You would be doing the United States of America a huge disservice if you thought its motorsport offering was all about ovals. While they make up a significant portion of US racing, the country is also littered with amazing road courses. Between the ovals and road courses the USA might have the best selection of tracks around. So here are seven you need to see to start you off.
The seven best circuits in America
Sebring International Raceway
What can I say about Sebring that I haven’t said before? It is one of my favourite race tracks in the world. But when you first arrive at Sebring International Raceway, it’s hard to work out what you’re looking at. The back part of the circuit – through Big Bend, the hairpin, Collier and Tower – looks like a normal race track, but the rest of it... It’s different.
Because such a large part of Sebring is laid out on an old airfield (it used to use part of the still-in-use runways, but was scaled back in 1967 to the current layout) it’s an open, flat area of massive concrete paving. The track in this section is only mapped out by catch fencing, concrete blocks and some painted kerbs. It looks... odd. But then cars start rolling round, and suddenly it all makes sense. Add a couple of thousand RVs for the big 12-hour race and it becomes brilliant.
Whatever cars are on track Sebring is a challenge like almost no other remaining at a major international-standard track. The “Respect the Bumps” catchphrase might be a little corny, but it’s very apt. While the permanent section of Sebring is like most other circuits, with smooth tarmac, the airfield section will attempt to remove your teeth even in a road car. It’s one of the only completely flat circuits you’ll ever catch me saying is great. One day Sebring might change, but until then we’ll watch DPis attempt to ride the bumps through turn 17 while the sun sets in the background.
The road course is... OK. To be honest we’re not incredible fans of the layout as a circuit, although it has hosted enough legendary racing in the Daytona 24 that it is an amazing place to be, but four hairpins and two chicanes do not an awesome track make. The oval on the other hand, well, that’s mighty. I’ve only seen it in use as part of the road course, but even then it looks amazing. The high banks leave you staring at the roof of each car as it goes around you (if you’re standing infield) and the pack racing that it inspires – assisted by restrictor plates of course – looks incredible.
The history of Daytona is well told, from moonshine runners racing on the beach nearby, to the modern high-banked leviathan with a single incredible grandstand for over 100,000 people. Now it’s a place dripping with its own history, filled with the echoes of achievements by Earnhardt, Johnson, Petty et al, somewhere that must be on every racing fans list of places to stop off.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
There are a lot of ovals in the US, but many of them are a bit identikit. A 1.5-mile medium-banked piece of tarmac, with two main corners and a tri-oval area. But a couple of them are completely different. Take Pocono for example, which you kinda need to approach like it’s a road course. Or Milwaukee, which is a mile long but completely flat. One of them, though, is head and shoulders above all the other non-tri-ovals: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The home of one of the greatest races in motorsport, Indianapolis is another place that describes itself as the home of motorsport, and one that can have some legitimacy to its claim. The Indy 500 is one of the longest running motor races in the world, kicking off way back in 1911 when the whole thing was run on bricks. What many don’t know is that the circuit was originally surfaced with stone chips, as there really weren’t many paved roads at the time. That surface broke up and was the cause for several fatal accidents in the first few events in 1909. Founder Carl G. Fisher embarked on a test to find out what topping would be best to replace the stones, the circuit’s eventual nickname – The Brickyard – will tell you what they opted for.
Now Indy is of course full tarmac – except for a strip of the original bricks at the startline – and one of the fastest in the world. Cars regularly reach over 230mph in qualifying for the 500, despite the banking being only 9.2 degrees (Daytona by comparison is 31). Such is the attraction of Indy that over 200,000 spectators can be expected to turn up to each 500 and the startline on the Goodwood Hill is paved with more of those original Indy bricks.
The less said about the road course, the better.
Road America is in the absolute middle of nowhere. It’s about halfway up Wisconsin, not too far from the shores of Lake Michigan, but its nearest town – Elkhart Lake – on last census had a population of just 967. But perhaps that is what makes it so good. Like many circuits in America it manages to keep a lot of its old charm, with no real garage buildings, and no massive areas of run off. It’s also full of that thing I bang on about so much in these lists: elevation changes.
The startline is on a massive hump, peaking pretty much as the flag waves, there the cars plunge down and down, through a series of fast, sweeping, turns until they reach the Carousel. No, not the Karrusell, this is a super-fast right hander, reminiscent of Turn Eight at Istanbul, but without contrived apices. That then slings the cars down a fast run through the woods with danger lurking on every corner, and creating excellent overtaking opportunities in the hard stop at Canada Corner. It’s another old school layout full of character that creates great racing.
I thought about putting Laguna Seca in here, but let’s be completely honest, Laguna Seca is one incredible corner and a bunch of other nondescript ones. Sonoma, on the other hand, is also in California, also full of elevation changes, but has the advantage of a bunch of challenging sections, rather than one.
In case you don’t know, Sonoma snakes through the hills in Sonoma County. With a couple of different layouts allowing for both single-seater and stock car racing. The first corner gives a flavour of just how good Sonoma is, with cars on the edge of grip through a super-fast left hander that snakes up hill to a near-blind turn two. Many have been caught out by cresting the brow of turn two only to find another car having its own accident in front of them, completely unsighted. After more dips and dives the track then plunges back down the hillside, through a long, neck-hurting, left-hander. On the floor of the valley there’s a series of twisting esses (and a chicane if you really hate yourself) before the rollercoaster starts all over again. It’s guaranteed good weather and the viewpoints look amazing, so what is not to love?
Now, here is one of my absolute favourites. Road Atlanta (it’s actually about 40 miles north of Atlanta in a tiny place called Braselton, Georgia) is fast, flowing, and exciting at almost any speed. To see proper racing cars here, whether modern or classic, is something to behold.
It’s all about – let’s say it together – elevation changes. Road Atlanta is so full of them it makes Brands Hatch look a bit flat. From the very first corner, so steep you cars lose speed as they attack it, through a might drop as the course cascades through the esses, and back the same climb up to turn six, it’s a proper rollercoaster. The other great thing about Road Atlanta, is that the only real alteration in the name of safety has been a chicane added before the final corner. But rather than ruining the flow, it’s set back far enough for the cars to be back up to speed as they crest the rise to plunge into that final turn. It could be one of the best alterations ever made to a track. Standing in the media centre on the outside of that final corner is a privilege, especially when there’s IMSA GTP cars haring through.
Lime Rock Park is tiny, spanning just 1.5 miles. But it packs a whole lot of punch into those 1.5 miles. From sweeping corners through steep drops (that looks very similar to that mighty final corner at Road Atlanta, to tricky mid-speed hairpins and fast sweeping right handers. In fact, much like Goodwood, there’s only one left hand turn on the whole track.
Its size means it isn’t used a lot by the faster series – in the same way that Knockhill will always be bypassed – but that just allows us to enjoy GTE battles as the main event when IMSA arrives. And they even run a historic event, one that we definitely hope to visit one day. Just like Lime Rock, I shall leave this description short, but sweat, but you really should check out some LR onboards.
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.
Which is your favourite US track?
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