|June 8, 2008
ALMS Race Weekend: From Both Sides of the Track
Many know that motorsports represent a strong part of Audi's heritage. Current Audi PR often makes reference to features and functionality developed for the racetrack that have progressed into the brand's street-going automobiles. Names such as Hans Stuck Stig Blomqvist and Michele Mouton are etched into our collective consciousness be it from the heady days of Auto Union in Grand Prix motor racing, events such as the famed Pike's Peak Hillclimb or the four-rings' dominance in rally racing and touring cars.
Turning to the nearly decade old American Le Mans Series, you can't even describe the event without mentioning Audi's string of records and innovations. The Audi works teams are by far the most successful of all time in the series, and have used it as a tune-up of sorts for the brand's annual assault on the most famous endurance race of all time: the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
To be certain Audi's fortunes in the ALMS have changed of late with the move to its TDI-powered R10 racecar and subsequent restrictions imposed by IMSA, the sanctioning body which oversees ALMS. Still, each race weekend the Audi team puts two of the world's most advanced race cars and a world class team and drivers with thousands of hours of experience (and the wins to back it up) on the track.
With this backdrop we recently made arrangements to attend the Utah Grand Prix ALMS event held at over-the-top Miller Motorsports Park in Tooele, UT. This would not be our first ALMS event, having been to venerable Sebring, Mosport, Laguna Seca and other tracks a number of times in the past to witness Audi victory. That said, previous ALMS weekends had come courtesy of Audi's press department and included, among other things, behind the scenes access, VIP transportation, access to drivers and pits and the like. In other words we had experienced what it's like to cover a race as a working journalist, but never as an average working class Joe. We aimed to change that.
For the benefit of our readers we took a double-pronged approach to pedestrian coverage of the event. On one hand, in a NASCAR inspired gesture, we decided that there was no better way to attend a race weekend than to hitch up our trailer and massive diesel pickup truck and camp at the track. On the other hand, in a bid not to complete "rough it", we thought we ought to give Audi Sport North America's Audi Motorsport Experience a twirl. With RV parking high up on Momentum Mountain and the Audi Motorsport Experience hosted in the outdoor suites just past the start / finish line we would literally and figuratively get the opportunity to see the race from both sides of the track.
Regardless of vantage point it is worth talking about Miller Motorsports Park in general. Completed in 2006 at a budget of over $85 million, Miller Motorsports Park is the culmination of Utah businessman Larry H. Miller's dream to build a world class motorsports facility from the ground up. With the peaks of gorgeous mountains in the background, Miller is a sprawling complex the includes a highly-configurable main racetrack, extensive paddock and garage areas, numerous grandstands and viewer areas, Supermoto and kart tracks and even a children's playground and swimming pool. While lacking some of the intimate charm of a track like Lime Rock or the history of a Sebring, Miller is a terrific example of how to do lots of things right to make a great fan experience.
At Miller Motorsports Park there are two different areas which can accommodate RV's, the first being dedicated RV parking above turn 4 (named Scream) in an area known as Momentum Mountain and the second being inside the so-called "Duckhead" in the area bounded by turns 5 and 6 on one end through Witchcraft and towards the Attitudes. Neither provides RV hookups, so they cannot be differentiated in that way. We choose a reserved Momentum Mountain spot at $200 for the race weekend (Friday - Sunday).
On the plus side the perspective out and across the track from our parking spot was terrific. Sitting relatively high-up in the southwest corner of the track provided visibility to a good deal of the racing action, particularly when armed with a good pair of binoculars. What we found odd, however, was the somewhat tight parking in the area given the size of some of today's rigs. We saw at least two big bus style-RV's struggle mightily getting into their spots perpendicularly, and with our travel trailer setup we were forced to block access in either direction in front of us until we could level and disconnect the trailer. Given the literally massive amount of land around the track it would only require a bit of re-grading and moving one fence to give RVers an added 10-15 feet of much-appreciated room in this area.
