A lap of Road America

A lap of Road America

There are a lot of great road racing tracks in North America (Laguna Seca, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen and Miller Motorsports Park) but Road America in the scenic countryside of Elkhart Lake, Wis. may be the best. Front Straight. Photo...

There are a lot of great road racing tracks in North America (Laguna Seca, Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen and Miller Motorsports Park) but Road America in the scenic countryside of Elkhart Lake, Wis. may be the best.

Front Straight.
Photo by Richard Sloop.

Its length (4.048 miles) is one of the longest. And a combination of high and low speed turns, long straights and elevation changes make it many drivers' favorite track.

I had the opportunity of taking a couple of laps in the ALMS Porsche 911 Turbo 4 with Allison Altzman today while covering the ALMS race weekend.

The Start/Finish straightaway is an uphill drag race. It is the longest straight but being up hill, the cars do not reach their top speed. The approach to Turn 1 is a slightly downhill approach with hard braking into this wide right-hander. The exit leads to a short straight, under the Briggs & Stratton Bridge (Turn 2) and another wide right-hander (Turn 3).

Now starts one of the most exciting portions of the track. With hard acceleration up through the gears down the Moraine Sweep, which is a downhill straightaway, cars reach their fastest speed.

At the bottom of the straight is Turn 5, the hardest braking zone of the track. This often is a trouble spot, as everyone tends to make a mistake here at least once! You can tell by all the skip marks running straight toward the barriers. You definitely realize your seat belt placement at this point.

The exit leads to a short, slight uphill straight to the Toyota Bridge (Turn 6) which is a blind left hander. Getting this turn right is important because you are topping the crest of the hill (slightly unstable) and cannot see the apex. Veteran racer Daniel Webster told me, "stay all the way to the right and use the flag stand as reference point to turn in". The first time through this turn is quite unnerving.

Out on to the "rumble strips" and it's back on the throttle, up through the gears and look for the entrance to the kink in the "Hurry Downs". This is a very fast section where you try to stay on the gas before again slamming down hard on the brakes for a very tight left-hander (Turn 8).

Turn 5.
Photo by Richard Sloop.

Again the car drifts out on to the rumble strips and we accelerate under the former Snap-On Bridge, now dubbed the "Johnsonville Speedville" and enter the "Carousel". This is a very wide, very long 180-degree turn. Handling is very important here because the turn leads on to another exciting portion of the track, The Kink.

The Kink has claimed its share of victims over the years, as it is an incredibly unique challenge. Dick Barbour of Robertson Racing told me that this is the scariest turn he has ever taken. Drivers with nerve go through here flat-out and all others with a lump in the throats. The rush of speed here is incredible. The hair on the back of my neck snapped to attention as we hit the apex.

I held my breath for a second and then was slammed back in to my seat as we accelerated down through the Kettle Downs to Canada Corner. This straightaway has trees canopied over it and I got the impression of going through a tunnel.

The low hanging trees magnify the sensation of speed and again the car reaches top speed. The track descends to Canada Corner and as we approached I couldn't make out which direction we were going to go.

My first impression was that this looks like a dead end! At the very last moment, Allison jammed hard on the brakes and I was again slammed against my belts. This is another turn where everyone gets it wrong sooner or later.

I suddenly noticed a pile of pebbles on the track at the apex. Uh oh, I thought, here we go. Allison spotted them, lifted for a fraction of a second as we flew over them.

The Porsche's rear end stepped out and we began to slide. Allison snapped the wheel, corrected and immediately was back on the gas. I had an instant flash of respect for her talent that evaporated the moment I caught sight of the approaching Thunder Valley.

Canada Corner.
Photo by Richard Sloop.

This famous serpentine right/left-hander is breathtaking. Taken totally flat-out, we were through it in a flash, back up to top gear approaching the last turn.

The last turn is a medium tight right-hander that one must carry speed through to get to the Start/Finish first. The last quarter mile of the track is an uphill straight that favors horsepower. Many races have been lost here.

Road America is a great track. The uphill straights and downhill braking zones, combined with high speed turns, tests not only the performance of a car but of the driver.

I'm still tingling...

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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Dick Barbour , Hurry Downs