Hot Lap in the Hills
My excitement level for my first trip to Road America increased 100 times when I learned I would get a hot lap ride. One goal I had this year was to get as many pace car rides as I could. So far, I’ve been fortunate to have one at every race but one. I knew this one would be different. Before last Saturday, my favorite hot lap was at Sonoma. Driving up a mountain and swooping down into what looked like nothing was thrilling. I felt Road America would at least be the equal of that one.
While we stood in line waiting to get in the cars, the staff seemed to have their directions reversed. They were bringing helmets and HANS devices to our side rather than the 2-seater line. They also brought out two seats from cars and set them on the ground. Is this just a simulator ride? This was not a mistake. Hot lap riders were going to wear these on the ride. Wow! Never had that happened before. May I re-read the waiver please?
HANS device fitting is meticulous. It’s a good fit if you can’t breathe. The helmet must align perfectly with the device so that head movement side to side is limited. Once the helmet is in place, I was asked to turn my head left and ride to test the fit. Sitting in the seat was the final check. The helmet, HANS device, and seat head rest all work together for safety.
Finally, I got in the Camaro SS. My driver, Gail, drives the Holmatro command vehicle during the races. It was my fourth time riding with her. It’s the first time I saw her with a helmet on for these rides. It was a relief riding with a driver I knew. We pulled away. By turn 2, I had a new favorite hot lap.
Road America is the fastest non-oval I’ve ridden on. This track is pure momentum. The straightaways are breathtaking. The turns are all very different. Many are sharper than they appear. The most exciting moment was going into turn 5. She was giving the brakes quite a workout as we approached the corner. The cars carry a lot of speed coming down the hill from turn 4. On the straights I got glimpses of the incredible scenery. I even waved to my friends as we zipped by their campsite. They later said they never saw me. I was surprised how steep the hill to the start/finish line is. The last turn is basically flat and then you begin rising up the incline.
I exited the car, removed my helmet and restraints, and walked slowly back behind the pit wall. My first thought was that this hot lap was nearly as good as a 2-seater ride. Other riders had the same impression. I don’t know if the helmet is just for Chevy rides or if Honda will be requiring it as well. It definitely added to the excitement and intrigue of the experience.
The new track gift shop is the nicest one I have seen outside of IMS. They have lots of track apparel, souvenirs, and an amazing collection of posters. It is open year round…
I was sad driving through Milwaukee on my way to Road America thinking there wouldn’t be a race at the Mile this year. After five minutes at Road America, I got over it…
The television coverage was excellent, and the aerial shots gave spectacular views of the track. This had to be a challenging race to cover because of the size of the facility…
One item that could be improved is the paddock tunnel. It is open to golf carts and pedestrians with no designated lanes for either. Driving a cart through became quite an adventure at times. Widening it just a bit and adding a pedestrian lane would make it safer for everyone.
The Kohler Grand Prix rivaled Indy in feel and excitement. I cannot wait for next year’s race…
Finally a couple of photos. (Top) Will Power’s left front tire in Victory Circle. I wonder how many more laps he could have lead if the the race had gone green sooner. (Bottom)Ryan Hunter-Reay leads Takuma Sato up the hill to turn 6..