Last week I was out in Elkhart Lake, WI visiting the beautiful Road America track with the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). As always, it was a great time. Though it definitely was memorable.
First, let me say there’s a reason for the lack of pictures, and by that I mean pretty much no pictures. It was pouring rain all day Wednesday while we were at the track. So I didn’t even bother taking my camera out. It wasn’t worth risking it. Thursday during the autocross and off-roading I was so busy driving I didn’t even remember to take my camera out.
Wednesday morning we knew it was going to rain. Forget what the weather man said, you could see it in the sky. As we ate breakfast in the paddock we all took estimates as to how long until it started pouring. All I wanted to do was down a Monster and hit the track. But the breakfast burritos were actually really good. After our safety talk from one of the Road America employees, and Phil Mirenda, President of CGI Motorsports, we were released to drive the cars.
I immediately grabbed the keys to a blue 2011 Mitsubishi Evo MR. The line for the track formed quickly, but luckily I was quick enough to be one of the first. Again, trying to get some laps in before the rain hits. This Evo was equipped with the TC-SST transmission. I immediately started fiddling with the settings. I put the transmission into super-sport mode and the all-wheel drive system into tarmac mode. I pulled on the left paddle shifter and I was ready to go. Matt Hruska from STi gave me the nod and I was off.
I picked the Evo as my first vehicle around the track for the grip of the all-wheel drive system. While I still remember the lines of the track from last year, it’s always nice to know you have the all-wheel drive to put the power down through that first corner.
As I came around the first corner I suddenly remembered why I love the MAMA spring rally so much. I continued to flick the paddles up and down through the gears as I went through the turns. Doing my best to hold the line and shoot out of each turn. I was keeping the engine on boil the entire time. As I pulled back into the paddock I noticed my average mpg was 4.1 for that lap. I could’ve done worse.
As you would expect, the Evo was a dream around the track. Powering out from the corners with ease, the high-strung four-cylinder screaming at full tilt. It was every hybrid owners nightmare and ever adrenalin junkies fantasy.
It still wasn’t raining at this point so I hopped into the white Lexus IS-F sitting all pretty in the paddock. I hopped back in line, which was now several cars deep. Just as I pulled up to the start line it suddenly started raining. First a few drops, and then heavier. Matt dropped his hand and said see ya. I hit the gas and the rear-end instantly struggled to find traction. Once I was off it was clear this car would be a handful in the rain. Around each corner the rear-end slid more and more until I was back in the paddock.
The steering on the IS-F was terrific, and the seats were very comfortable both for everyday use and weekend track use. But the transmission is really not up to the rest of the cars potential. It has the same eight-speed automatic you will find in the Lexus LS460, albeit with slightly different software. This car would be a completely different animal if it had a true dual-clutch transmission or six-speed manual with dare I say it, three pedals. There’s just too much lag time between when I hit the paddle and the transmission shifts.
After sliding around the track in the IS-F I decided it was time for some all-wheel drive fun. A dark blue 2011 Subaru WRX STi was just sitting in the paddock begging to hit the track. I was happy to oblige. As I went through the corners I was reminded how balanced and easy the WRX STi is to drive, even more so how well it does in the rain. The all-wheel drive put the power down with no problems and the car tracked exactly as I directed it. It was such a different experience than the IS-F that it almost made me question the price difference. But I quickly remembered how different these cars where.
Heading back into the paddock my time on the track quickly became a flurry of different high-horsepower vehicles ranging from all-wheel drive Audis to rear-wheel drive Mercedes, nothing was left out.
I took Connie Burke from General Motors for a ride around the track in a black Mazda RX-8. Before hitting the track she tweeted, “About to tear it up at Road America with @joelfeder – if Im’ not back in 4 miles send a search party http://lockerz.com/s/104679873.” Very funny Connie. I believe I had the last laugh as she walked out of the RX-8 mumbling something about not needing coffee for the rest of the day. We had a good time, I think she got a bit nervous as we rounded turn four.
Later I hit the track with Brian Goebel from General Motors, he asked me to take him out in the CTS-V. We hit the track in a red jewel tintcoat sedan. As we were flying around turn six he looked at me and said, “you know, we are right on the edge….” as soon as he finished his sentence I gave the gas just a little juice and the rear-end kicked out. We both started laughing and took off down barreling down to the chicane that created turn seven and eight.
There was also a Regal Turbo with the six-speed manual that General Motors was putting on the track. Even though I knew it wouldn’t be the fastest car around the track, I had yet to drive a Regal Turbo with the manual. I asked Nick Richards if he would like to ride along, which of course he did. Though I’m fairly certain he was just coming along to make sure I didn’t put his pretty car into the wall. There must be something with these GM people as he tweeted out, “Survived lap around Road America with @joelfeder in #Regal Turbo.” What? They all think they’re going to die or something? Ok, we’ll stop this topic before the comments start flowing in…
I will say, that while the Regal Turbo manual was not a screamer around the track, it handled itself well. It was predictable around the corners and fun to drive. Though the throws were a little long for my taste, but they are well sorted and clean. I was informed the GS gearbox will have shorter throws. We’ll see…
A common question has been, “what was your favorite ride at the rally?” My answer is very simple, the 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG. That has to be one of the best four-door sedans (oops I mean four-door coupe) on the planet. The exhaust note is that of the devil himself, the interior is terrific with a mix of rich materials ranging from real metal to Alcantara, suede, and leather. The seats feature active-bolsters which grab you in places that you would normally have to pay people. The engine just pulls like a freight train with no end in sight.
