September 20, 2006

First Annual Miller Motorsports Park ACNA High Performance Driving School and Driver Safety Seminar – May 2006
By: Steve Sherwood & John Stahmann

As many people know there is something large and highly unique just out side of Salt Lake City, UT. Previously we would have of course been speaking of the Great Salt Lake itself, but these days the newest large object outside Salt Lake City is the new $80 million Miller Motorsports Park.

Developed by Larry Miller, the owner of the Utah Jazz basketball team, the track was not originally even intended to be in the State of Utah. The Denver metropolitan area was to be the home of the newest world class motorsports facility, but when red tape engulfed the project Colorado was abandoned.

After further research and more planning Larry Miller sold the remote town of Toele, UT on the project and groundbreaking followed soon thereafter.

What came next was nothing short of spectacular. In addition to building one the country’s fastest road tracks, Miller Motorsports Park also boasts go-karts, dirt bikes, a heliport and bountiful on-site camping (for those long race weekends). ALMS and Audi’s brilliant TDI racecars also made an inaugural series stop at Miller this season (Audi drivers Emanuele Pirro and Frank Biela claimed the win in a dramatic .318 second margin of victory). Here’s our first hand account of the facility and an Audi Club North America event held there in May.

Pre-Event Barbeque

AudiWorld’s own Neil McGarry helped start the event off right by opening his Park City, UT house for a pre-event get together. Turn out was fantastic and many who were in attendance believe to this day that it was the single largest gathering of Audis (outside of a dealer’s parking lot) ever assembled in Utah. The McGarrys provided a nice spread of food and plenty of beer. The aforementioned libation had to of course be imported from California since good quality beer is simply not readily available in the area.

Pre-Event Drivers Meeting

The real (i.e. non-party) portion of the event officially kicked off with an early morning drivers’ meeting at the track classroom facility. The purpose of this meeting, like all drivers’ meetings, was to make sure everybody was up to speed on warning flags, passing rules and other related safety issues. Once complete the group moved into a series of cone exercises.

Car Control Exercises

As with most ACNA Driving Schools, the A, B and C students were hurdled into lane toss, threshold braking, and slalom exercises. The rationale behind these exercises is to help both beginning and intermediate students feel how their automobiles perform under certain circumstances – and BEFORE they get onto the track. The exercises are conducted in a controlled environment which differs greatly from the track. Instructors, meanwhile, provide valuable, instantaneous input into the process by critiquing a student’s performance after each exercise attempt. Students are supposed to get a sense of how ABS braking actually feels during aggressive maneuvers. They begin to identify and appreciate the sensation of weight transfer during the slalom exercises. Lastly, quick, last minute lane changes act as a preventative measure to help students understand how the vehicle reacts to these types of situations.

Track Lapping Sessions

It wasn’t until the afternoon of the first day that students and instructors finally hit Miller’s track. The lapping sessions are where, pun intended, the rubber really meets the road. It’s the reason that participants have traveled all the way to Utah. Let the “racing” begin!

Lapping sessions were designed to last approximately 20 minutes each, however some get cut short as track officials work to keep the event on-schedule. Drivers were acutely aware that any extra time spent staging in the hot pit could mean reduced track time, and everybody worked together to keep the machine smooth.

Track configuration

The Miller Motorsports Park track can be configured in a number of ways to adapt to a particular group or event’s changing needs. The ACNA organizers decided to go all-out and run the event with the full 24-turn configuration (just like the big events do). While the track can actually be easily turned into two separate tracks of about two and a quarter miles each, the split seriously marginalizes the 3,500-foot main straightaway (one of the fastest in the US) where professionals easily reach 200mph+ speeds.

While many participants have lapped numerous times, one of the most obvious early conclusions was that a complex, 24-turn track makes it extremely difficult to reliably remember the course configuration. This issue was compounded by the fact that for a great majority of the instructors it was their first visit to the track. Instructors had issues memorizing the track (and proper lines) which didn’t exactly help their students. “OK, what does turn #14 look like again?”

The upside of the track’s size and configuration is that the sometimes all-to-prevalent ACNA track event “conga line” of cars rarely developed. Cars simply did not bunch up since the track made it possible to provide considerable space between vehicles. Even during the rare times that a faster car would approach slower cars there was not the typical pressure on the slower drivers since the track afforded ample passing opportunities over upcoming turns.

Complexity of the Turns & Elevations Changes

The Miller track, as with most tracks, has a number of different types of corners. There were the expected high speed sweepers, some hairpins, and our favorite - a nice section of S-curves in turns 16-18 called "Attitudes". Another very interesting part of the track is the triple apex left-hander in turn #7 - “The 3 D’s” - so called for its three points (Demon, Devil and Diablo).

Miller Motorsports Park is a relatively flat track with a few notable exceptions. The aforementioned 3 D’s includes varied grade which causes drivers to feel as if they are losing traction. The final turn (it is named “Release”) is a 90-degree left turn heavily banked at a 9-degree uphill grade. Drivers feel literally glued to the track during this final turn which leads to a 900-foot straight to the start/finish line.

So while the track is not extremely hilly it is very viewer friendly. Nearly the entire circuit is visible from the various raised grandstands which surround it – or atop the main garage section.

Facilities

The facilities, while not completely done as of this ACNA event, were definitely top notch. The grandprix garages were nothing short of spectacular, and each included its own private bathroom/sink. Three of us shared one grandprix garage at the meager cost of $150 for the two day event – great value all things considered.

Fuel, on the other hand, was just the opposite. While there was an on-site gasoline facility – highly convenient – it sold what was about the most expensive fuel we have ever seen at a track. 100-octane unleaded ran $6.79/gallon and 108 octane unleaded was a whopping $8.25/gallon! With many participants running chipped vehicles with aggressive programming, higher octane gas was a must-have rather than a nice-to-have.

Adding to the misery, track officials had not anticipated the volume of 100 octane gas required and by the middle of the second day it had run out. Fueling up with the “50 year old” Scotch they call 108 octane, we shrugged of the experience as a learning exercise of track management.

Wrap-Up

As with most ACNA Driving Schools there was a banquet dinner. The 100 or so total participants got the chance to reflect on the day’s driving, to socialize and the chance to win great prizes donated from vendors such as Toyo, Ronal, Motorsport Vision Photography and Anderson Automotive. A raffle also helped raise money for the club.

All-in-all it was a great inaugural event for the ACNA at the Miller Motorsport Park. Many Audis – from fully stock A4’s to B5 S4’s complete with Stage 3 modifications – helped break in the track. We even had an early model Saab and club regular Frank Amoroso showed up with his special edition Lotus Exige. To preserve the memories all of the weekend’s events were captured by the vivid photography of Mike Veglia from Motorsport Visions Photography.

Resources:
  • Photo Gallery
  • Miller Motorsport Park Official Website
  • Motor Sport Visions Photography Official Website
  • Audi Club North America Official Website
  • Motorsports Discussion Forum





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