Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin is beautiful place to be in the fall. The trees are changing color and there is a steady mixture of red, orange, and green leaves. My drive to Road America could not be more pleasant.
Since moving to Wisconsin, I’ve made annual visits to the historic race track for the better part of a decade. Some years I will visit twice: vintage racing events in the summer, time trials in the fall.
MVP Track Time is hosting the event this weekend, and my father, aunt, and uncle are all participating in the event. Aston Martin North American Racing is making an appearance as well. There are sure to be plenty of fast cars on the track.
Unfortunately, I’m not making the trip in any sort of performance car. My base model Pontiac Vibe is ill-suited for track duty. Although Aston Martin is offering the opportunity to ride along or even drive in one of their vehicles, I don’t bother asking what the cost is.
I pull into the main entrance of Road America, sign a couple of waivers, and I’m in. I spot a C7 Stingray, a Cadillac CTS-V Wagon, a Porsche 911 GT3. The Pontiac Vibe fits right in.
The day is warm enough when the sky is clear, but when the sun rolls behind the clouds and the breeze picks up, I’m reminded of colder days at Road America in years past: working at a corner station, bundling myself in a winter jacket, hat, and gloves in a vain attempt to stay warm. Holding the racing flags and shivering beneath the cloudy sky.
I drive across the asphalt, past rows and rows of white enclosed trailers. At the end of the parking area is the Aston Martin group. I spot a coupe and a convertible along with a full-on race car. I’m not sure on the exact models. They all look the same to me.
I park the Vibe in a patch of grass and find my dad near the starting grid. He’s talking to Mark V. Pfeffer (hence the initials of MVP Track Time) who has just emerged from driving a Lotus Esprit Turbo with the license plate “FNSICK” (how did that get past the review board?). The Lotus does not belong to Mark, although he states he used to own one like it. He describes the terrific capabilities of the car and it’s obvious he misses owning one.
The first call is made over the PA system for the advanced group, and my dad offers me a ride-along in his Corvette. Good thing I brought my helmet.
I’ve ridden along with my dad before at Road America. The last time I remember being so overwhelmed that I just prayed the whole time we’d make it back to the pit lane alive.
The C5 Z06 has a few modifications: it’s been lowered on the stock bolts, anti-sway bars front and back, AP Racing calipers up front, and Hoosier tires all around.
The Corvette accelerates on the straights quickly enough, but where the speed is really felt is in the corners. My dad brakes as late as he can on every turn and carries as much momentum as the Hoosiers will allow.
If you’ve ever read a review of the fifth generation Corvette, everyone will complain about the seats. They are extremely comfortable over long highway rides, but the lack of lateral support is evident on the track. A five-point harness solves the problem and keeps you in place, but my passenger seat has no such feature. Over the course of several laps, I grip the door handle until my hand gets numb. Working toward triple-digit speeds and eclipsing the hill on the front straight of each lap causes my stomach to drop.
My dad has been racing cars longer than I’ve been alive, and riding with him reminds me of how incredibly far my skills are behind his. I can recognize the racing line well enough, but he brakes much later than I would ever dare.
After about 20 minutes of being out on the track, we begin our cool down lap and prepare to exit. I am relieved. My arm is sore and my helmet has pinched my forehead, giving me a headache.
“You wanna ride with me?” my aunt calls from her GT-R. My dad informs her that I have a headache and am going to take a break.
“I’m fine!” I say. I’m not about to turn down the chance to ride in a GT-R on the glorious four miles that is Road America. I’ve ridden in, and briefly driven this Nissan before, but never on a race track. The GT-R accelerates out of the pit lane with the greatest of ease. This trait carries through on the other straights, and in the corners, with the computer-aided all-wheel drive system clawing its way across the pavement, never giving a hint of wasting even the smallest amount of traction. The GT-R isn’t loud, but it is noisy. There is always some sort of sound coming from the transmission tunnel. On the front straightaway, the twin-turbo GT-R feels like it could pull forever. In the corners, I’m relieved the seats are well-bolstered.
On the drive back home, the thrill of Road America is still in my veins as I attack the highway on-ramp with as much speed as the Vibe can muster. Sadly, the acceleration of the Vibe is barely adequate, and I settle back into my 128 horsepower reality.
At least the scenery is nice.
When the GT-R debuted and Nissan started bragging about their Nurburgring times, Porsche was quick to dispute the claims.
Today, Nissan is still spending time and money at the ring, though I have to wonder if Porsche even cares much at this point. Last year Porsche sold 10,442 911s in the US, while Nissan sold a mere 1237 GT-Rs.
To be fair, there are quite a few 911 variants, and the Porsche 911 has been around much longer than the Nissan GT-R. On the other hand, maybe Nissan needs something more relevant than lap times at a track most customers will never even visit.