Is Road Atlanta now safe enough for IndyCars?
Road Atlanta has undertaken a major improvement project that will create an Auxiliary Turn 12 primarily for motorcycle competitors offering a safer and slower transition to the start-finish line straightaway [Could this also work for IndyCars? Turn 12 was always given as the primary reason why Champ Car/IndyCar could not race at Road Atlanta].
In addition, the project includes paving a new section of asphalt on rider’s right at the entry into the Esses, creating a 200-foot long chicane that results in a different line and additional runoff room.
|Changes to the dangerous Turn 12|
“We are excited about making these improvements to preserve our long-standing place on the AMA Superbike Championship Series calendar and our position within the top levels of motorcycle racing,” says Road Atlanta President Geoff Lee. “The Road Atlanta doubleheader has been a favorite of riders and fans for many years. We expect these changes will not only improve rider safety but will also offer some new challenges and create even more exciting racing.”
Designs for the new Auxiliary Turn 12 and improvements in the Esses were made with the input of two engineering firms that have designed numerous improvements at Road Atlanta, along with AMA officials and representatives from the Rider Safety Council.
The changes will be visually evident when competitors and fans arrive for the Suzuki Superbike Showdown presented by Rockstar Aug. 29-31. The new track configuration will also be used during both WERA events, June 27-29 and Grand National Finals Oct. 9-12 as well as during the Kevin Schwantz Suzuki School.
While the original Turn 12 remains unchanged for sports car events like the 11th Annual Petit Le Mans Oct. 1-4, the Auxiliary Turn 12 will be strikingly different.
Among the design features of Auxiliary Turn 12:
- Riders will come under the Suzuki Bridge, and stay to rider’s left to enter the new 40-foot wide portion of the track.
- Descending down the hill on new asphalt, riders will have a straight braking zone with an extended runoff area before making a sharper right-hand turn to enter the elongated front straightaway about 100 yards before the start/finish line.
- A runoff of more than 200 feet with gravel traps will occupy an area all the way up to tower road.
- Support Pit Entrance will follow the new Auxiliary Turn 12 and then continue off for a slow, sweeping entrance to Support Pit Lane in front of the Medical Center.
The AMA Rider Safety Council was involved in the design of Auxiliary Turn 12 and improvements in the Esses, including six-time AMA Superbike champion Mat Mladin, who has won 11 Superbike races at Road Atlanta, including doubleheader sweeps in 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2007.
|Changes to Turn 3-4 chicane|
“I really enjoy racing at Road Atlanta,” Mladin says. “I’ve won more races there than anywhere else. We’re looking forward to racing the track with the new changes. We’re talking about a fairly major change at turn 12. It’s a shame we can’t use the old turn 12 – it is a fun turn, very much fun, but we were concerned about our safety.
“Coming down the hill, the new turn 12 will definitely be slower, which is going to help. They accomplished the goal of improving the race track which also opened up some new spectator viewing areas and quite possibly some new exciting passing zones. With what Road Atlanta had to work with, they had to slow it down. The changes at turn 4 are pretty good – exactly what we needed. Overall, the safety of the race track should go up a lot.”
The Auxiliary Turn 12 is the biggest improvement project at Road Atlanta since the elimination of the Dip and addition of the Turn 10 complex shortly after Dr. Don Panoz purchased the 750-acre facility in 1996. Last year, the entire 2.54-mile road course was repaved, and the concrete barrier walls were moved back between 15-20 feet on both sides of the track in the Esses.
“Working cohesively with AMA and a select group representing the Rider Safety Council, as well as a top notch track engineering firm and local civil engineers very familiar with Road Atlanta, we have been able to maintain the original design for car events and make effective changes to key portions of the track for the motorcycles in the interest of improved safety,” says Lee.