A visitor's view of Road America - first impressions
Written by Rod, a PCA member from Peachstate Region who drives a Cayman and is a member of the Cayman Registry Group who attended a DE session at Road America hosted by the Chicago Region. Excerpted with permission.
OK, let's talk Road America impressions. First, all roads in Illinois and Wisconsin have to be the worst in America. I think I lost a filling on I-294. Speaking of I-294, you need about $12 in toll money to get around the city. I can tell you where they DON"T spend the money.
Second, Wisconsin has the biggest evergreen Christmas trees that are just about in everybody's front yard. They must be gorgeous with snow on them.
Third, if you want iced tea even unsweet, better ask if it's brewed; they will throw instant on you in a heart beat and its nasty.
Enough of Northern differences, back to the track. At just over 4 miles a lap is under 3 minutes but feels like a long time. Couple that with 30 minute sessions and you feel like you are out there forever.
There are three long straights, check that. One long straight on the front and two other meandering "straights." It's very easy to forget where you are and very easy to lose the line. I got to do a 20-minute warm up session with an instructor in car on Friday. He wanted to drive two laps and turn it over to me for the rest of the session. I have never done that before but I went with it.
I was not exactly confident but he turned out to be a great instructor and gave me great advice which never failed me at the places I could get in trouble. He tuned me up later in the weekend and I got faster as a result, so helmet off to J.
It took me the 20-minute run and two 30-minute sessions with J. in the car before I could get oriented to the track. Brake points and shift points weren't an issue but just knowing where I was and what was coming was a little struggle. I went solo in the next session and knew where I was through each lap and never had an orientation problem again.
They do something different to unload the track at the checker. After you get the checker you come off at turn 5. The race control guy says they save 7 minutes each session by doing that instead of letting folks go all the way around and come in at the normal pit in. Two guys with signs help people remember to EXIT NOW.
The money turn is the kink (turn 11) and is set up by a long right hand decreasing radius turn called the carousel. It starts at the track out of turn 8 and as you go under the SPEEDVILLE bridge you short shift to 4th and set up about 5 feet off the right edge of the track and maintain about 75mph. Looking way right you are searching for the gator on the right that takes forever to see and as you approach it you roll on throttle and you MUST get your right wheel close to that gator as you track out smartly to the left.
Be sloppy and you will run out of track and drop a wheel or two. I did that twice, once in front of K.F. and once chasing a Carrera 4 through there. Both times I rolled on throttle and did not force the car into the apex. Unfortunately I kept the throttle down and the result was 2 wheels off at track out. Chicago Region black flags at 4 wheels off not 2 so I was not flagged but I did throw some dirt at K.F. (sorry).
If you are not sloppy and execute this correctly, you stay left into another gator about 30 feet long and this is the entrance to the kink and you are coming in fast. Most drivers brake at the end of that gator and drift right to enter the kink. Once you get right it's an immediate left back to track out. It's funny because at slow speed it's just a sway right, sway left turn. At 90+mph its scary and you wonder if you can keep the car on the track. If you come in fast and lift or brake as you turn right for the apex you will spin.
It's similar to the feeling at the entrance to the climbing esses at VIR. Throttle and steering stabilize the car but your survival instinct is to lift or brake. Both bad ideas. However, if you come out of the carousel hot and crisp, stay left, see the gator and at the end of it BEFORE you steer right you dab the brake and then go for the right apex, the kink is very easy to go through quickly. The next method is more scary and faster. Instead of dabbing the brake at the end of the left hand gator as you come out of the carousel you lift as you come up to the start of the gator on the left and at the end of it steer right and roll on throttle and nip the gator on the right and you fly through the kink. You cannot do that with someone in front of you because if they use the dab brake method you are on them so fast you will be forced to brake or lift as you are steering right and at that speed it won't be good. I did the lift a few times just about every session I did not have someone in front of me and its a rush. Suffice it to say the last run of the weekend on Sunday and a 870 mile drive back waiting on me. I used the brake dab method through the kink EVERY time.
We got rain every night and my run group was first out every day, the sweepers. I have never run my NITTOs in the wet and Saturday morning was going to be a damp first run solo. The NITTOs gripped well but J. had told me to be sure and go 80% or less as the track is slick when damp. I took his good advice and was surprised how much grip I did have even though I was way dialed back. A Boxster spun off in turn 2 a couple of cars in front of me but I only had one oversteer that I caught on the first time through at Canada Corner (turn 12).
In the second session on Saturday rain threatened and I was uneasy about the NITTOs so 10 minutes before my session was to start I changed to my street Super Sports and with L.'s help hit the grid only 4 minutes after the session start. The rain started spitting on lap 1 and shortly after came a steady rain and wet track. I was so glad I made the change. At 60 mph through the carousel on the street tires, the rear end slipped out and I caught it immediately. I really believe had I been on the NITTOs I would have lost the car. That area has lots of run off and I would not have had any damage but I would have spun. Great wet session and learned where the wet line was.
After lunch the sun came out and we never had a wet track for the rest of the weekend. Even damp on Sunday morning the track had great grip and I ran the NITTOs with no issue or drama. I rode in J.'s 87 911 full race set up after lunch on Saturday and got a feel how he drove the line with that car. It was so neat to see the places the Cayman was so much faster than the 911. He made the comment that my car could do things out there that he could not do with his car.
Road America is a fast flowing track. I love that combo. I rate it tied with Watkins Glen for second place in my personal list with Road Atlanta still first (OK so I'm a homer). VIR is third and Barber 4th in my list. Road America will eat brake pads. My Pagid Oranges had about five sessions on them at Road Atlanta. I finished the weekend at Road America with the pads almost gone. Previously my first set of Pagid Oranges lasted 9-2/3 Track DAYS or something like 30+ sessions. These were almost gone after five sessions at Road Atlanta and 13 at Road America.
Finally, is Road America worth driving days to get to? YES, just be sure you're ready for weather, have spare pads, lots of toll money and a bring a healthy respect for a world class track....R.