Lime Rock Park – July 15, 2011

The last track on my “bucket list” of traditional race tracks in the North East was Lime Rock Park. I had been planning to go there in 2009, but engine failures got in the way. So I was really looking forward to getting there finally this year, as well as looking forward to the road trip to Connecticut. I has visited that beautiful state several times with my family as a boy and I remember it fondly as a place of rolling hillsides and a green environment. I had visited Lime Rock about 20 years ago for a sports car race, but had never been on the track.

I decided to drive there the day before and stay at a nearby inn for just one night. I would come home the evening after the Driver’s Ed event had finished, getting home around midnight. The car had been on my trailer for a day and a half before leaving, so I could use the garage to polish and wax the Fiat Spider before going to Fiat Freak-Out in Nashville the following week. I had just finished stripping out the back seat area of the Porsche in preparation for the installation of racing seats and harnesses, as well as a four-point roll bar. It looked really good with the gloss red bare metal in the back, but a little odd with stock seats and no roll bar. That would be rectified by a local shop run by a friend of mine during my trip to Nashville.

I left home around 9:30 Thursday morning, planning to get to Lime Rock around 5 PM, to unload and check into the inn. When I crossed the border, the guard thought he was a comedian. After asking me the usual questions about where I live and where I was going, he said “How did the headlight on the race car get broken?” I said “WHAT?” and he laughed – just joking. Along the way past Watertown and all the way to near Albany, I kept seeing a steady stream of street rods, customs and restored ‘30’s to ‘60’s cars heading north and west. I suspect there was a show at Alexandria Bay, NY but I haven’t been able to confirm it. On the way home, I saw many of the same cars heading east across NY state.

I arrived at the track a little after 4:30, having travelled 610 km. After unloading in a great paddock spot near the tower, I went out to find the Inn at White Hollow Farms, which turned out to be less than a mile from the track. It’s an unusual place, since there was no staff to be seen – ever! There was an envelope taped to the front door with my name on it and a key inside. When I “checked out” the next day, I simply left the key on a hall table near the front door. The inn is a very old white clapboard structure which is in excellent condition. The room was very nicely finished and decorated, with high quality fittings, nice carpentry and lots of fluffy towels. But the bed must have been from the pioneer days, since it was less than six feet long! So I had to sleep diagonally.

I went looking for a place to eat supper and found the Black Rabbit Bar & Grille in Lakeville, just a couple of miles from the track. The whole area is quite beautiful, with rolling hills, a mixture of country estates, horse farms and golf courses, and lots of woods. Speed limits are low and the lifestyle appears quite relaxed and peaceful. While having a meal of New England clam chowder and blackened chicken quesedea, a couple arrived and took a table near me. From what I could see, the young woman was extremely attractive and seemed very down-to-earth – clearly the prettiest girl in the place. The next day at the track, I saw her again – in her red 1977 Corvette with the vanity plate STACYS77 – while she visited with some of the staff at the coffee bar. It was my pleasure J

Passing through Lime Rock village on my way to the track from the inn, I could see why there is no racing there on Sundays. The highway bisects the village and the race track is immediately behind the row of houses along the south side of the road. Right across the road from the track’s administration building and main spectator gate is a large, old, stone church and cemetery. Clearly there would be a major problem if race cars were tearing down the front straight during services! I drove to the nearby village of Sharon, CT to find a gas station for the truck and to get some coffee; and then arrived at the track a little after 7 AM on Friday.

I had parked next to two guys who were regulars at the track, named Jeff (2007 Porsche GT3) and Scott (996 Turbo), and got to know them pretty well while waiting for registration to open. Subsequently, I met two other guys on the other side of me named Jim (Cayman) and Bob (can’t remember what) who were also regulars. When I registered, I discussed again with Susan the registrar (also an instructor), the need for me to have Al (full name Alphonse, whom I know from Le Circuit and who lives in Vermont) with me for the first stint, to show me the line around the track. He hadn’t arrived yet, but after a while I saw him come in and went over to renew acquaintances. Another Italian fellow named Tony arrived and parked next to Al and they referred to each other as “goomba”. Al agreed to ride with me and we set it up for 10 o’clock, the time of the first stint for my run group. I checked the tire pressures, cleaned the windshield, attended the drivers’ meeting and then waited. The day was being shared with the Lime Rock Club, so we only had the track every other hour, for three runs of twenty minutes per group, with the club using the track for the alternating hours. But there were four stints of twenty minutes each scheduled throughout the day, with no specific lunch break built in. So the amount of track time was the same as it would have been at a normal DE with additional run groups for instructed novices and solo novices.

Lime Rock is a very short track, of only 1.5 miles. Here’s a typical lap. Leaving the pit lane, stay completely to the right of the blend line all the way to Turn 1 (Big Bend) while in third gear (in my car). Tap the brakes and turn in to the right fairly sharply, riding at or on the edge of the curbing well past the first apex. Allow the car to move a few feet to the left as you maintain steady speed, then lift the throttle slightly to cause the rear end to rotate to the left, which will point the nose towards the second apex (Turn 2) on the right before the exit. Apply full throttle from there to the exit on track left and accelerate down the short chute towards Turn 3, crossing the track to about ¾ of the way towards the right hand side. Brake firmly in a straight line and look around the Left Hander (Turn 3) to the exit, which is against the curbing on the left side. Turn 3 is a slow corner of about 90 degrees and the exit is critical to set up for Turn 4 – the Right Hander.

