Every running track should copy Lime Rock Park’s indoor course

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Tim Marr

Lime Rock Park is the most exciting place in New England for a car enthusiast. The 1.5-mile main track, tracing the beautiful rolling hills of northwest Connecticut, has produced decades of motorsport history and created countless memories for gearheads around the world. It is a major part of Road & Track annual Hudson Quattrocento rally and an American racing tradition. My first time on a racetrack was at Lime Rock Park, and I’ve done hundreds of laps since. But Lime Rock’s main course isn’t New England’s funnest bit. It’s not even the most fun track on the circuit. This title belongs to Lime Rock’s indoor course.

The Lime Rock Indoor Track is a miniature road course nestled atop one of the many hills that make up the entire Lime Rock property. Away from the busy collection of roads, parking lots and track maintenance buildings scattered around the larger infield, you have to walk up the service road from the main paddock and then hang left towards the toilets to get there . Once you arrive you are greeted by a vast field of asphalt complete with a pair of gazebos. A large tree provides the only other shade. In its longest configuration, the route is 0.519 miles, or 35% of the length of the main track.

The original loop, a tiny .223 mile oval with a left bend that is now the southern portion of the full course, was first designed in 1985 by Skip Barber Racing School head instructor Terry Earwood at the era. The school was headquartered in Lime Rock at the time, and the goal was to provide a space to teach students about driving lines and different turns without having to deal with the speeds and hazards of the full road course. . From the early days of the track, Earwood kept education in mind.

limestone rock course google maps
Here’s what the course looks like from 1993 to 2020.

Google Maps

“[The turns] seem random, but they’re not,” said Walter Irvine, director of track productions at Lime Rock. Road & Track. Irvine got his start at Lime Rock in 1991 as an instructor for Skip Barber’s school before moving to an official position at Lime Rock in 2012.

“They were built specifically to educate drivers on the correct path through a bend. There are only three types of corners. An increasing radius, a decreasing radius and a compromise corner.

“There’s a scientifically specific reason, if you will, as to how they were put together.”

Between 1991 and 1993 a second north oval reflecting the original design was added, alongside a pair of tarmac strips connecting the two courses. This allowed the instructors to adapt the layout of the track to suit their teaching. It also allowed the school to introduce an elevation change, as the westernmost connector strip features a sharp, steep, uphill left turn.

Although the indoor track is known as the autocross course, it wasn’t until 2012 that Lime Rock officially launched its autocross program. Open to the public, it allows riders who don’t have the funds or equipment to attend a full track day to experience a closed course in a safe and fun environment. Unsurprisingly, it was a success.

“All of a sudden there was this audience for people who couldn’t afford to do the road course,” Irvine told us. “We realized that it was really important not only to let people do it, but also to have instructors there to train as little or as much as each of the pilots wanted.

Every Lime Rock-run autocross event has instructors on duty to make sure you take the right lines, as well as strategically placed cones along the track to mark peaks and turning points, just like you would a real track day. Except here you don’t need to empty your car, make sure your battery is securely attached, or wear a helmet. You don’t even need a roll bar if your car is a convertible. Programs start at $325 per session, or $550 per session if you upgrade to the Advanced Driver Coaching option, which allows half the participants but doubles the number of instructors present.

It didn’t take long for the appeal of the autocross program to continue into the offseason.

“It was a few years after I came here that we made a deal and got some snowmaking and snow grooming equipment,” Irvine continued. “We then decided not to close at all during the year. And we made snow. And the same applied. We did public days where you could sign up and if the weather was good enough for us to not only make and groom the snow but to get the snow held back we did…they were incredibly well received.

To this day, Lime Rock continues to offer a winter autocross program, although the window to run it is shrinking each year.

“Unfortunately, the weather is getting hotter, so November is the new October and March is the new April,” says Irvine.

One look at the inside course would lead any enthusiast to believe this would make for a perfect drift course. Lots of turns, endless layouts and nothing to hit. It’s paradise for drift pros. Alas, the era of course drift was short-lived.

acura nsx drift
The author sidesteps on the inside course of Lime Rock with Road & Track Long term Acura NSX.

DW Burnet

“About five years ago, three different drifting organizations came out and we beta tested them,” Irvine said. Road & Track.

Lime Rock ended up licensing a Pennsylvania-based organization Drift ready to use to race the course and organize events. The track would even schedule them for days when non-quiet cars were driving on the main track so as not to anger the town with all the loud noises drifting cars are known to make.

“They were absolutely some of the best tenants I’ve ever had,” Irvine said. They were wonderful. But when we got into the year, I think it was three or four, Skip [Barber] told me that the city said no more.

“It wasn’t the noise because again we had a loud event before [going on]”Irvine continued. “We literally had neighbors, because of the smoke, saying it was carcinogenic. Whether it was or not, it broke my heart to have to call [the Ready Set Drift organizers] and tell them we can’t do that anymore.

The biggest change to the field course came in 2021. A massive 10-year partnership agreement with a European parts distributor FCP euros gave Lime Rock the funds to demolish the entire sidewalk for the first time in 36 years and lay completely new asphalt for the existing course and skid zone. Organizers also added about a quarter mile of new asphalt connecting the course to the skidpad, allowing for a lot more layout possibilities. The agreement also resulted in an official name for the indoor course: The FCP Euro Proving Grounds.

“The decision was made to rehabilitate the entire sidewalk and repave it properly,” Irvine told us. “I wanted to put the courses back to the original 24 feet. And because they weren’t paved in a linear or symmetrical fashion, one side would be significantly wider than the other relative to the center line. So we lost the true line of the corners.

“I was thrilled because we came back and re-established the center line and we paved the 24 feet,” Irvine continued. “As soon as you drove it, you were like, ‘Oh my God, this thing is so tight.’ And it’s supposed to be tight because it’s discipline.

lime rock infield course fcp euro proving ground
The course as it unfolds today.

FCP euros

Adding skidding to the course also meant that some cars would go fast enough to shift into third gear. This meant opportunities for instructors to teach more skills, such as threshold braking and downshifting. It also allows the course to give you the feel of a real racetrack without too much risk of driving a full course. You get the speed, a bunch of circuit-inspired corners and even apex corners… but without any walls to hit.

The joy of the Lime Rock Indoor Course comes when you actually participate in an autocross program. It’s not feel as if you were participating in a traditional autocross. Instead, it’s like doing a half-day track. There are no flags to wave or cones to chase after. In some ways, the Lime Rock autocross course is better than a real track because the speeds are low and there’s absolutely nothing to hit. It’s just you, your car, and a smooth sliver of asphalt where you can push your limits without fear of hitting a wall. And although officially sanctioned drifting is not permitted, the instructors are more than happy to let you drag your car around the course at your leisure.

The world needs more trails like the Lime Rock Indoor Course. You don’t have to be a seasoned autocross or track day veteran to get the most out of this place. You just have to show up with your car to have a good time. While it won’t allow stuff like flat fourth gear cornering at triple-digit speeds, it scratches the itch for most enthusiasts and encourages newbies to get out there and experiment. In a world where amateur riding is becoming increasingly rare, places like the field course are invaluable.

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