High Plains Raceway Fun
It’s not very often that one just happens to be in Colorado on a cross country trip at the exact time when a colleague is organizing a fun track day. And it’s even less often that I get invited. But the guys at TFL Car were kind enough to ask me to come out and play this week, and even though I missed a day due to an extreme case of food poisoning (do NOT choose the crab cake sandwich!) I was still able to have some fun out at Colorado Off Road Extreme and High Plains Raceway.
I started driving out to CORE in the Kia Optima Hybrid. Don’t worry, it was just a transport vehicle. We weren’t going to take that baby off road! I had the 2011 Kia Optima Turbo last year and I enjoyed my time in it, and once I turned off the Eco mode in this model I found it to be a nice alternative to the ubiquitous Prius or Civic hybrid that roam our streets. It’s way sexier, gets 40 mpg on the highway, and starts at $25,700. Seriously. If mpg is your thing, don’t discount the Kia Optima Hybrid.
Once we got to CORE they had an off road course set up…mostly steep hills to go up and down, and a rally course. No rally cars were available, since this was all about new cars. I tossed about the Mitsubishi Outlander GT, which I picked originally since it was the only one that had a modicum of a manual transmission (paddle shifters but better than nothing). I was surprised how I could throw something that big around. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not 500 hp STI, but my rally instructor and I had a good time.
I also tried out the Kia Sportage and Honda CR-V, but the star of the rally course, without a doubt, was the Nissan Juke. Now I know people love to hate the Juke, and I myself am not a fan of the CVT transmission or the fact that you can’t get a manual with the AWD. However, on the rally course, the Juke is quick, the turbo lag is minimal, and I even got it sideways a bit through the corners. I took that thing around the course so much the spotter at the start line stopped asking me to get out and let someone else have a chance. I wasn’t giving up my Jukie Love for nothing.
After a quick lunch, we headed off to High Plains Raceway. I was able to score the navigator seat in the R8 Spyder…and promptly gave the driver the wrong directions! Oh well…more time in the R8!
After a safety meeting I hopped into the first car I saw, the Fiat Abarth. You may have seen my review of the Abarth and know that I am crazy about it. I still am. And so was the instructor I had with me. (Question: if free instructors were offered to you at a track, wouldn’t you take advantage? I think I was the only one that had an instructor with me the whole time. Pro Tip: School never makes you dumber.) Even though this car is not a convertible (don’t get me started on the glorified sunroof the Abarth will supposedly have next year) I adore it. The exhaust note, the turbo, the styling…it’s all fantastic. Then just for comparison we hopped into the Mini Cooper S. While we both agreed it handled just as well, if not better than the Abarth, it just felt heavier, didn’t have the same sound, and…well…just wasn’t as fun. For my money I’d go Abarth, but only if they add a real convertible. Real. One.
I was also looking forward to driving the BRZ/FR-S cars. I really really wanted to like the Subaru BRZ. In my mind this was going to be the best of the two. I’m not sure why. Brand perception maybe? We tried the BRZ first. It’s possible that my opinion was seriously tainted by the two pedals that greeted me, maybe it was the 5000 foot altitude that did it, but the 2.0L Boxer engine knocking out 200 horses just seemed severely underpowered. Frustratingly so. The FR-S, however, was a manual and an absolute blast. I would have liked to have the same transmission in both to really see the difference, but as it stands now FR-S manual > BRZ automatic.
I got into a few other cars. Don’t laugh but taking the Buick Regal GS out on the track with a turbo charged Ecotec engine was a bit of a hoot. Sure it didn’t have the same tightness of the other cars, but it doesn’t have to. It’s a comfy commuter car with a bit of a spark and as much as you or I might not like it, that’s what the majority of Americans want. If you’re looking for reliable and stylish transportation with just a little kick, don’t discount Buick.
It wouldn’t be a blog post with out talking about the Audi R8 Spyder. To be honest I was a little scared of it. A high powered car that costs well over $100,000 and you’re going to let ME drive it? Okay… But I needn’t have worried. The Audi Quattro makes you a better driver than you deserve to be, really helping you stick it around the corners. I was able to hit 115 in the back straight and could have gone much faster had I exited the previous corner correctly. The R-tronic automatic transmission is fast, if a little jerky, but the whole package is so damn sexy it’s hard to care. The good folks at Audi asked for a Trademarked Laundry Basket Rating, but I was only able to give them this.
But honestly I think the big winner for me was getting to drive the Nissan 370Z Roadster. It was so close to being perfect: RWD, high powered but not too crazy, convertible, 2 seater. The only downside was they only had the automatic for us to drive. It performed beautifully but I would never purposely choose an automatic. BUT when it comes time to replace the Monkey Miata, if I have the coin this car will be on my radar for sure.
But alas, all fun must come to an end. I’ll be back on the road to California tomorrow. I’ll get some testing in on the 2/1600 race car in and we’ll be at a little show and shine on Saturday June 23rd. If you’re in Santa Ana, come on down to Kid Works starting at noon, 1902 Chestnut Avenue. There will be off road cars and we’ll be demonstrating safety precautions and talking racing with the kids. If you have some of your own, bring them down and say hi!