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Moroso track resurrected into Palm Beach Int'l Raceway

by Scott Morris
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

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PBIR boss Ron Dixon
Having driven a racing car or two over the years, I have had the...uhm...pleasure(?) of driving at Moroso Motor Sports park in the past. The track was a fixture for regional SCCA racing and especially vintage racing events and track days. The track was fun, but generally unmemorable. One would be hard pressed to find anyone saying that they loved the track, unlike a Watkins Glen, Lime Rock Park or Road Atlanta. Mostly however, it was the area's automotive playground where grudges were settled on the drag strip instead of next to the monkey bars.

The track had its own character, though not really much of it. It was always a decent track to drive, but not really all that challenging. It had a couple of double apex corners and some fast esses and a few interestingly located bumps. One of the most interesting parts was that if you got it really wrong, you could end up in the water with the gators. Though this was remedied with some large safety barriers and tires, the track and facilities were a mix of the familiarity and friendliness of a family run operation, even if the facility was not up to par in other areas.

Then a few years back, they finally put in a kart racing track and it seemed that was the start of something new for the facility. Moroso, by that move alone seemed to be looked at a bit differently. Then, whispers seemed to float about that the facility had been purchased by some generously financed individuals who had bigger plans for the aging fixture of the regional racing scene. Most people I knew really didn't think much of the rumors, as similar notions had been tossed about before.

So just before the Easter holiday, I attended a press event for the new Palm Beach International Raceway (PBIR) facility. Still under development, the track is completely modernized, but still seems to retain the spirit of the old Moroso Motorsports Park. More on the track in a minute.

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We started out the day in a nicely appointed hospitality tent where Ron Dixon, the President of the facility gave us a very quick welcome and had some of his staff split us into a few groups.

My group was escorted out to the pit lane where Chris Festa, whom many of you might recognize from his days as an Atlantic driver and Danica Patrick's teammate at Rahal Letterman Racing, and then with the Ganassi team in the Indy Lights series (then the Indy Pro Series).

PBIR from the air
Chris talked a little bit about the racetrack and answered a few questions. He said the new track is FIA approved and can host any type of racing except for a full-blown F1 race. Looking around the fresh facility almost makes you want to touch the paint on the walls to see if it is still wet. I asked about their schedule and where they see most of their business coming from. Ron Dixon chimed in and said that they are seeing a lot of interest from manufacturers for ride and drive promotions, and a lot of testing from teams, including IRL teams. He said they also have high hopes for their Palm Beach Driving Club concept for enthusiasts.

Ron also talked about the one feature of the track that I believe is one of the most attractive aspects. I believe it is the only fully lit road course in the United States. The entire facility is flooded in glare-free post lighting, and their location affords them freedom from noise restrictions, allowing racing any time of day or night. Personally, I expect to see a 24 hour event here in the future.

Wasting no further time, we all headed over to a stable of cars waiting to give us high speed tours of the track. There was a Radical SR3 with two seats, a stable of Corvettes from the Corvette Driving School that operates at the track, a beefy looking Ford Cobra Replica and a rare Ferrari 360 Stradale in blue, as well as one of the PBIR racing team's Formula BMW cars.

PBIR drivers included Chris Festa, Jay Howard, Charlie Kimball, Shane Lewis as names that many AR1.com readers would recognize. All are proven winners over the years in various forms of racing.

I immediately headed over to the Radical SR3 where Jay Howard was donning his helmet. I pulled on my helmet and slid into the very tight passenger seat of the car.

Instead of ranting about Jay Howard's driving, which all you can surely assume was silky smooth, very fast and confidence inspiring, I will instead talk about the track itself, which was really the point of the ride. Normally, I am not very comfortable in any seat beside the one with the steering wheel. But Jay was a pleasure to ride with.

With one or two exceptions, the turn sequence is familiar if you ever drove the old track. However, it is driven completely differently. The track is wide and smooth as a billiard table, which is really the first thing you notice as you start around the track.

The pit exit is entirely different than before, and the old main straight chicane has been replaced with a more appropriate bus-stop sort of turn. It's a late braking left followed by a wider and slightly deceptive right, with no runoff room to drivers left. Using a little bit of the exit curbing here is very common, but you can see the mark on the wall where people have got it all wrong. Use the curb there, but don't drop a wheel or it gets expensive.

Directly after that the turn takes a quick bend to the left again, and the exit can also be interesting, as evidenced by a couple of sets of skid marks and big black donuts and paint on the otherwise freshly painted white concrete barrier to driver's right.

