Mid Ohio Sports Car course is one of the least known attractions in the face of Ohio, unless you happen to be a road racing
fan. The wooded 2.24 Mile eleven turn road course located in the hills just west of Lexington, Ohio
is considered one of the world’s most challenging courses, a severe test of both car and driver. In addition, the sculpted spectator mounds make it exceptionally spectator friendly. First built in 1962 the course continues to host some of the world’s top road racing
series and top drivers. The 2002 Mid Ohio schedule looks like this:
* June 1-2 Ohio Valley Region SCCA National, the Race of Champions
* June 14, 15, 16 the SVRA vintage racing with the Sprint Vintage Grand Prix in late June. Everything from Allards to Formula 1 cars, the SVRA brings out the old race cars where they belong, on track. Hundreds of historic cars will take the track.
*June 28,29,30 American LeMans series with the Trans Am. Really great sports protypes racing with the Panoz, Audi, Cadillac and other factory teams. With the thundering V-8 engines of the Trans Am, road racing's answe to the Winston Cup.
* July 19,20,21 AMA vintage Motorcycle days brings out the old bikes and a major swapmeet for bike fans
*July 26, 27,28 brings the AMA Superbikes to Mid Ohio with the world's fastest riders. Racing five wide at times.
August 9,10,11 brings CART back to Mid Ohio. With Formula Atlantic F2000 pro series, and Sports racers this is a very fast weekend.
*Northeat Ohio Region presents their National Race, complete with the traditional Saturday night pig roast for workers and racers. A fine time will be had by all as hundreds of top amateurs prepare for The Runoffs
*SCCA Regional races will be run on July 6-7, August 3-4, OVR on September 7-8, and ending up with the WOR games on October 5-6
*September 16-22 will return The Runoffs to Mid Ohio. This is the Olympics of motorsports, the amateur road racing championship of North America. Over 600 racers will come from all across the United States and Canada to compete for an entire week, with only a trophy at stake. Competing in The Runoffs is the goal of everyone in Club Racing, and the racing is as fierce and competitive as anywhere on Earth.
To understand why Mid Ohio is so challenging, let’s take a lap around the course. The front straight is about an eighth mile with the start/finish line about halfway down. Turn one is a very fast 90 degree sweeper, capable of being taken flat out in many race cars. The corner itself begins right before the infield crossing bridge, and upon the exit cars will begin climbing uphill for another 1/8 mile straight. A late apex traps you in a gravel pit, or in the tire wall that guards the backstraight. Spins are common there, particularly in the wet, for it’s speed is seductive and an early apex can lead to airborne agricultural excursions, or worse.
For most series, the keyhole begins at turn two, a combination of a 45 degree right hander, leading to three a sweeping 60 degree left ending at turn ending at the entrance to Four, a hairpin. CART, the ALMS and the Grand Am skip turn two and the low hill that ends at turn three requires very hard braking.
Stay center track or slightly to the right in Four as it enters with positive banking, but exits off camber to the outside. If you haven’t gotten on the power too soon and spun, you’re now on the backstraight, almost 1/3 mile straightaway ahead, with only the turn Five, the kink ahead. Five is taken flat out in any race car. For many pro racing series, the Start line is just past the kink. They also keep a flag station at Five, along with emergency vehicles. It’s a good place to pull off if you have mechanical problems.
By the time a Champ car hits the braking area at turn Six, it will have accelerated from 40 to 190 MPH. Six is a ninety degree right hander, that starts sharply downhill, and slightly banked on the outside. It is the entrance to the esses at Mid Ohio, a set of corners Paul Page dubbed “madness”. The braking area is the tracks primary passing area, as drivers struggle to outbrake each other. If you brake too late you’ll head off into China Beach a 100 yard deep gravel trap that ends in a tire wall. If your brakes fail at Six, 100 yards is not very far. Adrian Fernandez discovered that at the 2001 Miller Lite 200, and ended up on top of the tire wall. Brake failures are fairly common at Mid Ohio, as cars continually yo yo their speed. Transmission failures are a problem too at Mid Ohio, as many drivers will shift 100 times per lap!
Exiting six you will head down and then back up to seven, the slowest corner on the track. It’s a 120 left hander, with the apex at the summit of a small hill. Tuck in tight at the entrance, because the track goes off camber on the outside. And don’t screw up, the wall is close here, right at the edge of the track.
From here you will head downhill to eight, a moderately slow right. The track turns up a bit at the center of the corner, so it encourages racing. Then you will climb uphill to nine a fast left just beyond the spectator bridge. You’ll drift to the outside for ten, a fast right hander that sets you up for Eleven. But don’t go too fast. Like one, ten is a seductive corner with its speed, but you can only go so fast or end up sliding across the grass and into a tire wall.
And now we get to Eleven. Eleven is an evil place. Veteran Grand Am racer Jack Baldwin once said, “I give thanks every time I get through it.”
