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Remembering Road Atlanta

September 26th 2011, Manchester airport departure lounge as I gaze out of the window in to the Terminal 2 runway the reality sets in that I will momentarily be jumping on American Airlines and departing for Chicago.

Being an avid Formula One fan I find myself jetting half way across the world to watch a Sports Car race at Road Atlanta. In the recent past I have found myself looking for pastures new when it comes to Motorsport and for roughly four to five years I have started to closely follow Sports Cars with a few friends and have developed a true love and passion for 24 Heures du Mans (Le Mans).

I am very fortunate to have developed a very close friendship through the powers of Sim-Racing to have a few friends in the States. So I decided to take a holiday to South Illinois but then drive to Atlanta to Braselton to take in Petit Le Mans.

Without question this was the best two weeks of my life. I have never experienced such passionate fans like the Americans are. They are also an extremely knowledge bunch when it comes to cars but that was half to expected when you stand next to what can only be described as a monster truck rather than a track like the Ford F150. Yes I now desperately want one!

Drive through Smoky Mountains

After a few days in South Illinois with my good friend Brandon we set off for Atlanta. We set off in the late hours of Thursday night in anticipation of arriving just in time for qualifying on Friday. Not quite yet appreciating the sheer vastness of the United States it was a six and half hour drive across four states and going over the absolutely stunning Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. With that said we got to the track just at the start of qualifying and were able to take in the breath taking speed of the LMP1 cars across the top of turn three. It would be the #7 Peugeot 908 of Bourdais/Pagenaud/Davidson that would take pole position, disappointing for an Audi fan here.

It was a hurried entrance but after qualifying was over we were able to stretch our legs and take in the sights of the track itself. I have again never experienced a track quite like it, I thought Oulton Park had a lot of undulation but this was on a whole new level. I do not think anyone can appreciate the run down from turns three in to four and five then back up the other side until you have been there. It is mind blowing just how fast they run down that hill at stunning speeds.

After a very warm and sunny day, dusk started to settle and the temperature dropped. We headed up to the vendors area which was at the top of the hill, a wonderful area with a lot of Motor Racing enthusiasts taking in the entertainment. The Nissan GT5 Academy tent were running there competition to find the next big star much like Lucas Ordoñez. The Mazda tent had iRacing along with a young budding Mazda MX-5 (Miata driver). A lot of merchandise tents where I was able to pick up my Flying Lizards t-shirt that I had always wanted. We headed back to camp and the people next to us were kind enough to invite us over and sit around their fire. The British accent does come in handy sometimes.

A bitterly cold morning broke and the track was just awakening. In a few hours the screaming sounds of high class Sports Cars would try and tame the rollercoaster track. We headed down to the pit-lane and start finish line where fans were allowed to gather around the cars (not something that would happen in Formula One). We walked from the top of pit-lane right to bottom, taking a few pictures and I was lucky enough to shake hands with one Anthony Davidson and also grabbing a photo of Sebastien Bourdais and Alan McNish.

Audi R18

The track cleared and the roar of engines lit up the Atlanta skyline. The thunderous sound of the rolling start as the flag dropped for the start of what would become a highly intense twelve hours.

I have never known so much action, passion and incredible ability to be crammed, and I mean crammed, in to twelve hours. Being an Audi fan I was still shocked to see the pole sitters of Bourdais/Pagenaud/Davidson to be out on lap 78 as I felt that they had the strongest package and looked to be the biggest threat.

We decided to take a short break and we found that we could drive a Mazda MX-5 around Lanier Speedway which was just across the road from the track. Brandon and I took a shuttle bus across to the track and we jumped in the car. Now I have to admit this was my first time sitting on the left side of the car and driving. It was a little weird but once I got my bearings I was in to my flying laps and got very comfortable. We used part of the banking and then the two straights were coned slaloms, it was a lot of fun to drive and gave me the competitive racing bug even more than Sim-Racing previously had done.

From there we were fortunate enough to go to the Microsoft tent where we were able to meet up with some friends from SimCraft who create superb full motion simulators. They had two rigs set up in the tent and we had the opportunity to drive Forza Motorsport 4 with an Audi around Road Atlanta. It has to be said with that rig you can feel every single part of the road. Awesome experience.

Back to the track we went and it did not feel like we were back long before my heart sank seeing Audi #1 of Romain Dumas getting tangled up with one of the GTC Porsche’s and Franck Montagny’s Peugeot 908 with 98 laps to go. It was a very hard call to decide on which driver fault it was but nevertheless I was gutted. Even more so when the Audi #2 car of Capello/Kristensen/McNish went out with mechanical failure just six laps later, that would be the Audi team done for the day.

The #8 Peugeot of Montagny/Sarrazin/Wurz would come across after the twelve hours to win but my attention quickly turned to the stunning GT battle between Werner in the BMW M3 GT and Bergmeister in the Flying Lizards Porsche 911 RSR. There was a lot a stake as well, the BMW running Dunlop tyres versus the Michelin tyres on the Porsche. This result would confirm the tyre manufacturers’ champion. A late safety car meant the cars were released with just three laps remaining. A titanic scrap between the pair of them ensued with Bergmeister getting past Werner with a remarkable manoeuvre around the outside of turn seven leaving him a run all the way down the back straight. Werner came back but Bergmeister saw him off as the fireworks were set off after an absolutely staggering, fantastic, monumental twelve hours.

Sunset at Turn 10A and 10B

It is hard to put in to words just how I felt at the end of the event. It has to describe my ever growing passion for Motorsport. It felt incredible to have been there, it was quite an emotional feeling and I cannot begin to express the passion and desire I have for Sports Cars now. The people, the fans, the cars, every single aspect of that form of Motor Racing has allowed me to be thoroughly proud to call myself a Motorsport fan. The track side commentators and on MotorsTV of John Hindaugh and Jeremy Shaw were just superb the excitement of Hindaugh made the event even more spectacular.

For my first ever event I was not disappointed and I intend to go to a lot more. I have never had that much enjoyment at any form of event in all my tender 23 years of life. I also want to thank my friend Brandon for even allowing the opportunity to come about.

There may be many F1 fans out there, many NASCAR fans and WRC fans, but I cannot encourage each and every single one of you fans to GO TO A SPORTS CAR EVENT! A manic but tremendous two weeks that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Follow me on Twitter @Nico888

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