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The Road America Experience

The Racing

[Russell visits Road America for the first time. All weekend he will relay his experiences of this venerable track in the Wisconsin countryside.]

Elkhart Lake, Wisc., August 12 An advantage of watching racing on a great road course like Road America is even if the racing action isn't too exciting, just watching the cars go around a track like this is worth the price of admission. Fortunately, for those in attendance this weekend, both were true.

The action could not have gotten off to a better start as it did in the first Formula BMW race on Saturday before we even had a chance to eat lunch. Esteban Gutierrez, who started last in the 16-car field, made a slingshot move around Alexander Rossi on the last lap. As the two leaders crossed the line, the timing monitors listed the margin of victory: .000. Dead heat?

I happened to be watching from the start/finish, and I couldn't tell who won. They announced that Rossi held off the charge of Gutierrez. But, here's where it gets puzzling. The officials quickly announced that the official timing and scoring numbers had Rossi winning by .004 seconds.

Darn close, but not close enough. Do the math. The top speed of a Formula BMW is about 120 mph. Let's say they were hitting that when they got to the line. In .004 seconds, the car would cover 8.448 inches. There were not eight-plus inches separating these two. More like eight millimeters. Let's say climbing the hill only allowed them to reach 100 mph. The margin should still be 7.04 inches. Still not possible.

I'm not saying Rossi didn't win. The starters hanging over the bridge probably were able to determine the winner. However, despite some claims there is photo equipment, no photo was seen or perhaps the equipment was never used. It doesn't take away from how close and exciting it was. But, perhaps officially it was really closer.

Perhaps it really was what the original monitors said, .000. Perhaps, it needed another place as in .0004. That would have made the difference less than an inch. That I can believe.

The action continued with the Star Mazda race where controversy dominated the action. James Davison took the checkered flag first, but was disqualified for blocking. They had to tell him while he was on his way to the podium. That must have been an interesting scene.

More interesting is what happened to the third place finisher at that point, Jonathan Goring. He was already on the podium with a third place medal hanging from his neck. They had to tell him to get off and give the medal back. He was called for an illegal pass and moved way down to 24th spot. The winner after all this was Ron White, who also started last, in a 27-car field.

We're not done with Saturday. The feature event that evening was the American Le Mans Series 4-hour enduro. My usual approach to sports car endurance races is to walk the track, viewing the action from as many different locations as possible. This plan was going great until the thunderstorm rolled in. I beelined it back to the press center, but not in time before I got wet, but not drenched. I resumed my walkabout when green flag racing resumed, but the lost hour or so caused me to miss a few areas to check out.

My three favorite cars to watch on a track such as this whether there is good wheel to wheel action or not are Champ Cars, Formula One, and Prototypes. Simply enjoying the speed and driving talent is enough for me. As a bonus, the action was very good in the ALMS event. Just 1.783 seconds separated the first two cars overall and 2.489 seconds separated the top three. The P2 Porsche once again frustrated the two P1 Audis.

However, constantly using the rules to handicap the P1 cars is becoming quite silly. It is ridiculous on a wide open super fast track when the P1 cars still cannot win overall. Granted, the Audis did make some mistakes, but the rules also hurt them a lot. It was so obvious the Audis were the fastest cars on the track, and not just on the straightaway, where they were clocked at 207 mph (!), but also through the turns, where they seemed to grip the track as if on rails. To be fair, it was also just as obvious that the next fastest cars on the track were the P2 Penske Porsches. But, still...

The next day saw the second FBMW race. After the photo finish, it was going to be pretty darn hard to top that. Gutierrez got his revenge by taking the win with .402 seconds to spare over Adrien Tambay, son of former F1 driver, Patrick.

The highlight of the Atlantic race was the huge leap forwards of Raphael Matos and J.R. Hildebrand. Matos started ninth, got a few positions at the start, and was in fifth place after one lap. He was in third by the second lap, and got by Carl Skerlong by the eighth lap. He put some late pressure on Franck Perera, but couldn't make the final move.

Hildebrand went from a dismal 21st starting spot all the way up to ninth. He gained six spots in the first two laps. He actually was as high as seventh on the 12th lap, but slipped a couple of spots towards the end. Watching the Atlantic cars do battle in the first turn was a very enjoyable place to watch them.

By now, you've all read about the Champ Car race. I watched the start in the grandstands from about the third row of the grid. From there, you could obviously see Bruno Junqueira jump the start. He seemed to almost hit the car in front of him before that competitor could really get going. That jump actually distracted me from taking in the whole field screaming off the line.

The race may not have been that exciting, but note what I said earlier. Just watching these cars on a track like Road America is worth the price of admission alone. Though, next time I am going to make sure I watch most of the race from Turn 5.

And there will be a next time for me. Road America was one of the most enjoyable experiences I have ever had at a race track when I was not in a race car actually racing myself. And, the Champ Car/ALMS doubleheader makes this a no-brainer weekend to attend.

If they make a dual appearance again next year, I will be there!

Copyright © 2007 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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