Roar Before the 24

Last weekend I decided to take a very last minute drive down to Daytona for an event I’ve never attended, the Roar Before the 24. For those not familiar with it, the Roar is a 3 day test at Daytona International Speedway for those teams competing in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, which Bayley and I have attended twice, including last year. Being unable to attend the 24 this year, I needed a racing fix before she and I head to the Grand Prix of St Petersburg in March, so late last week I decided I’d give the Roar a try.

IMSA and the speedway put in a lot of effort to ensure people have a good time here. The speedway hosts Scout Days, where Scouts and their families can purchase tickets allowing them to camp in the infield, fish in the lake, and take in the various activities the Roar itself offers. Pretty cool stuff, but what about the rest of us? Well, for $15 per day (or free if you already have Rolex 24 tickets), you get to:

  • Park in the infield
  • Have full garage access to both the CTSC and WeatherTech paddock areas
  • Take guided tours of the garage
  • Participate in fan forums
  • Watch the on-track action during

So basically, you get a lot of the same benefits you can get for the 24, but for a lot less money. Sure, there’s no actual race going on, and unless you’re a Scout you can’t stay overnight, but frankly I had a blast while I was there. I spent the vast majority of my time in the WeatherTech paddock, with some walking of the infield thrown in. I can’t speak to how the fan forums or garage tours were, as I skipped both. I actually meant to check out the fan forum, but totally forgot about it while walking the paddock Saturday afternoon.

Some tips for those who go in future years:

Parking

When driving into the infield, come in through the turn 1 tunnel. Personally, I like that tunnel better, and it puts you closer to better parking. I came in this way Sunday morning, and ended up with a front row parking spot not far from where the Porsche car corral normally is during the 24. Here’s  clip of some of the on-track action while I was standing in front of my car on Sunday:

You can still get to that area if you come in the turn 4 tunnel, I just like the turn 1 entrance better. I did come in turn 4 Saturday morning, and ended up parking over by all the driver and crew rental cars. I only know this because I encountered drivers coming and going from the area more than once Saturday, including Dion von Moltke and Bruno Junqueira, which was pretty cool.

Garage

Enjoy the garage access. Seriously. Some of the best times to be in there were when the cars were heading to and from the pits, and while they were on track. Sure, seeing them all in their garages being worked on between practices is cool, but the other times I mentioned above were great as well. Watching a line of cars drive right past you while heading out to the track is really cool, and you never know what you’ll see while walking around in there while practice is underway. Teams come and go as they need to make major adjustments on their cars, and every now and then you’ll run in to a driver or team owner down there too. Here are a couple of clips of the cars coming and going from the garage.

Keep your head on a swivel when in the garage. This applies for any event, to be honest. The teams have a job to do, and they won’t hesitate to move you out of the way so they can get things done. During the more busy times, hearing the horns on their carts was a pretty common thing, and occasionally you’d hear someone getting yelled at as a moving race car was headed towards them while they weren’t paying attention. Seriously, keep track of your surroundings and stay out of their way. Want to know how easy it is to get caught up in the action? Check out my clip of the Rahal BMWs leaving the garage. I’d been recording the Vettes in the garage next door heading out when the first M6 departed. That wasn’t a big surprise, it was when the other one was pushed out to my left, which I wasn’t expecting. Fortunately I was able to (I hope) stay out of the way for it, but there was some initial surprise as the wing of the 25 suddenly came in to view right next to me :).

Food and drink

Just like the 24, you can take your own food and drink in. I completely forgot to bring my cooler with me, so I ended up buying food and drink at the track Saturday. The prices aren’t NFL-diculous, but still, I could have saved a few bucks and avoided some lines by stocking up before arriving.

Cameras

Keep at least one camera at the ready at all times. I didn’t take any serious gear this time, I just kept my iPhone gear and GoPro handy, and frankly, enjoyed using the GoPro to capture the cars. I picked up the 3-way arm for it Saturday morning, and while I liked having the additional reach, it allowed for more camera shake than I liked, so maybe I’ll pick up an arm with a gimbal for St Pete. I was also burning through battery in both pretty quickly, so had to recharge them both with my portable charger a few times on Saturday, so be sure to keep one handy. Also, if you’re bringing gear to try and get good shots of the cars on track, bring a step stool so you can get a clean shot over the fences. I used one during our first trip to the 24 in 2012, but forgot it last time and again for the Roar, and was pretty mad at myself both times. Sure, I could have left the track and gone across the street to Target to pick one up, but leave the track? Seriously?

