Key upgrades at Road America

 by Mark Cipolloni
May 28, 2002

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Under the leadership of George Bruggenthies, the track President, America's greatest road racing facility just keeps on getting better.  Already the most popular circuit with drivers and fans, Road America recently completed a number of important behind-the-scenes improvements, that not only will make the track safer, but will also give corner workers and safety crews access to better information, faster.

CCTV and communications
Road America has installed a new closed-circuit TV surveillance system that offers a view of about 95 percent of the 4-mile track from one seat in race control. There are 16 cameras right now. Each corner has a stationary camera looking upstream and a pan/zoom/tilt camera next to it that looks downstream. If they see something upstream, they can zoom in on it with the downstream camera.

The cameras are supported by a fiber-optic network communications backbone they installed last year, stated George Bruggenthies, the track President. The fiber network has the capability of supporting a variety of other services including a communication system for track and corner workers (future).

The computerized surveillance system has the capability to record and play back everything seen by every camera for up to 72 hours. Their intent is to eventually put a signal (green/yellow/red) light at all the flagging stations so corner workers can be a bit further back out of harms way. The lights would be controlled by race control.

Today the corner workers are trying to flag with one hand, and talk on the radio with the other. Now they would just have to use the radio. The fiber-optic network is also for broadcast TV. The TV companies now have plugins for their digital cameras. You can do HDTV broadcasts instead of dragging numerous miles of cable all around the track. It also supports the public address system that goes all around the track.

Road America has built a $30,000 mini-ambulance on a modified club car golf cart chassis. "It's a highly Basic Life Support unit stated George Bruggenthies, the track President. It has all the capabilities of an ambulance, but an ambulance weights 9,000 pounds and has big dual wheels.

The gas engined mini has raised ground clearance, increased suspension travel and aggressive all-terrain tires and locking rear differential. Conventional ambulances can't get into a lot of areas stated Bruggenthies. This unit can get up and down hills and get to the more rural parts of the facility, or it can be stationed at 'The kink' right behind the barriers, for example.

The Turn 5 right-hander

Moves barriers, adds traps
The Road America track has moved the concrete barriers back in turn five, drivers right, for improved safety. They have added several large gravel traps and have gone so far as to plow the traps in a specific direction in order to slows a spinning car or fallen bike rider better.

The Kink is an area of concern because it is very high-speed (190-mph for a CART Champ Car) and the outside wall is right next to the edge of the track. The wall can't be moved due to the property line and a railroad track just beyond the turn. Road America is drawing up plans for an optional configuration for The Kink (if this happens, one of the most exciting and historical turns in racing will be lost forever).

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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