By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. The biggest racing weekend of the year for many road racing enthusiasts takes place this weekend at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The 4.048-mile jewel of a track - "America's National Park of Speed" - carved out of Kettle Moraine country about halfway between Green Bay and Milwaukee, hosts the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge with the marquee event being the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship on Sunday.
For many enthusiasts, Road America is a state of mind as much as it is a destination. History oozes out of the magnificent circuit and the postcard town of Elkhart Lake, as it is one of three places - along with Watkins Glen and Pebble Beach - that hosted open road sports car racing in the early 50s. For first-time visitors I highly recommend that you take the time to check out the historic roadside markers arrayed in the town and along the roads surrounding it, because it is one of the birthplaces of sports car racing in this country.
The permanent track was the dream of Clif Tufte, a trained civil engineer who walked the 525 acres of Wisconsin farmland and laid out the track himself. Tufte spent almost a year planning Road America and his dream became a reality when the track opened in April 1955. By September 10, 1955, the track's first SCCA national race weekend was held. One of the most amazing things about Road America is that Tufte's visionary layout has remained unchanged ever since, which is pretty incredible when you think about what has happened to other tracks over the decades since.
Everyone who goes to Road America has a story, because they've usually been attending races there for years, or decades, as the case may be. So I'm presenting a few high points for viewing the action at the track only as a suggestion, not a be-all and end-all proclamation. People inevitably find their own favorite places at the track the first time they go there, so what follows are a few of mine.
1. Stand along the fence on the front straight on the outside of the track just north of the start/finish line. You can get remarkably close to the cars as they crest the massive hill on the front straight and blast by. It will get your attention real quick, trust me. Just for the record, cars reach their top speed at three different places per lap on the track which is why it is so damn fast, and that is at the end of the front straight, at the end of the Moraine Sweep going into Turn 5, and at the end of Kettle Bottoms going into Canada Corner (Turn 12).
2. Watch on the outside of Turn 1. You can see the cars braking and setting up for the fast, sweeping right-hand corner that is Turn 1. And yeah, you can see who's going fast just by the way they get through here.
3. Turn 3 is another favorite spectator area. The cars come over the hill and head down into the right-hand sweeper, which is a quicker corner than it looks at first. It's all important to get through there right too, because it pours on to the second top speed section: the Moraine Sweep.
4. Walk through the woods and watch the Moraine Sweep and the cars braking into Turn 5. Before the FIA catch-fencing was installed (a sad day for Road America purists) you could stand at one of the fastest places on the entire circuit and watch the cars just pound by, with nothing but a low guard rail between you and the track. I distinctly remember watching the Can-Am cars here, with the sun glinting off of their huge rear wings as they powered by at 190MPH plus. The Sound. The Guts. The Glory. There was just nothing like it then, and it's still fantastic to this day.
5. Keep walking along the outside of the track down to Turn 5. Watching the drivers stand on their brakes going into Turn 5 is a sight to behold, especially the GT cars on their qualifying laps. Then stand by the fence or sit in the bleachers at Turn 5. There's a reason that it is one of the most popular viewing places at Road America. Stuff happens there.
6. Make your way to the top of the hill at Turn 6. You can watch on the inside of the corner and see the cars heading to Turn 7 and then Hurry Downs. Or, you can sit at the outside of Turn 6 under the trees in a newly-manicured viewing area as the cars blast under the new Corvette bridge and crank left through Turn 6. Either way is good, especially on the outside, because the cars are right there in front of you. As in close.
7. Turn 7 (and Hurry Downs) has a hilltop viewing area. It's cool, but walk down to the fence and position yourself so you can see the cars coming out of 7 hard on the gas. It's an awesome view.
8. Turn 8 is the slowish left after Hurry Downs. I like to position myself on the inside of this corner (although other people swear by the viewing area on the outside of the track here) and watch the drivers do their hard braking into this corner and then power out for the set-up into the famous Carousel Corner.
9. I like to position myself on the outside of the track (just past the Johnsonville bridge) to see the drivers commit to the turn-in to get around the Carousel. The inside view of this corner by the main camping ground is really good too.
10. You can walk around and watch the cars power out of the Carousel below, but now there's a foot bridge that allows you to walk down and get a fantastic view of the infamous Kink, the most ball-jangling corner in all of American road racing. I recommend you go down there for qualifying too, because it will give you a renewed appreciation for the concept of being on The Edge.
11. The spectator viewing area in Turn 12 (make sure you have good hiking shoes on) is another fan favorite because you can see the cars approaching out of Kettle Bottoms (the third place on the circuit where the cars reach top speed) and the drivers doing heavy braking for 12. There's a reason people congregate here. There's action galore for one thing but it's the sound that's notable here, because it seems to hang in the trees down there. They don't call the area immediately after Turn 12 Thunder Valley for nothing. It's a beautiful thing.
12. I like to stand up on the little hill overlooking the Bill Mitchell Bend (it used to be the Bill Mitchell bridge, another sad day for Road America purists), looking down on the cars as they crank through Turn 13. The other place to watch here is on the inside of the track, from the paddock side. Then there's the hilltop viewing area that overlooks the entire north side of the track where you can see Turn 5, Turns 13 and 14, and the cars powering up the hill on the main straight. Some people never leave from this spot.
