By David Phillips
Those fortunate enough to attend this weekend’s Acura Sports Car Challenge at Mid-Ohio have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to watching the DPis and GT cars of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at work.
As well as a formidable challenge to the competitors, the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course offers a cornucopia of Grade A vantage points thanks to a mix of natural amphitheaters and man-made spectator mounds. Indeed, those who put down roots in one spot from start to finish rather than wandering from one spot to the next miss half the fun of attending a race at Mid-Ohio.
No trip to Mid-Ohio is complete without some quality time in The Esses, aka "Madness" – a series of uphill, down-dale 90-degree corners at the end of the main straightaway. Not only does a spot on the adjacent hillside offer a view of overtaking maneuvers at the end of the straight, it affords an up close and personal look at competitors jockeying for position as the track switchbacks up and over the blind crest of Turn 5 down to Turn 6 before curving up and out of sight under the spectator bridge above Turn 7. Whether analyzing a lone driver’s technique or holding your breath as rivals scratch and claw for an advantage as they swing back and forth while the tarmac snakes right-left-right-left, give yourself license to indulge in a bit of Mid-Ohio madness.
The Keyhole, the 180-degree turn at the "top" of the track, is critical to a quick lap at Mid-Ohio as it serves as the launching pad for a nearly half-mile long straightaway. The spectator mound serves-up a compelling panorama from the exit of Turn 1 to the Keyhole itself and the long straightaway running gently downhill towards Turns 3 and 4. Overtaking moves into a hairpin? Check. Multiple lines through an uphill/downhill corner with multiple track surfaces? Check. Cars accelerating from 40 mph to 160+ mph. Check.
Take a Stand
Before going any further, you’ve got to make a solemn promise not the share THIS spot with anyone. After all, there’s only room for one (1) spectator here. While we’re happy to share, please keep it to yourself. OK? OK!
Heading into the infield, take a sharp left immediately after crossing the vehicle bridge and you’ll find yourself overlooking Turn 1. Most folks continue on for another 50 yards or so to the spectator mound, a perfectly fine place to watch the action.
But if you want THE prime viewing spot, you’ll make a full 180 and sidle along the hillside just below the bridge where you’ll find a metal utility box embedded in the ground. Atop the box you’ll not only have solid footing, you’ll be looking down on the cars arcing through Mid-Ohio’s most daunting turn.
Compare drivers’ lines as they tickle the inside curbing at the apex before drifting out to very edge of the track. Such is your perspective that it seems certain the cars will run out of road at the exit, but 99 times out of 100, drivers somehow manage to stay on the island. The one out of 99? That’s an e-ticket to a wild ride into the sand trap; wilder still if the wayward pilot misses the sand trap and does his or her best Ivan "Ironman" Stewart imitation bounding through the grass, simultaneously trying to regain the racing surface and minimize damage to the car.