It doesn’t seem so bad at first. If you’ve taken Ten right you will brake hard as your natural line will carry you to the outside of the track. Eleven is a slow 90 degree right-hander, with a hill crest right at the apex. You must turn in blind, and you want to carry a lot of speed, because your exit will take you downhill into Thunder valley. You can make time here. The descent is followed by the climb out, a significant elevation change in both directions.
If you turn in too late, you’ll probably slide right off the track driver’s left. Into the gravel pit followed by tire wall. Your race is probably done, but you and your car should be okay. Unless somebody slides in after you. Which happens. Ask Max Papis who ended up cartwheeling into the pit at Eleven.
If you turn in way too early you’re a wanker and you’ll also end up in the gravel pit, or you’re so slow that you can make the corner anyway. But if you apex just a hair too early, the tiniest of mistakes, that’s when Eleven reaches out to bite you.
If you do that you’ll run out of asphalt just before another spectator bridge. The runoff area pinches in there, and with it the wall. At Mid Ohio the walls are made of steel reinforced concrete two feet thick. They have a rumble strip there too, just to let you know you’re about to screw up, and hopefully encourage a return to the pavement. Sometimes the curbing does its job and you stay on. Sometimes it doesn’t and you bite the wall. Sometimes you bounce off the wall and back onto the track. Sideways. In the line. And someone who just crested a hill at 90 MPH has about a millisecond to avoid you.
Even if you avoid the wall, the curbing can toss you sideways onto the track. Or into the opposite wall. In front of traffic.
Mid Ohio parks emergency vehicles just behind the flag station at Eleven. They understand.
But if you’ve done well you’re flat out down the hill into Thunder Valley and you’ll still be flat footed through twelve, a right handed kink early in your climb. Welcome to turn Thirteen, where you’re problems begin anew.
Thirteen is a sixty degree left hander with the hill crest just before the apex. It can be taken quickly, but only so quickly. The early hill crest means that when you turn in the corner looks like a lot less than it really is. I have seen a Formula Atlantic airborne for thirty yards exiting Thirteen. It’s gravel trap is well used, and the curbing often hooks cars. Lake Erie Communications initiates corner workers to the world of flagging at thirteen. The place has a way of getting everyone’s attention.
Exiting Thirteen you get to Fourteen, the Carousel. It is a slow 140 degree right hander that exits into Fifteen, a sixty degree left. Pit in is located there. At the entrance of Fourteen the elevation drops about ten feet, and it climbs back up at Fifteen. The corner is relatively slow, and particularly interesting in the rain.
But if you have survived all of this you have completed one lap of Mid Ohio. It’s more difficult than it sounds. The corners come in combinations, and a tiny mental mistake in one corner can lead to disaster in the next. At Mid Ohio you have to worry about more than just the corner you’re entering. For this reason it is considered one of the most technical circuits on Earth.
Fortunately, spectators have it much easier. The track was sculpted in the seventies, with well shaped spectator mounds in several locations, and many spectator bridges. Prime spots include the Grandstand at the end of the backstraight, from which you can see the passing zones before six, and the esses. From there, you can see the fastest and slowest parts of the track. There are spectator mounds all the way from turns five through eight, a big mound at the hairpin at three, and at thirteen and the entrances to the carousel. Multiple corners are visible from all these locations. Spectators are encouraged to move around during a race weekend, with good viewing available at all the corners except Eleven.
Concessions are fairly priced. The selections are typical hamburgers and brats but the food is always fresh and reasonably tasty. Beer and wine is sold. But tailgating is encouraged, with many setting up grills. Motorhome or trailer camping is permitted in selected spectator locations, some wooded! There is a tent camping area as well, with limited shower capabilities. In addition, there are hotels and camping spaces available nearby. However, they fill up early for CART and the AMA events, so a year early isn’t too soon to make reservations. There is LOTS of parking, but limited space in the infield. Special space is available for car clubs and on track activities may be arranged, particularly on vintage racing weekends. Paddock passes are available, for an extra charge.
Most fans approach Mid Ohio from I-71. Southbound from Cleveland and the Turnpike exit at U.S. 30 westbound near Mansfield. If you watch to the north side of US 30 you will see the old Mansfield Reformatory where The Shawshank Redemption was filmed. Follow the signs. The route is well marked, but the signs may be small, particularly when you turn onto Steam Corners Rd.
Northbound from Columbus exit at rt. 95 eastbound exit 151. Again follow the signs! The route is well marked. Take route 314 North to take a right east on Steam Corners Rd. You will see the main spectator entrance the north. There is a north gate also, but only if you already have your tickets.
Mid Ohio may be contacted during business hours at 1-800-mid-ohio. Their web site is at http://www.midohio.com . Tickets, merchandise, directions, maps and such are available online or by phone, as is information about the Mid Ohio school.