13. I like to watch on the outside of Turn 14 because you can see the cars emerge from the Bill Mitchell Bend, approach Turn 14, get through the corner and blast up the hill. Faster here means more top speed at the end of the front straight, and the good drivers always shine here. You can also see who peels off for the pits from this vantage point too.
14. And I should mention one other great vista, and this is from the Gear Box concession stand at the northern edge of the paddock. Besides having the best food at the track (which is saying something because Road America has the best track food in the country), you can see Turn 5, Turn 13 and Turn 14 here, plus watch as the cars blast up the hill toward the start/finish line. It's all good.
No, not the definitive guide by any means, just my favorite viewing areas at my all-time favorite track.
Road America has everything: a state park-like setting, a fantastic - and blistering fast - track layout unaltered since Day One, sports car racing history and a postcard town to go with it, the nicest people you'll ever meet, and genuine, knowledgeable racing enthusiasts who share a common bond and appreciate what the track represents in this graceless age of instant gratification.
If you've never been you need to go, and if you're going back this weekend, then I don't need to say anymore.
Have fun and enjoy one of this country's greatest treasures: Elkhart Lake's Road America.
P.S. When you go into the town of Elkhart Lake there are two must-see stops: The bar at Siebkens. And the Off The Rail coffee shop. You can thank me later.
Elkhart Lake. (8/9/2014) Editor-in-Chief's Note: The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship has outlined its vision for at least the short-term future of the series, which is outlined with details provided in the release below. The big news? GTD will align with full FIA GT3 specifications beginning in 2016. The other big news? The Daytona Prototype cars will go away beginning in 2017 in favor of a new prototype category that is, although not stated in the release, said to be an evolution of today's P2 class. Progress, to a degree, although the changes can't come soon enough. - PMD
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 8, 2014) – Officials from the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) today confirmed the structure and specifications for all four of its current TUDOR United SportsCar Championship classes through the 2016 season.
“It is important to all of our stakeholders to have a clear understanding of where the TUDOR Championship is headed from a technical standpoint, which we now have established through 2016,” said IMSA Vice President of Competition and Technical Regulations, Scot Elkins. “This will enable our manufacturers to build race cars with these specifications and timelines in mind, and allow our competitors to make fully informed investment decisions for the future.”
A breakdown of each class is as follows:
The Prototype class will continue to consist of Daytona Prototypes, race cars built to LM P2 specifications per rules established by the Automobile Club l’Ouest (ACO), which governs the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the DeltaWing through 2016. Last fall, officials from IMSA, the ACO and the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) World Endurance Championship (WEC) jointly announced these Prototype regulations would remain in place for three seasons. A new, globally unified Prototype format for all three organizations will be introduced in 2017, with a planned vehicle life of at least three years (through 2019). The Prototype class will continue to feature predominantly professional driver lineups while also allowing pro/am driver combinations.
GT Le Mans (GTLM)
The GTLM class adheres to GTE specifications established by the ACO. New GTE technical specifications will be introduced for the 2016 season, with a planned vehicle life of at least three years (through 2018). The class, which includes factory-backed teams from many of the most iconic automotive brands in the world, will continue to feature professional driver lineups while continuing to allow pro/am driver combinations.
Prototype Challenge (PC)
The Prototype Challenge class will maintain its current format through 2016, with every team using ORECA FLM09 chassis and 6.2-liter Chevrolet engines. Driver lineups will continue to require a mix of professional and amateur drivers. Beyond 2016, the class will be further evaluated once the vehicle design, performance levels and cost is finalized for LMP3 and the new Prototype referenced above.
GT Daytona (GTD)
The GT Daytona class will utilize its current race cars through 2015. In 2016, the class will adopt full FIA GT3 specifications for all of its cars. Traction control, Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) and the full FIA GT3 aerodynamic specification will be allowed beginning in 2016. An Adjustment of Performance process will be managed through restrictors and weight. Driver lineups in GTD will continue to require a mix of professional and amateur drivers.
Publisher's Note: As part of our continuing series celebrating the "Glory Days" of racing, we're proud to present another noteworthy image from the Ford Racing Archives. - PMD
(Photo courtesy of the Ford Racing Archives)
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, August 20, 1983. The No. 6 Zakspeed Roush-entered Ford Mustang GTP driven by Bobby Rahal/Geoff Brabham in the pit lane at Road America during practice for the Road America 500 presented by Budweiser. The duo would qualify fifth and finish third. The No. 06 Zakspeed Roush Ford Mustang GTP driven by Tim Coconis/Klaus Ludwig qualified second and won the race, the only victory recorded by the radical, factory-backed front/mid-engine machine. Tony Adamowicz/Don Devendorf (No. 83 Electromotive Racing Datsun 280ZX Turbo) finished second in a GT-class car. Check out www.racingsportscars.com for more great information on races from the past.
Publisher's Note: Like these Ford racing photos? Check out www.fordimages.com. Be forewarned, however, because you won't be able to go there and not order something. - PMD