After a brief hiatus from attending races and racing events, I finally got a chance to make up for it with two events in one day last week. Since the first part of the year was filled with wedding planning, bachelor parties and honeymoon expenses, I had to take a break from racing to take care of another part of my life that is even more important. So, with the big day completed, I was able to pick up where I left off by attending the Lexus Performance Driving Academy at Summit Point Motorsports Park and the Suntrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway. If you have followed my blog or know me, you know that Richmond isn't a new event for me but the Driving Academy certainly was.
Having just returned from our honeymoon in Mexico, Summit Point was a last minute deal arranged by a good friend who lives only 40 minutes from the track in north western Virginia. Both he and his wife along with me and my new bride attended the free 2 hour course put on by Lexus USA at the picturesque road course in the eastern tip of West Virginia. We arrived at the track via our own Lexus' (my IS300 and her SC430) and were briefly wined and dined on fancy breakfast treats and non-alcoholic sodas and waters before the 30 minute track talk and instructional class. They covered the basics of braking, cornering and tire wear. For a person that wasn't educated on performance driving, it would be a good overview.
After the classroom piece, we hit the first course to slalom in various Lexus models and try to beat each other's lap time. Since it was sprinkling, every lap's time was not recorded however by my calculations, I still ended up with the third fastest time out of our group of about 25 drivers. We got to test drive the GS350, GS450h, IS350, IS250 and several of the very sweet IS-F. Some of the IS' also had F Sport options added on. Even though this course only allowed for speeds of 20-25 mph, I was already particularly impressed with the power and braking of the GS and IS-F.
Next, we headed to the 1.1 mile Jefferson course for Lead-Follow laps in the Lexus IS-F. Each participant gets 2 laps around the track in a showroom spec IS-F following one of the driving instructors. When my turn came, I jumped in a black IS-F with number 05 on the side. I was the third car in line and the second car behind the instructor. The purpose of lead-follow is for the instructor to lead you on a lap and show the group the fastest line around the track. The first lap was instructional while the second was done as you pleased. On my second lap, I hit about 85 mph on the back stretch and might have done more but I didn't allow enough space between me and the car up front as I came out of the turn onto the back stretch. I felt myself wishing for more laps as this was the one brief opportunity I got to really feel the awesome package that the IS-F has. The braking, acceleration, handling, exhaust note and lack of interior noise combines for a beautiful machine that I would love to drive more.
The final portion of the morning was a ride along hot lap with a pro driver in the same IS-F on the same course. Unfortunately, it is done in groups so for our lap, 3 of us had to pile in with none other than an Andretti behind the wheel of our car. Yes, former Indycar racing driver, Jeff Andretti, the other son of Mario and brother of Michael who was rookie of the year at the Indy 500 in 1991 took us for a hot lap around the track. He certainly hung it out a bit more than I did showing off the amazing braking and handling of the IS-F as he negotiated the corners of the course. After the lap, I thanked Jeff for the ride and let him know we'd be seeing his nephew Marco who drives for his brother's team in the Indycar Series
All in all, it was a fun experience, especially considering the cost to us. As I am sure Lexus intended, the experience left me longing for a new IS class as my daily driver.
We departed Summit Point and headed south to Richmond International Raceway for the evening Indycar race. This year, I chose to only buy race tickets and opted out of the garage/pit pass and Paddock Zone package which was a good decision as we wouldn't have made it in time to enjoy those anyways. We reached the track in time to park and enter the speedway from the north entrance as driver introductions were being announced. Since I bought my tickets early in the year, our seats turned out to be at the top on the back row of the Commonwealth section with a nice view of the entire track including start/finish and pit lane. This is a significantly different view than the same seating at Indianapolis Motor Speedway which only allows for a view of the front stretch and part of pit lane. Of course, the difference is that this track is .3/4 of a mile while Indy is 2.5 miles in length. Most fans of Indycar and NASCAR are amazed to learn that Indycars reach speeds of 176 mph at RIR while NASCAR Cup cars run almost 50 mph slower.
Unlike previous races, this year's event was the first time that the remaining Champ Car teams had raced on the short D-shaped track as Indycar regulars. The starting field was at the season average of 26 cars versus 16-18 cars in seasons past. The combination of new teams and drivers to Indycar and RIR would certainly be put to the test this night. Afterall, some drivers and journalists refer to this race as the equivalent of flying jet fighters inside of a gymnasium.
As the race started and slowed through the first 100 of 300 laps, it was obvious that we were in for a long night. Driver after driver seemed to make errors and mistakes as car after car careened into the walls of the 4 turns of the the speedway. By the end of the night, we experienced the second most caution periods in the history of an Indycar Series race, 100+ of 300 laps run under caution, $2 million worth of damage to race cars and Tony Kanaan's first win of 2008.
Believe it or not, we still had fun and enjoyed the evening event in dog days of summer. The best part of this night was that we made it to our car and onto the interstate headed south relatively quickly. In years past, I learned that RIR is the worst place ever to get out of following a race and I would have to find an alternative for parking. I found it this year and it sure paid off.
I hope to return to the state of Virginia soon for another 2008 racing event. Stay tuned...