Realizing some people may not want to read through all 35 tracks and just want to compare notes with my favorite tracks in each category, let's just do a quick summary of the Top 5 Tracks in the Fun to Drive and Race and Track Technicality categories. To review, Fun to Drive is based on a track that flows well, has interesting corners, and elevation changes, because, well, I like elevation changes (must be my years hillclimbing). The second category is Technical Design and is not exactly the same as Fun to Drive. Just because a track is Fun to Drive, doesn't means its Fun to Race. The design of a track needs to be oriented towards racing, not just fast lapping. Which means having multiple lines in more than 1 corner so a trailing driver can set up a pass without having to muscle themselves by. The design also should have some technical difficulty to challenge your skills. If you nail a perfect lap your first weekend at the track, they did something wrong. So here we go:
TOP 5 FUN TO DRIVE
1) Blackhawk Farms Raceway, IL
I probably should have been born 20 years earlier, because I missed the heyday of sports car racing. By the time I started in the late 80s, safety had rightfully castrated many a track and finances had ruined a bunch more. Don't get me wrong, safety is incredibly important, but it has an unfortunate side effect, the tracks become featureless combinations of corners and a sea of grey in a sport that should be full color. Give me a free weekend drive at any track in the country and I will probably pick somewhere I haven't been before. But restrict it to the tracks I have been at before, and I will take Blackhawk farms every time.
2) Watkins Glen, NY
A very, very close second to Blackhawk is Watkins Glen. Amazing that they end up right next to each other as the tracks really don't have any similarities that you can point out. Where Blackhawk is flat, The Glen has elevation. Where Blackhawk is tight, The Glen is expansive. But a better 1-2 punch in racing doesn't exist. WG is the most perfect counter-point to Blackhawk, sort of like a Yin to the Yang. A professional surface with a ton of interesting corners, and enough length that you will never get bored. And did I mention the elevation changes? Pure sweetness!
3) Barber Motorsports Park, AL
A new track on my list this year, Barber surprised me how much I liked driving there. Which is funny because I had run numerous laps on iRacing and just never got a positive feel for the place. But being there in person changed my mind, because the awkward feelings from the sim, turned into an aha moment in the actual driving seat. Barber has several parts that peg the fun meter from Turn 1 which is a very fast downhill left-hander, to the Turn 7-8-9 complex which happens so fast it will test your reflexes, to the Turn 12-13 Rollercoaster which tests your bravery. I cannot wait to go back.
4) Hallet Motor Racing Circuit, OK
Two of my picks on this Top 5 list will surprise many people, Blackhawk and Hallet. I really have a hard time explaining what makes Hallet so much fun to drive for me, and I have had to defend my position on several occasions. Maybe it is just that it feels like a larger version of Waterford Hills, which is both my home track and the place where I have roughly 20% of my total experience. On first sight, a person can easily dismiss the track, like I did. But once strapped in, it just seems like a fun place to drive and probably the track where I got up to speed the fastest of any new track I have ever driver. One side note - every track in my top 5 has a favorite corner or combination of corners. Hallet does not - it is just an overall comfort level that makes this my #4
5) Lime Rock Park, CT
The last of my Top 5 Fun to Drive tracks is Lime Rock. Its probably sacrilege to have an Oklahoma track finish ahead of it, but it is what it is. Lime Rock has a ton of elevation change in two locations, uphill in Turn 5 then back downhill in Turn 7. The 6 right handers have an easy flow to it, almost like a circle track with character (the singular left hander). For the cars I am used to driving it also has very little braking and with a lap time of just over a minute, it has the highest number of turns per second, where you have to point the car in a new direction once every 11 seconds. There is no time to relax so combined with the sheer speed means it is akin to balancing on a knife's edge for your entire session. Give me more.
TOP 5 TECHNICAL DESIGN
1) Road Atlanta, GA
Just to revisit the difference between Fun to Drive and Technical Design categories, one is easy and the other is not. And by the same comparison, just because its hard, does not make it fun. Road Atlanta is both and that's why its #1 on my list. It is also dangerous, out of 12 corners 7 will get you in serious trouble if you make a mistake. Two of the 7 are as much a measure of your will to live as they are a measure of your skill. I highly recommend taking Turn 1 and Turn 5 at a reduced rate until your comfort level increases. But just because its scary doesn't mean you can't see my smiling face through the helmet as I wait a little longer to lift every time I go through them. Yee Haw!
