One (half) lap of Road America:
Champ Car belongs at USA’s ultimate track


 by Cássio Côrtes
August 10, 2004

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Editor's Note: Cássio Côrtes is a young Brazilian journalist who writes for AutoRacing1.com.  Multilingual (English, Portuguese, Spanish and French), Mr. Cortes brings a fresh South American perspective to our staff.

Champ Car's pace car program is one of its best assets
Cassio Cortes

By now you may have had enough of hearing about what a great track Road America, “USA’s Spa”, is. The entire Champ Car field never tires of preaching Elkhart Lake’s gospel, praising it as a genuine “driver’s track”.

As a neophyte to Wisconsin, it was my duty to see if this historic road course indeed lives up to all its hype. So I signed up for Champ Car’s “Fast Lap” program, consisting of, well, a fast lap around RA’s tricky turns, riding shotgun in one of the series’ pace cars.

At 9:35am, little more than four hours before the Champ Car field would take the green flag, I climbed aboard a maroon Ford Mustang SVT Cobra, steered, by all things, a woman. Turns out the entire pace car team is comprised of lovely ladies, who only stay lovely until their right foot hits the gas.

My driver is Linda Pobst, who has been on the team for seven years. But the Cobra’s V8 power is apparently not enough for her – she’s an accomplished autocross, sports car and Trans-Am racer.

Linda tells me that, since RA is such a long track, we’ll only be doing half a lap. Before I begin cursing, I see our shortened route will include the Carousel and the Kink, so I keep the whining to myself.

How many times have you began small-talking a lady this way: “So…This is the SVT Cobra… 390 horsepower, huh?”

But Ms. Pobst is all business: “Actually, we’re running a little hotter than that. No street-legal exhaust”.


Elevation change and speed make Road America downright awesome
Champ Car

We’re leaving the Road America Center, and the V8’s roar becomes too loud for puerile conversations. Going under the Toyota bridge and making a left on turn six, the Cobra has the first chance to stretch its legs on the appropriately named Hurry Downs. Turn eight and the Snap-On bridge goes by in a flash, and we reach the famed Carousel.

The only kindergarten reference you’ll experience there might be those times when you were bullied by being gyrated, against your will, on the merry-go-round. As much as I keep tilting my neck right, the lateral G’s insist on pushing it left, and the damn corner never seems to end.

Eventually, it does – we’re not exactly moving slow, after all. Then on for more adrenaline-pumping action: the Kink, where the men set themselves apart from the boys, and only the fearless dare to take it on full throttle.

Since Linda probably has no interest in defining herself as either a man or a boy, I don’t know what to expect. Oh boy, the woman lifts the gas but a hair, as the left side tires flirt with the curb and the spookily close barriers.

Time for the Kettle Bottoms and Canada Corner (RA’s unique turn names definitely give away its ancient origins, from a time long before tracks like Montmelo in Spain sold naming rights to corners), and then it’s game over for a ride that was definitely not long enough.

I hop off the Cobra thinking that, although most race fans love to boast about their "need for speed", the often-overlooked fact is that the human body is incapable of feeling speed.

Think of taking the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building. You sense your weight being pressed against the floor when it begins to climb, and you feel "light" as the elevator comes to a halt at the top – yet during the time in between, you are unable to tell whether you're actually climbing all those stories or simply stopped.

We perceive acceleration only, be it positive, negative (deceleration) or lateral. Thus, running at a steady 220mph would be as exciting as watching Regis & Kathy Lee alongside Grandma if it weren't for all the attrition and blurred sights that traveling at such speed ensues.

Nothing proves such basics of physics as a good session of road racing, and that’s why this sport is the ultimate thrill. And nothing, at least in the US, compares to Road America when it comes to delivering large doses of this thrill.

Ultimate racing machines like Champ Cars belong in places like this one, even if it does seem lost in the middle of rural Wisconsin sometimes. Road racing aficionados must help Champ Car and Road America to maintain their relationship, in ’05 and beyond, and the best way to do so is showing up on race day.

I surely intend to do my share, especially if they keep throwing in free pace car rides to sweeten the deal.

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