I drove the 2012 CLS63 AMG after lunch, when it was raining even harder. This was the only car that on both straights I literally couldn’t put the pedal all the way to the floor. I was going about 110 mph with the gas pedal halfway to the floor. I thought to myself (in one of those one second moments that felt like a minute), “if I put the pedal to the floor I’m fairly certain I could see 150+ mph on this straight. I’m also fairly certain I would definitely see the wall up close and personal. Lets not.” And so I kept the pedal at half throttle for the entire straight keeping the speed at no more than 115 mph. Ok, maybe I went a little faster than that. But I never saw higher than 125 mph that entire day.
I finally had the opportunity to drive a new 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302. Unfortunately it was raining, so I didn’t really go full out on the track as I didn’t feel like being the guy who put it into the wall (no that didn’t end up happening). I will say that I revved that sweet sweet 5.0-liter V-8 to the 7,000 rpm redline and smiled like an idiot doing so. It was like a symphony playing under the hood. The seats are terrific and the exhaust note is deep and meaningful. The whole package is just so well put together. Everything works cohesively and in harmony.
I wish it hadn’t rained as Ford had also brought along a 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca edition, but once the rain started it was quickly locked and never driven again.
Wednesday afternoon typically consists of a rousing round of high-speed go karting down on the other side of the Road America track. Usually the OEMs and journalists all take part. Since it was pouring rain and barely 50 degrees, most people didn’t feel like getting even more soaked. Of course I wasn’t one of those people.
Eight of us headed down to the karts and received our “safety talk.” Let’s be clear about something, high-speed go karting in the rain on slicks is essentially high-speed drifting in a go kart. Also, have you ever played Mario Kart? It was essentially like real life Mario Kart. In a word, awesome. I had a blast. Though I was soaked head to toe when we were done. The major story here was I spun out around turn one on our second to last round. Tim Healey was coming around the turn, hit his brakes, but they didn’t do squat at this point. He slide right into me. In the end, he T-boned me at full speed. My body felt it for a week. I saw it coming, but couldn’t do anything to stop it. Though we both laughed as it was truly hilarious.
Wednesday morning we split into two groups. I was in the group who hit the autocross first. I immediately decided I really wasn’t going to go full out for time, rather I was just going to have fun. My first chariot was the CTS-V Coupe. The problem was immediately apparent that there was just so much power, the traction control was going to kill power in ever corner. Which is exactly what happened.
I did turn traction control off in the 2011 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, which of course resulted in tail-out action on every corner. While hilarious, it was not helpful in achieving a good time.
My fastest run was definitely in the Mazda MX-5. This shouldn’t come as a shock. Nimble and small, the MX-5 is definitely a terrific car for autocrossing.
After the autocross it was time to go off-roading. My first choice when it came to vehicles was of course the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland. I mean c’mon, like I wasn’t going straight for the Jeep? Of course, between the air suspension and Ranger Rover like transfer case selector, the Grand Cherokee handled everything with ease.
To my surprise so did the 2011 Jeep Patriot with Freedom Drive II, along with the 2011 Jeep Compass with Freedom Drive II. Both of these little cute utes tackled the exact same course as the Range Rover, though much to the chagrin of the Range Rover off-road guides. They were none too happy to see these two little CUVs playing with their expensive toys. Regardless, from the huge hill descent to the muddy articulation corner, these two little CUVs lived up to the Trail Rated badge that day.
I also drove the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, and Jeep Liberty on the off-road course. All three also handled the terrain with ease. Though that really wont shock anyone.
We had a quick lunch and then the rally was over…well it was supposed to be. But Valentine from Bentley asked if I wanted to drive the new 2011 Bentley Continental GT. Who was I to turn her down. I invited her to come but she had people to talk to. I grabbed the keys willingly and looked for my partner in crime, Mark Boyadjis. Of course he had already overheard the conversation and was headed to the Bentley. We wont go into details but it was a terrific ride. The Bentley is such a different animal than the AMGs and other expensive high-horsepower machines I’d been in the past 24 hours. Everything was so smooth and fluid. The power was there in force, but it was such a gentle transition. The power never came on in a brutish manner. Even when you slammed the gas pedal, the power was linear. Driving a Bentley is an experience like none-other.
After enjoying my time in the Bentley, Mark and I hit the road back to Minneapolis. The rally was a blast. Rain or shine, it’s clear that people know how to have a great time. Here’s till the fall rally, but who are we kidding, I’m already counting the days till the next spring rally.