If You Love Sports Cars, Going to an IMSA Race is a No-Brainer
In terms of notoriety, motorsports like Formula 1 and NASCAR get all the headlines. But when it comes to fan experience, perhaps no series offers the same level of access as IMSA. This weekend, the American-based sports car racing series made its way to Lime Rock Park in Connecticut. And from the moment I arrived on the grounds on Friday morning, I was in a nirvana for gearheads.
What it’s like to see a race car up close
While many bigger racing series charge hundreds or thousands of dollars to get up close to the action, in IMSA it all comes for the price of a general admission ticket. At Lime Rock Park, a simple walk down the hill finds a series of race cars, crews, trucks, and pit lanes. And while the area immediately behind the pit wall is off-limits to all but IMSA-approved media, everywhere else is fair game.
During practice and qualifying, there’s an opportunity to see crews working on their cars in between sessions, making adjustments to give their drivers a better car. It’s fascinating to watch, even though from the outside, it’s tough to discern exactly what’s happening in each bay.
On race day, things are even more frenetic. As teams ready for the grid, there’s a flurry of both road and pit crews making final preparations for the competition ahead. You can watch the cars leave their garage stalls and take to the track. The first activity of the day is a shakedown lap before forming up on the pitlane ahead of the start.
It’s here where you get to see some of the details that make these race cars special. From the aero touches, carbon fiber body panels, big brakes, and of course, the stripped-out driver compartment, it’s incredible to see how much work goes into making a Porsche 911 or Lexus RC F go from road car to IMSA-ready race machine.
Damaged race cars make their way to the paddock
During the race itself, the paddock is mostly quiet. But if an incident happens on the track, you’ll get to appreciate both the speed and violence of professional racing. Watching wrecked race cars come by really drives home just how much energy is involved in a race car at speed. Moreover, it’s a visual representation of what happens to that energy when it meets a stationary object.
During this particular weekend, a McLaren clattered into the pit wall, creating an unholy tangle of mangled carbon fiber. A Porsche 911 destroyed itself and an Aston Martin with a missed braking point at turn 1. And getting to see those cars and their damage up close isn’t the kind of access that comes cheap in F1.
The race itself is a sight to behold
Unlike most tracks, where laps can take anywhere from two to four minutes, a lap at Lime Rock takes the GTD Pro cars just over one minute to get around. As the fastest cars come around to lap their slower competition, the moments of serenity get increasingly shorter. Without safety cars, it takes but 10 minutes to get a nearly non-stop cacophony of car sounds.
The Aston Martin V8, for example, produced a giggle-inducing turbo flutter when lifting off the throttle. The BMW’s meanwhile, sounded more like diesel trucks than gas-powered race cars thanks to their unique turbo configuration. And the sound of a Lamborghini Huracan V10 hitting the rev limiter on the downhill will never leave my mind.
If you’ve only ever watched racing on TV, it’s hard to understand just how impressive it all is. It’s more than just cars navigating a track. Things are happening at a mind-bending pace with precision that is hard to encapsulate on camera. Only when standing at the fence in turn one or watching cars come over the hill at speed can you truly appreciate the skill employed by a truly professional racing driver.
Any of us that thinks we can turn a wheel on track and hold our own would find ourselves seconds off the pace of even the slowest pro drivers. That said, IMSA is a series that allows amateurs to compete, provided they pass certain licensing requirements. So if you have the cash and some level of skill, you could, theoretically, get out there and test your mettle against the pros.
From symphony of speed to cordon of community
The on-track action is one thing. But the experience of the track beyond racing is another. Because it’s so isolated, many choose to camp out at the track for the entirety of the weekend. The result is one big infield party once the cars stop circulating. From tents and makeshift car campers to full-size RVs, this little racetrack becomes its own community for two and a half days.
Everywhere you look, there are people grilling, sharing a beverage or two, and talking about everything from race cars to grilling techniques to their favorite throwback jams. A moment like this is a reminder that we all have more in common than we sometimes realize when we go back to our own little worlds.
It instilled a sense of faith in humanity that the internet tries to destroy with each new algorithm. When people from all walks of life come together and realize they all share at least one trait, it becomes easier to break down the rest of those walls and find humanity in almost anyone you meet.
The parking lot is a car show by itself
Even if you’re not into race cars, camping, or having various grilled types of meat handed off to you by complete strangers, the infield parking area at an IMSA race is its own mini car show. There is specialized parking for the Hyundai N, Porsche Driver’s Club, BMW Car Club of America, and Corvette Club members, each offering generations of automotive excellence in a variety of hues, builds, and styles.
The midway includes booths from big-time automotive brands showing off their latest creations. Hyundai had its IONIQ 5, Elantra N, and Kona N on display alongside an Elantra N TCR show car. Race sponsor FCP Euro showed off its latest builds, including a Mercedes 190E touring car, a tuned Volvo Wagon, and a booth packed with aftermarket parts.
In a crossover between automotive and artistry, the One Hell of a Town! (OHOAT!) booth shows off illustrated classic cars, iconic driving road posters, keychains, and of course, Tim. Tim is OHOAT! artist and owner, Syd’s classic Porsche 944, decked out in a slightly off-beat version of the Apple Computer livery from Garretson Racing in the 1980s.
From there, you’ll find a booth showing off blankets woven with racing and automotive themes, a classic Porsche gallery, and a giveaway and games booth put on by Hyundai’s N division. Across the way, food, coffee, track day experiences, and sports car rental booths round out the midway festivities, putting everything you’d want or need all in one ¼-mile strip of well-worn asphalt.
Going to a race is fun for everyone
The truth is, you don’t have to love racing to appreciate a weekend at the track. With the festival atmosphere, the excellent lineup of cars in the parking lot, and tons of great food on hand, a sports car race is just a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
The intricacies of the racecars are fascinating up close, even if watching the cars on track isn’t your bag. And with so much to do inside the track walls, it’s almost easy to forget there’s a race happening at all. That is, until a dozen screaming race cars sweep under the pedestrian bridge.