having been through inspection.

I was extremely annoyed that we could no longer "walk the course backwards" from Thunder Valley to the exit of the Kink.  Where access is not completely denied by undergrowth, the same undergrowth obstructs even glimpses of the cars hammering down the back straight.  Offsetting this disappointment is the new-ish pedestrian bridge at the exit of the Carousel.  It allows you to get well to the outside of the course with a view into the Kink.  This will be a prime viewing area for me if and when I return to Road America.  The cars are going like the proverbial hammers of hell here, and watching the various lines and who's lifting for the Kink (or braking) and who's not makes for some fascinating spectating.

With an expanded and expansive go-kart track adjacent to Turns 7 and 8, and a lot of marques having their own Affinity Group Parking, we were no longer free to roam where we would by car.  You must park your car (in one of several areas sprinkled around the course) and walk.  Which actually is not that much of an imposition.  (There are also a lot more golf carts and bicycles than in days of yore.)  On the other hand, parking discipline seems better and people take pains to leave lanes open.  On the other other hand, the paid admission for this race was a lot smaller than the 60,000-80,000 I was used to for CART events in the 1990's.  A "big gate" would challenge Road America's current parking arrangements.

Affinity Group Parking with provision for Slumming Corvettes.  ;-)   I was thrown out of this
empty-but-for-one-Camaro on Friday, even though I explained that I was just there for an
hour or so.  The viewing from most Affinity Lots (from your car or the fence) is not great,
but it's better than the non-existent viewing from General Parking.

The big change is the rumble strips on the track.  They're usable as racing surface (unless its raining).  In a previous post, I mentioned that nobody has come close to Dario Franchitti's absolute lap record of 1:39.9 (144 m.p.h.).  Well, on Saturday Klaus Graff came closer in the Muscle Milk HPD Honda: 1:51.x (130 m.p.h.).  But he had the benefit of the new rumble strips.  I suppose a CART car could do maybe 150 m.p.h. on the current course:

The new rumble strips at the exit of Canada Corner.  Race direction is from right to left.  The rumble strips around the
entire course have been redone in this fashion.

"Rumble Strips Plus" at the exit of Turn 5.  It used to be that, if you got onto the grass where the darker grey patch now
is, you'd likely snap-spin across the course or end your day in the Jersey Barriers to the right.  Now you have a safety
margin when using the new rumble strips for racing, which, of course, all drivers do.  This arrangement also exists at
Turns 1, 12, and a couple of others.

1 comment:

Wannabe Hotshoe said...

Yes, RA has changed a lot. Alas, most tracks have not escaped alteration over the decades under the guise of safety. But Road America had a panache to it that was injured. The last photo (above) of the hill up to T6 from T5 has a hint of the most visually injurious change: Catch fencing. It's everywhere now. It certainly has evolved from the old feel of driving a country lane on the way to hard braking and left at T5.

I was staring at the first pic, trying to orient my mind as to its location, then it hit me - that's the uphill climb where the Billy Mitchell bridge was - one of the greatest icons in road racing parlance that you literally aimed for, and let the drift of the car take you around and point you to T14. It was scary cool.

Still, the goosebumps prickle my arms & neck just thinking about the history of The Place, and who I've shared the honor of saying, "I've driven Road America, too." And, I also tossed down a few cold ones at Siebkins.

Ah, memories. It's a special place..........always willing to do it again. Ya still can't beat the rush!

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