Enjoy the facilities!

Don’t just stay near the fan zone and garage, get out and walk the infield. I walked out to speedway turn 2 on Saturday and took in some of the action on the high speed turn, then walked the lake back over to the boardwalk club. There are some great spots to enjoy the action all over the track, so don’t limit yourself to one location. My Microsoft Band claims I walked 13.1 miles on Saturday alone!

Tickets

One thing I learned the hard way, get your tickets far enough in advance for them to arrive before you go. I didn’t have much choice here, since this was so last minute, so I ordered online with will call pickup as my only choice. For Saturday that was fine, I got there shortly after 8am, and the will call window was open, so I picked up my ticket and headed in to the track. I’d originally only ordered my Saturday ticket, as I wasn’t sure if I was going to drive home that night, or wait until Sunday. Well, I’d decided to stay for Sunday, but couldn’t go ahead and buy my ticket at that point, as will call was the only thing open, and I didn’t want to wait until the regular ticket office opened at 9am. Guess what? I had to Sunday morning. I’d gone ahead and ordered online for will call pickup Saturday night, but on Sunday, will call doesn’t open early, so I had to wait until 9am to get my ticket and head in. Sure, it was only an hour delay, and the WeatherTech cars weren’t on track yet, but I like to get inside as early as possible :).

I think that about covers it. I really did find the weekend worth the 13 total hours of driving I did to and from Daytona, as the Roar ticket is a heck of a value, even if it is just testing. Getting to see the new Ganassi Racing Ford GT was a pretty good bonus too, that thing is an absolute demon (in a good way 🙂 ).

Enjoy some of my favorite pics from the weekend, and if you can make it out to the Roar and/or the 24, do it, you’ll have a blast!

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Driving a Supercar

Earlier today I cashed in one of the presents I got for Christmas: a Living Social deal for a 3-lap driving experience from the folks at Motorsport Lab. While it’s not travel, I figured I’d throw out a quick review on it. Note that my review is for the Charlotte event, I can’t speak for any other location.

When you register on Motorsport Lab’s web site, you get to choose the type of car you want to drive. For this event, there were 3 options when I registered in late December:

  • Lamborghini Gallardo
  • Ferrari 360 Modena
  • Ferrari F430 (upcharge for this one)

Being a life-long Lambo fan, I chose the Gallardo. After you register, you’re sent a link to the participation form you need to fill out and bring with you to the event. As I saw called out in the many Yelp reviews of this company, this is a rather long form (16 pages), filled with all kinds of scary language warning about possible charges for things like damage and exceeding various RPM levels among other things. They offer insurance for each possible problem at the charge of $20/$30/$50 per waiver, depending on the item. That, and the form calls out suggested tip levels very clearly, which I admit is something I find a bit tacky. I’m fine letting people know the instructors work off of tips, but suggesting amounts like that can be a bit of a turnoff. After reading a few of the Yelp reviews, I see I’m not alone in that. I also saw a number of people mention that the added insurance wasn’t needed for most locations, so when I filled it out, I declined all of them. I’m glad I did.

Several of the reviews I read were negative, with some people even saying they skipped the experience entirely after being scared off by the language in the form. This is completely unnecessary in my opinion. Even if you don’t believe me, go early and watch a few people run the course before you sign in so you can get an idea of exactly what is going on, you might be surprised. With all the negative reviews, I figured it was only fair to throw in a positive review since we enjoyed the event.