Apply full power at the apex of Turn 4 and exit almost all the way to the left, maintaining that steering arc past the exit to set up for the twisty bit between Turn 4 and the Uphill (Turn 5) – called No Name Straight. There’s a right and then a left that require only tiny steering inputs to set up for the straight line approach to The Uphill. Upshift to fourth about 100 yards short of the turn-in point and tap the brakes before turning right earlier than you first think you should. The compression of the uphill section immediately after the turn-in allows you to carry far more speed than you could if the corner was flat. The hill climbs at least 30 feet (if not more) and when you reach the crest you should be just left of the centre of the track, with the steering wheel straight. The car will get very light at the crest and you don’t want to be still turning the wheel, or a quick adjustment will be required as you clear the crest. You’re at full throttle now and going slightly downhill towards Turn 6 (West Bend), along a short straight of about 200 yards. Touch the brakes medium firmly and turn to the right (again), looking through the corner at the marshal’s stand just before the overhead bridge. Get on the gas hard at the apex and track out all the way to the left edge; and stay there all the way down the hill into… you guessed it, the Downhill (Turn 7).

Everybody – except Le Mans prototype drivers – brakes for the Downhill, finishing the braking just before the turn-in point at the bottom of the hill. The compression at the bottom of the hill allows you to carry a lot of speed through here, also because there’s a small amount of positive camber at the apex. Look well down the track along the left side, to the end of the tire barrier, to ensure that you use the whole track for your exit. You’re on the gas fully from the Apex of Turn 7 all the way down the front straight past the start/finish line towards Big Bend. In my car, I was reaching an indicated 190 km/h and the newer cars were much faster here. Start your braking for Turn 1 around the 3 or 2 sign, gearing down to third and trail braking into the apex for Turn 1. Leave your turn-in well past the cone on the left, so you can late apex Turn 1 and get into the right position for trailing throttle oversteer to help you with Turn 2.

My best laps were about one minute, fourteen seconds. The fast guys were trying to break 1:03, while the professionals in LMP and Gran-Am prototypes are down around 50 seconds – and they use two chicanes at the Uphill and West Bend! After my first stint with Al in the right seat, I felt confident that I could remember the turns and the lines, especially since there are only seven and they’re all right handers except one! So I had two good solo stints after that, improving my times as much as I could when there was less traffic. But because there were 25 cars in my White group and the track is so short, there were very few instances where I wasn’t being passed (being the oldest, slowest car in the group). Passing is permitted between all corners except 1 & 2 and 6 & 7, despite the short length of some of those “straights”, so it was pretty busy all of the time. I think I had only one lap in which I wasn’t passed at all. In my last stint, someone was out in a Lotus Exige, being instructed, and I was able to pass them right after the Uphill. That was the only time!

Overall I did about 39 laps (94 km) in one hour of track time. It was a long way to go for only an hour on track, but I’m glad I made the trip. When I started driving on track in 2007, I didn’t have a “bucket list” of all the tracks I wanted drive. But I soon realized that I should try to visit all of the traditional race tracks in the northeast and I have now done that. I wouldn’t mind visiting Lime Rock again – partly because it’s so pretty there – but I would have to combine it with a trip to another track for it to make sense. It got pretty hot that day and I was glad to get into my shorts for the drive home, but the car ran perfectly and all of the instrumented indicators were within spec – although the oil temperature approached 120 C in the last stint. Two of my new friends – Jeff and Scott – had tire troubles that ended their days prematurely. Jeff’s right front Hoosier slick developed a crack in its outside shoulder through which we could see the cords, which is odd because it’s very lightly loaded for most of a lap. Fortunately he had trailered his car and was able to load it without difficulty for the drive back to New York City. Scott developed a flat tire in his left rear and when I loaned him my jack to raise and remove the tire, we found that it had delaminated halfway around – a well used Michelin Pilot Sport. He was able to borrow a wheel and tire from a colleague and use that for the drive to Hartford, instead of using the inflatable spare. So I got off easy, the only maintenance being tire pressure adjustments. I didn’t even have to add fuel, since I had started the day with about 60% of a tank of mixed 91 and 109 octane.

I decided to leave the track after three stints, at around 3:30, so I would get home at a decent hour. Had I stayed until the end, I would have been two hours later and more tired, so I think it was the right decision. I took a different route when I left Lime Rock, heading due north into Massachusetts to hook up with the Mass Pike. Once there, I passed into the Berkshire Hills, so now I know where that is. I stopped a couple of times for a rest and once for a meal, but I still got home in just over seven hours. The trip was a total of 1285 km and I averaged 18.7 L/100 km fuel consumption, which is pretty good. I left the car on the trailer overnight and unpacked the next morning, happy to be back in my own full-size bed. This was the last DE that I would do with the stock seats and safety harnesses. Now I will have two race seats, six-point harnesses and a roll bar installed. Can’t wait to try them out!

Videos are available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7vv1GZuUXKc

And at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSTqRzRGbRU

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