Putting the RV in the Duckhead would not have necessitated the same tight squeeze and would have also have saved some money since spots in that area were $50/day or $150 for the three day race weekend. On the downside specific spaces could not be reserved in advance so positioning is a first-come, first-serve proposition. In either case it is possible to put an RV nearly trackside and setup for an intimate race experience from the relative luxury of a trailer. Miller includes loudspeakers in many areas, including in both Momentum Mountain and in the Duckhead, so that attendees can listen in to local coverage or in the case of the ALMS event to stupendous Radio Le Mans. RV admission is for the vehicle only and does not include race tickets which must be purchased separately.
Life at the track with an RV isn't half bad. We brought generators (as did most other campers) sufficient to run everything from air conditioning to a blender for cold margaritas. We could cook, had our own private restroom and a place to retreat during the many long qualifying sessions, test sessions and other races going on over the weekend. That said, as previously mentioned we also had the ability to kick up the luxury by a few notches via the Audi Motorsport Experience.
A combination of trackside seating, hospitality and behind-the-scenes access, the Audi Motorsport Experience is the ultimate way to watch an ALMS event together with other Audi aficionados. A ticket gets you much more than just entry to the race, but also paddock access and tours, a private autograph session with the drivers, Audi gift mementos, closed circuit TV, parking and all the food and drink you can handle. These are things which you simply cannot arrange on your own, making the Audi Motorsport Experience a true VIP-type event.
Naturally we tended to gravitate to the Pit Row Suite with strategic timing such as during the start of the race, during special events such as a Technical Forum hosted by an Audi Sport North America team guest speaker or during the driver autograph sessions and especially at meal times! We were joined by approximately 80 other guests, many of whom were members of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Audi Club North America. This gave us the opportunity to chat with old and new friends alike, as well as spend time gathering timely info from Andrew Sattler who is the main man behind the Audi Motorsport Experience Team. Total cost per person, which differs based on specific event, was $250 for the Utah Grand Prix.
One bit of advice from an unnamed friend at Miller Motorsports Park came in invaluable as we made the long trek from Momentum Mountain to the Hospitality Suites over and over. We were told to bring motorized transportation if at all possible (golf cart, scooter, moped, 4-wheeler, etc.) and we did just that by throwing our Quad into the back of the pickup truck. To be certain we saw fans walking and walking and walking around the big track, but we traveled from point to point quickly and effortlessly thanks to the 4-wheeler. Golf cart rentals are also available at many tracks (including Miller), although we saved at least $300 by bringing our own wheels.
When not busy in our RV home away from home, with activities via Audi Hospitality or simply watching the racing there were a number of other Audi-related distractions throughout the weekend. On Saturday evening there was an Audi parade lap organized through the Audi Motorsport Experience which gave many local Audi owners the opportunity to take their Audis onto the track for two laps. After a thorough safety briefing and admonishment not to "go too fast or try to pass" we were off and still managed speeds in excess of 80 mph on some parts of the track. There was also an Audi Car Corral area where owners could proudly display their vehicles - in this case everything from an R8 to an old Audi 90 and everything in-between.
To this point we have said nothing of the racing itself. It would have been nice to report on a solid Audi victory in Utah, although an unfortunate bump late in the race resulted in an LMP1 class win for Audi's #2 car, but only seventh place overall behind a number of LMP2 racecars. Needless to say, however, the racing itself is the whole reason to be at any event like this. As many know, the Audi R10 TDI racecars are deadly silent as they make their way around the circuit in complete contrast to the Porsches, Acuras, Ferraris and everything else on the track which rumble and buzz like warplanes as they near your position. As purely intoxicating as it is to see the R10 speed by like a silent assassin, it is equally titillating to hear the sounds of the other racecars. In fact, as qualifying began at 8:00 AM sharp on Sunday morning we experienced a very sweet wakeup call from the comfort of our beds inside the RV.
After taking in the race weekend from both sides of the track we would be hard pressed to discard one in favor of the other, and clearly we had the very best of both worlds with access to both. While having the RV there afforded no back-and-forth travel to a nearby hotel, no need to fight traffic throughout the race weekend and most of the luxuries of home, it did not include the VIP access provided by the Audi Motorsport Experience. In our opinion you couldn't go wrong with either one.
Our biggest recommendation to fans of the Audi brand or racing enthusiasts in general is to simply get out and see one of these events live and in person. Seven events remain on the schedule for the 2008 season and Audi Motorsport Experience tickets are available to most of them.