If the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France is considered to be the Woodstock of auto racing, the American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix is something of a James Taylor concert. Held at historic Lime Rock Park in Northwestern CT, the 1.5-mile road course is actually just 45 minutes from the town of Stockbridge, MA from Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James.” For race fans, Lime Rock is a place unlike any other in the motorsport world, where one “get away from it all” and immerse themselves in one of the greatest forms of racing this side of the Atlantic: ALMS.
ALMS stands for American Le Mans Series, and as the name suggests, it is a race series based on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which we have swooned over here on BoldRide. Though based on 24 LM, there are certainly differences, and though the races are not as long, the trials can be equally rigorous.
BoldRide ventured down to this beautiful venue cut out of the New England woods. We attended the race as guests of SRT, Chrysler’s Street and Racing Team. While every generation has a special Corvette or Ferrari to love, this writer’s first true automotive love was the first-generation Viper. As a child of the late 80’s early 90’s, there was nothing like it, and was very excited to see its return to the automotive world and motorsport.
But first, I had to make the three-hour trek from Boston to Lime Rock. It is a beautiful drive, if long. The route takes you through the historic town centers of Lenox and Great Barrington, MA. Another 45 minutes through more green brings one to Lakeville, CT. It is a place where one would hardly think a world-class racetrack to exist, but then you hear it.
The sounds of high-revving V10’s ricocheted off the forested walls of the valley as we arrived at the track. The Lamborghini Super Trofeo race was currently underway. Run prior to the main event, it is a one-make series featuring a race-spec version of the 570-horsepower of the latest Lamborghini Gallardo. Actor/director Dax Shepard finished third in the amateur class.
As the Lamborghini race concluded, we made our way from the track entrance, in 93-degree heat, to SRT’s air-conditioned trailer. The sun bore down with impunity, but before we could seek refigure in a bunker of artificially produced comfort, we could not pass up the pre-race walk around of the cars.
Every entrant vehicle and its pilots stood on display about 40 minutes prior to the race. It is an unprecedented chance to get up close and personal with the cars and the drivers. With regards to the heat, an unnamed driver commented that it is only an issue if you are an overweight or older driver.
While the meet-and-greets were underway, some lucky race fans were taken around the track in road-going versions of several of the entrant vehicles, including a Chevrolet Corvette, SRT Viper, the Porsche Panamera Safety Car and the BMW M3 Lime Rock pace car.
Most of the year, Lime Rock is home to the Skip Barber Racing School, vintage races and SCCA-sanctioned amateur races. The facilities are geared more to those year-round activities, so teams have to be creative with the use of space in pit row.
But it is nowhere near as crowded as the field in the first several laps of this 2-hour, 45-minute ALMS race. Four race classes are all run at the same time, which makes for a lot of traffic early on. GT classes must give way to the P1 or Prototype classes (quick way to figure it out- the road-car-based racers have to give way to the dedicated, futuristic spaceship-looking racecars all stacked on the far left of the photo below).
There were plenty of Porsche 911s in this series, but the fun cars to watch were the V8-powered cars, including the 4.4-liter BMW Z4 GTE…
…and the Chevrolet Corvette C6-R.
Of course, the Viper GTS-R was a sight to behold.
These V8 and V10 GT cars were by far the loudest in the field, and at times their speed rivaled that of the prototypes. Watching all of these different classes jockey for position is by far the most exciting element of the race. Every heavily populated turn had the possibility of an “oh sh*t” moment! And there were several– one resulting in some body damage on this Ferrari 458.
But Lime Rock is one of those places that, regardless of the results, you can set a blanket, have a picnic and enjoy the absolute cutting edge of motorsport. It is not as pretentious as a Formula 1 race, and is far more civilized than a NASCAR race. It is its own unique pastime- one that has a tighter connection to the actual technology in your daily driver than most race series that one can attend.