I enjoyed a couple of very pleasant days last weekend at Lime Rock in North-western Connecticut. Lime Rock is the only remaining serious road course in New England or the North-eastern corner of the United States. Opened in 1957, the challenging little 1.5-mile circuit was at its height through the sixties and early seventies when it hosted big-bore SCCA sports cars, Formula 5000 and Trans-Am races.
Over the years, in the face of cold, wet winters, the track has deteriorated and become very bumpy, but current track owner Skip Barber decided the time had come to completely repave the track and bring it up to date. Racing school entrepreneur Barber has spent US$7 million on the project and in its debut last weekend the new Lime Rock was both highly-praised and seriously criticised as the American Le Mans Series raced for the first time on the repaved and reconfigured circuit.
The crowd was treated to a cracking race with David Brabham (above) scoring an exciting, last-gasp victory for Acura and Highcroft Racing as he seized the lead from Timo Bernhard’s Penske Porsche going into the second-last lap.
Brabham was the least critical of the ALMS class winners, all of whom complained about Lime Rock’s two new chicanes, one of which replaces West Bend, considered the track’s fastest, most challenging corner.
“They’ve done a great job with the paving,” Brabham remarked. “It’s really smooth, a huge improvement. I guess there was a big rush to get it done and there’s a lot of dirt inside the grass and the sheer amount of dirt on the track was causing everyone a lot of problems. It’s very narrow and some of the straights could be a little straighter to enable us to get past the slower cars a bit easier. And bring back the old West Bend,” Brabham added. “I think that would be a great thing and I’d really prefer to see the second chicane removed. It’s really not very nice.”
Factory Audi driver and Lime Rock P1 class winner Lucas Luhr (above with Werner) called the chicane at the former West Bend, “a girly corner.” But the most outspoken critic of the new Lime Rock was GT-1 class winner and Corvette driver Johnny O’Connell.
“Every year we come here and every year over a million dollars worth of race cars are crashed,” O’Connell declared. “Every year we ask for changes, but they don’t listen to us. With minor tweaking, this could have been great. If you ask most of the drivers [they’ll tell you that] you took West Bend, which was the most fun corner on the racetrack, and took it away! And I think the geometry of the first chicane could have been improved and the back straightaway should be straightened-out.”
O’Connell said he believes most ALMS drivers would not miss racing at Lime Rock.
“I think every single driver, if there was one race on our schedule they wouldn’t mind losing, it would be this one, and that’s because it’s dangerous,” O’Connell said. “I think there’s potential here, but I think the track’s involvement with the sanctioning body and the drivers is lacking.
“But it is very good pavement,” O’Connell added, cracking a grin. “The asphalt’s great!”
Like I said, Lime Rock is the only serious road course northeast of New York City and I hope the ALMS people can figure out a sensible way to make the new Lime Rock work for them and everyone else.