Republican-American - July 5, 2008
Lime Rock Park changes add intrigue to track
By Roger Clevland
Republican-American Staff Writer
LIME ROCK — It’s not often you can rationalize that slower is better in the world of auto racing, but Skip Barber is attempting to build such a case for Lime Rock Park. by far,” Barber said. “We have made it 50 years being fast. But as you look to the future there is no question that as cars keep improving and tires keep improving it would be too fast.”
Actually, he is building a whole lot more than that.
The track president and majority owner of Lime Rock is building three optional corners, rebuilding the most famous corner at the 51-year- old track and creating four new spectator viewing areas, as well.
The end result should be the creation of a slower, safer but more exciting optional course designed with more passing opportunities and better vantage points for fans. It should also promote more competitive racing.
This isn’t some fairy tale about the hair and the tortoise here. It’s a project that will cost $5 million this summer and likely several million dollars more next spring, but it appears to make a lot of sense for racers, fans and the track itself even if it does mean taking away one key distinction of Lime Rock, it’s speed.
Lime Rock is the fastest road course in North America. In order to guarantee that Lime Rock could keep its premier event — the American Le Mans Series weekend that will be held Friday and Saturday — Barber needed to assure IMSA officials that the track would continue to be safe enough for the series’ multimillion dollar, 700-horsepower prototype cars.
While repaving the track to take away its infamous bumps certainly would have appeased the sanctioning body for a few years, it would have made the track dangerously fast for the most technologically advanced cars. So Barber used a bit of foresight and creativity to improve Lime Rock.
The entire original course, or the Classic Course as Barber refers to it, is still intact and can be used by the many club racers and other series that compete at Lime Rock.
For those who want something a little different, however, Barber is building three optional corners that can be used in as many as eight different configurations.
“If you run them, it becomes a moderate speed track with more braking required and more gear-shifting,” Barber said. “It will give us a couple of second-gear corners, and we don’t have any of those on the Classic Track.”
More braking and shifting means more opportunities for passing, and that creates more exciting races.
In the past, passing opportunities have been limited at Lime Rock. In relatively comparable cars, often passing was limited to Big Bend, the sharp turn at the end of the main straightaway. Drivers with enough nerve to brake later than the competition could make a pass there going into the S-turns.
In order to make Big Bend safer and remove all the concrete patches that had to be put in after the only other repaving was done in 1991, the famous curve has been dug up and rebuilt. Barber was careful, however, not to change the original character of the famed corner.
The rest of the Classic Track was merely milled to make it flat and smooth so it could be repaved with a very exotic asphalt mix.
New optional corners off the Classic Track will present challenges for the drivers.
“One of the optional corners is going to be right at the base of the spectator hill,” Barber said. “We are going to make some changes to that left-right combination that will get the cars closer to the spectators and create a new passing zone right in front of them.
“The uphill spectator area is going to be much better, too. And the optional West Bend is going to have a whole new spectator area and the old West Bend is going to have a new spectator area. It is going to be a lot better for spectators. A lot better.”
Fans next weekend should see drastic improvements in the track since the last time it was open for a public event on Memorial Day. The day after that Grand-Am weekend ended, May 27, construction began on the track.
“It is fascinating,” Barber said. “We have to move 20,000 cubic yards of earth to make a new backstraight which will make for good passing up there. A dump truck holds 15 yards so it is 1,250 loads we have to move on the track we are trying to repave. And some of that has to go to that new first corner. Other has to go to the new pit. It is a terribly complicated project. We are doing as much as we can in 32 days.”
Barber said the only part of the project that was really mandated by IMSA was the raising of the bridge that goes over the track by 6 1/2 feet to a regulation height of four meters. That was done for safety reasons in much the same way the barriers around the track were improved over the last two years. The other safety improvement that was part of the current construction was the widening of the run-off areas.
When you throw in the construction of a new track entranceway to make room for the new optional West Bend corner and a new pit entrance that makes the pit longer and safer, it was an incredible undertaking in one month’s time.
Barber said he expects to get two of the three optional corners done in time for the American Le Mans race, but he realizes some of the work will have to wait until the winter. Barber believes, however, that when all is said and done, Lime Rock’s character will have allowed him to pulled off something that sounded improbable: making a race track better, for racers and spectators alike, by making it slower.
“Lime Rock has two enormous advantages: It is small, and there is complete freedom of movement,” Barber said. “If you compare that to other road courses, it is in a class by itself. We are going to have it so that you can walk all around on the inside of the track and view the race from different perspectives. You will be able to see a lot more of the racing and it should be more exciting than ever.”