The combination of turns will surely expose any balance or transition issue your car may have, which I am sure will serve testing teams well. As for passing into this turn, I can see that getting a bit interesting. I would have to watch or race here to see what develops. My hunch is that any pass made on the entry would likely be negated on the compromised exit here. Though it is wide, I can't see enough room to resume the racing line for the exit. So the driver taking the drivers-right entry into the corner will have the inside line at the next bend, and the exit on the one after. So I do not really see this as passing zone. However, the short chute to the next turn could present some set-up opportunities, and the following turn is nice and wide with plenty of opportunity for creative passing lines. Since the track is still new and pretty green, the grip seems to be about the same across the width of the track right now.

Ron Dixon told me that the old chicane with the new width and racing surface would have had IndyCars hitting over 200 mph by the braking point, which would have been a bit of an inconvenience for the insurance company. So the bus-stop design was added instead of simply shortening up the chicane. I think it was a good move and a challenging addition to the old layout.

As you come out of the first turns, a short straight leads to familiar territory for a lot of drivers.

This section is where the feel of the old Moroso comes through. Though the turns are different and driven differently, the basic design of a double or late apex turn (depending on the type of car I suppose) and sequence is the same, and a driver familiar with the old track is likely to feel at home here. The two turns are more or less mirror images of each other.

This leads to another short straight with a tight braking zone that will likely be a passing zone for most club racing drivers, and leads to a short winding section with a fairly fast right hander onto the very long back straight. In the Radical SR3, the speed was high enough to give my helmet a bit of a lift against the chin strap and little bit of buffeting as well. Hard trail braking in the last turn takes you into a very carousel turn that is an obvious double apex line with a bit of a kink at the end, leading back onto the main straight. I can see a lot of creative possibilities as drivers near the end of a race here and look for a way to get by before the finish line. It is super wide here and very forgiving. Later in the day, I was driving the Formula BMW and went into this turn really fast and got a handful of steering wheel and sliding tires and didn't even come close to having a real "moment".  It was almost like being on a skid pad, because you have plenty of room to scrub off whatever excess amount of speed your lack of judgment might have yielded.

All in all, it is a very fun track to drive with enough challenges to be good for top drivers, but forgiving enough to be perfect for the enthusiast who doesn't want to scratch his Ferrari or Ford GT.

Then we went over to Kart track, which I have raced on before. It is a really fun track that is pretty well broken in. It has some very physically challenging turns that are long and high speed, along with a very fast chicane on the main straight. We ran a few laps in their rental karts, which were all pretty well worn and tired. Ron Dixon told me they have ordered an entire fleet of brand new SodiKarts, which are the top rental kart in the business today and provide enough performance for the racer to enjoy, and are tunable to most any comfort or skill level, and extremely sturdy and reliable. I will have to come back and give them a try when they arrive! I did jump into a detuned Rotax for some more fun as well, and I really like the high speed chicane on the front straight. It's a top notch kart track, as evidenced by all the events they host here. When we were off the track, there were already a half dozen karters out there running their own karts, and it was a Wednesday afternoon. I think that tells the story all by itself.

Our next stop was the drag strip. The new layout and renovations now allow for the independent operation of the drag strip and the road course. Before, only one could run in full operation at a time. This greatly increases the flexibility of the facility and their ability to accommodate all types of racing at one time. I have never been the biggest fan of drag racing because I just find more challenge in turning left and right. However, I have always appreciated the sheer power and earth shaking forces of a top drag racing machine. Mike Clark showed us around the tower and talked about bracket racing versus heads-up racing. Then he piled us into the golf cart and took us on a 1/4 mile run, complete with the tree lights and everything. Though it was in the golf cart, it was interesting to see first hand how all the staging and such works. We ran a blistering 40 second quarter mile with five people in the golf cart. I had to wonder if we might have been the first drag racers to get a sunburn while going down the track.

We headed back to the starting line where Team PBIR Extreme Motorcycle driver Kim Morrell gave us a heads up run against her teammate. Watching a motorcycle go down the quarter mile is a completely different experience. The way the bike launches to the sounds and smells. It's amazing to see from the start line perspective how much the bike moves around on the track too. They really have to drive the thing. Then they did a run with a familiar looking type of dragster. It looks much like a top fuel machine, but with less horsepower. It's called a Super Comp Dragster. This is the car they use for their drag racing school that they operate at PBIR. It is a heck of an intimidating machine. They have an electronic air system that limits the horsepower so students can work their way up to a full power run. The car will do about a 7 second quarter mile run, which is not a sleepy pace for sure especially for a student. In these cars, you can obtain your NHRA license as well.

Then it was back to the tent for a nice lunch and meet and greet with the entire staff. I can say definitively that this is no longer a family run operation. All but a couple of the old staff have been replaced with full-time seasoned racing people. These are all racing industry professionals, and they all know and love the sport. They leave no doubt that this will be a top facility and a fixture in the racing business here in Florida.

Though the track resembles the old Moroso in many ways, it is entirely new and ready to meet the needs of the racing community. I personally do not know of any facility on the east coast of the entire USA that offers what this facility boasts. It is truly Moroso Motorsports Park Resurrected.

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