First, did I spend any money beyond the cost of the Living Social deal? Yes. Totally by my own choice and it was worth it. I asked about getting a ride along for Bayley, who is home for spring break, and took him up on the offer to get her laps with the instructor for $50. That fee and the tip were the only added costs for us. They weren’t being pushy with anything, and were up front in saying that people should tip what they were comfortable with. When I checked in, the guy at the table looked over my forms, saw I’d declined all optional insurance, and moved on without trying to change my mind. I even heard him tell the guy in front of me that most of it wasn’t needed for a course like this. Don’t be scared or turned off by all the language in there around damage, I assume most of it is to ensure that people thinking they’re going to treat these things like rental cars are talked down off that ledge. There were a few other complaints in other reviews that could have been addressed by people doing a little research beforehand, so I’ll call a couple of them out here:

(Note: If you want to read those reviews, just search for the company. I’m not a big fan of Yelp so I’m not linking to them)

  • This experience is on an autocross course. It has the words ‘autocross’ and ‘agility’ in the experience name, so arriving to find a course of cones shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s not going to be on an oval or on city streets, even if the event is held at a track, like it is in Boston. You’re not getting the cars up to 100MPH. Even the straight on our course was too short to get up over 50MPH-ish (had it been dry) unless you’re really experienced on these types of courses. If you want something faster, maybe try the IndyCar or NASCAR experience. I’ve done the IndyCar one, and you definitely go a lot faster with that, but you’re on an oval.
  • The Lambo wasn’t put in to automatic transmission mode as some reviews mentioned, but we never got out of 2nd. You do get to shift, but basically only from neutral to 1st to get going, and to 2nd pretty quick after that. Once in 2nd, you stay there the rest of the way. You’re not getting close to the 6500RPM limit in 2nd on this course unless you’re planning on exiting over some cones and paying the price.
  • Scheduling can be a pain. I don’t disagree. Once you buy the deal, register as fast as possible to ensure you have options. I’ve learned this the hard way with other LS/Groupon deals in the past (namely my IndyCar one), so I registered shortly after opening this present. Even with that, the list of available dates was limited, but I got something that worked for me.
  • Some people said your time in the car isn’t that long, and that’s true. The deal is for 3 laps, and being an autocross course in a parking lot, that means a relatively small track. They do offer more laps as an add-on, or if that’s not enough, you might want to check out one of the companies that use real road courses or take you out on streets.

Back to the review: After checking in, we hung out under the canopies they’d put up (due to rain) and waited for the event to start. There weren’t a huge number of people for our 9am session, I’d say 7-8 for each of the two cars at most. Those driving the Ferrari got a nice upgrade at no cost, as the 360 was in the shop, so all they had was the F430 (both the F430 and Gallardo are 2006 models, BTW). They take you out based on the time you checked in, which they’d written on your wristband, so I was 3rd for the Lambo. With the ground being so wet none of us in that first three pushed all that hard, but I really did enjoy it. I’ve driven some fast stuff, but never something so well balanced in the corners. The instructor (or ‘sherpa’, as they call it) who was with me was really good, too. Very nice and talked you through the whole thing, and was far more helpful than the spotter I had with the IndyCar experience. He gave me pointers on corner entry/exit, and when to give it power exiting a turn. It ended faster than i’d have liked, which wasn’t a big surprise. Three laps is a bit short in my opinion, but I knew what I was getting in to, and I’m sure if I’d asked I could have upgraded to six for a little more. It was enough to give me a taste of what a well balanced supercar felt like, so it was worth it to me.

After I went, my daughter was up for her ride-along. When I bought it, the guy said that the cost is $50/lap, but they normally go ahead and do two laps for that. She actually got three, and he seemed to really be enjoying himself behind the wheel out there (who wouldn’t?), intentionally kicking out the rear in a few corners. Just for fun I gave him a heads-up that he had her past experiences to live up to, as she’s done an IndyCar 2-seater ride as well as the Audi ride-along at Daytona. He definitely pushed it, and she loved every second of it. I’ve got video of her laps up on YouTube if anyone wants to see it.

When it was all over, we both agreed that we had a blast. All of the employees were very friendly, and the car was a blast to drive, even in the rain. For the Living Social price it was definitely a fun morning, but I wouldn’t have done it for the listed price of $549. Not really sure if anyone actually paid that this morning, though. I do think Jen made a bit of a tactical error in buying this for me, as now I want to move up to one of the events on real tracks, like this one. There are a couple of cars on their list I’d absolutely love to get behind the wheel of, like the McLaren, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for deals with them, too 🙂

 

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