Think you’ve seen it all when it comes to race cars and race tracks? If you’ve never witnessed full-size cars tearing it up on a tight, banked go kart track, you haven’t.
Yesterday, March 24th, I saw that. Actually, I even participated in the driving action myself. More on my racing adventures and impressions in a bit, but the main thing though is driving a sports car on such a small track isn’t hardly as comical or awkward as it sounds. It was quite fun and challenging in fact (and no one went off or wrecked their cars that evening, which is even better).
The go kart venue hosting these innovative events is Adams Motosport Park in Riverside, California. Originally, they catered to the drift crowd by simply letting drivers loose on their track at night to master the art of getting (and staying) sideways in their 240s and other rear-drive cars, but as of yesterday, have started doing “time-attack”-style grip driving events as well.
Drifting is held every Thursday night from 6:00 to 9:00+ pm, and grip events every Tuesday, at the same time. Racers arrive an hour or so early to register and tech, and proceed to line-up in the pits. The general entry fee is $3.00 for all, and $20 per driver for each hour-long session (ride-along is $10) A driver can register for as many sessions as they want. Each session/run group has 20 or so cars, and are lead out by a pace car for two parade laps to familiarize drivers with the course. Once the racing is underway, one can expect 2 to 3 runs within a session, each of which consists of 3 laps. The laps are timed (on grip events), and there’s even a Japanese drift-style announcer who offers praise and the occasional snide remark on the action. (Yeah, in case you were wondering, there are plenty of spectators eyeing the action, so the pressure’s on.)
Rules and regulations for the events are typical track day fare - any properly maintained car with working lights and decent tires is game. A SNELL certified M95 or SA95 or newer helmet is required (you can rent one at the registration desk), and convertibles require a roll bar. Full list of requirements and details here
First of all, I was driving a Mazda Miata (surprisingly the only one there), which compared to other cars is essentially a go kart, so my experience and views may be favorably biased. Even so, I think any car can have fun here, especially AWDs which can 4-wheel drift and power-out from the tight turns and cut a lot off of lap times.
There are 14 turns in the configuration I drove the track in, and all are quite
challenging (they’re comparable to corners found on tight canyon roads), and many of them are either banked or have berms, unlike autocross. In regards to autocross, I will add that the chances of wrecking and hitting something here are greater than in autocross, but if you keep it under control, you should be fine. (Note to drifters who want to show off: you’re mileage may vary. There are hittable dirt and tires walls.) As for the track's speed, depending on your car, you can expect to hit around 60mph on the front and back straights, and minimum speeds of around 20 in the tight stuff. Braking? Not too demanding - stock pads should suffice.
*Note: that's a semi truck on the road in the upper right, so you can see the track isn't that small.
About lap timing: apparently they either simply tell you or print up the slips at the registration desk, but by the time I went up there around 10:00pm, they were long closed. Some said I was taking better lines than most and was entertaining to watch, but I have no idea how I fared against others – I was simply enjoying myself and trying new ways to hustle my slightly understeering car around the bends (and scrubbing-in my brand new tires at the same time), so I doubt I was anything too special.
If you’re still not convinced of spending $20 for this much fun, check out this YouTube video of some drifting action here: Inland Drift: Drift Riverside 1 (Please excuse the annoying, random girl at the beginning who professes her love for drifters).
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and the company (I ran into quite a few people I knew from elsewhere) and the atmosphere was in general a nice blend of amped but laid-back. I’m looking forward to the next event, for sure. But that time, I’ll be driving competitively so watch out :).