2) Sebring International Raceway, FL
One thing for sure, Sebring is the bumpiest track I have driven. It also has pretty much one of every type of corner design you can imagine. The only thing it is missing is elevation change (which would have greatly enhanced its fun to drive score for me). Turn one is really wide and still hard to do because the correct line involves almost brushing the inside wall at breakneck speed. Then the Turn 2-5 combination is almost as narrow as T1 is wide. Turns 7 and 10 involve heavy braking for the tight radii, Turns 13 and 16 are all about how much speed you can carry, and Turn 17 is, well, Turn 17. I can't describe it, you just have to experience it yourself.
3) Gingerman Raceway, MI
Remember what I said about just because a track is hard and technical doesn't make it fun. Gingerman is the poster child in this respect. There is not a single corner on this circuit where your eyes tell you the proper line. It is an entire lap of your mind fighting your reflexes. I seriously have NEVER done a perfect lap at Gingerman, and it is the track I have the second most laps on. I also cannot ever remember smiling during a lap at Gingerman, not even for a single corner. Although Turns 6 and 7 are probably my favorite two turn combination, the exit to Turn 7 ruins the feeling. So you never get a chance to enjoy anything. If you want to test your skill though, this is the place to do it. Absolutely the hardest track I have ever driver.
4) Waterford Hills Raceway, MI
No less than Sterling Moss once said (and I paraphrase) 'If you can race here, you can race anywhere', or something to that effect. The first time you see Waterford Hills your likely first though it, what a cool gokart track. Because your logic tells you there is no way to race cars here, much less pass. But its not true. Luckily the locals race here 6 weekends (18 races) a year, which means most know every inch of the track and how to use it. As small as the track is, it does have on hill and one gully to bring some elevation change. It also has most types of corners, from really tight esses, to an amazingly fast sweeper, and even a dual apex carousel. If you really want to learn to drive with skill, this might be the best track in the country to learn at.
5) Barber Motorsports Park, AL
Barber is the only track that made Top 5 in both Fun and Technicalty. I kind of let the cat out of the bag with my comments above about how technical the track is. Suffice to say you better pay attention. I can't imagine what the track would have felt like without all the practice on iRacing before I got there. Oh yeah, scary.
BONUS - FAVORITE CORNERS
Yes I have driven the Corkscrew at Laguna.
Yes, it was awesome.
No, it did not make my list of Top 5 corners in my racing experience.
Here are the combination of corners that make me giggle like a schoolgirl.
1) Grattan The Yump thru T5 to T8
For a track that finished average on fun to drive and technicality, and in 23rd place overall, its amazing to think it has my absolute favorite combination of corners. Coming down the short back straight to go up a hill and immediately the track falls away (the yump). If you are brave you wait till after the car settles to stab the brakes, and then let the cornering scrub off the speed as you go through a combination right-left-right with each having a reduced radius. The third is uphill after which you have another immediate left, heavily cambered "toilet bowl". The heck with the rest of the track, turn me around and let me do it again. Delicious!
2) Blackhawk Farms T3a Esses - T4
Racing under s canopy of trees is awesome and old school, doing esses under and in between trees is even better. Putting a tight left hander right after that, that starts another straightaway is heaven. Close your eyes and imagine you are racing an open tops sports car in the 50s. On second hand, don't. Keep your eyes open and enjoy it.
3) Watkins Glen Bus Stop
This one goes without saying. When you do it right, and I mean really right, you feel like you just won the lottery. When you do it wrong, it feels like your first day of high school and you forgot to wear pants.
4) VIR T11-12 Oak Tree
The first secret here is there is enough space between T11 and Oak Tree to get back on the gas for a fraction of a second. The second secret, in our slow cars at least, is to figure out a way to "pivot" and start the back straight well before the apex of Oak Tree. Do these two things and you will feel like a million bucks. I promise.
5) Barber T12-13 Rollercoaster
I slightly covered this one above, but let me explain in a little more details. Imagine coming down the back straight at speed. Now imagine a left hander that is downhill where the apex is blind. Now try to imagine doing that without braking (a confidence lift is ok). Then at the bottom of the turn we are going to throw in a full speed right hander slightly uphill. To say my heart ends up in my throat is an understatement. So is saying I am smiling. YeeHi!
Honorable Mention Road Atlanta T1
Also covered above, a flat out, full speed, uphill right hander with a decreasing radius that has insufficient runoff. Serious, don't misjudge the apex. You will not like the results. Every lap I make it though this corner at speed I feel like I found $20.
Thanks for reading along.
I'll cover my Top 5 Paddocks and Competitor Atmospheres in the next couple of days.
If you want to read my ranking of the 35 tracks I have raced, from worst to first, start here.
If you want to read my ranking criteria, read about it here