And I Wasn’t About to Pass It Up.
The cars were lined up along Pit Row, a beautiful array of colors, shapes, and sizes, like toys on display to lure kids into play. each was assigned one of more than a dozen categories for evaluation and the 40 or so journalists were in attendance at the annual Texas Auto Writers Association auto roundup. This year’s event was a new experience: For the first time the annual roundup was hosted at the Circuit of the Americas, the first track in the United States built for Formula One races. It was a thrill for all the journalists and for me, even more. I know not all women are into track driving, but this was the chance of a lifetime!
Before we zoomed around the track that Sunday, however, we were offered the opportunity to attend the IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. I didn’t want to miss that, of course, and so I drove down to the track right after my son’s Little League game. As it turned out, one of the assistant Little League coaches owns the shuttle service that drives photographers and journalists around the inner track to capture the races. I hitched a ride.
From the van, however, we saw that the No. 2 Tequila Patrón ESM Nissan DPi (with Ryan Dalziel behind the wheel) caught fire. In a matter of seconds, we saw the flames, the car pulled over, and emergency vehicles were dousing the fire. Amazingly efficient.
Viewing the track from the scaffolding on the camera station offers a gorgeous panoramic vista of the race. I saw brothers Ricky and Jordan Taylor win their fourth consecutive victory, which marked the longest win streak in WeatherTech Championship history and the longest in major U.S. sports car racing competition since the 2013 American Le Mans Series.
What to Drive First? The Thrilling Alfa Romeo 4C
But let’s get back to the cars at the Auto Roundup. I took the opportunity to drive every car I could, and if I could have stayed longer, I definitely would have. The first car I picked gave me butterflies: the Alfa Romeo 4C from the Performance Coupe category. I climbed into the car, which was low to the ground and sexy, sat for a moment in awe, and reached over to start it and put it in gear.
The only problem was… I couldn’t figure out how.
Sheepishly, I called out to a fellow journalist nearby and admitted I couldn’t figure out how to start the car and put it in gear. He laughed, perhaps thinking I was the little lady who was there just for the selfies. To my satisfaction, he traded places with me and fiddled with several buttons and levers and couldn’t get it going either. It took two more people to try before we got it off the line.
Once I started driving it and pressed the pedal to the metal to the first turn, I quickly realized this car wanted to be in charge. This car is the quintessential Beauty and the Beast, and it felt as though I was trying to walk a cross between a giant Doberman and Luke Skywalker’s Tauntaun on a leash. It quivered and strained with an engine designed to maximize its light weight. When I turned back in to pull the 4C back into its space, it struck me that this was a car to be mastered, not driven lazily as one would take a stroll. This car is a WORKOUT.
Dodge Charger: Hell(cat) on Wheels
A few months ago, I test drove Dodge’s Challenger Hellcat coupe, and was blown away by the sheer power of this vehicle. Now that I’ve driven Alfa Romeo’s 4C, I have to say that I think I could control the Hellcat better than the 4C; that should paint the picture for you.
At the TAWA Auto Roundup, Dodge sent their Charger Hellcat sedan to play. The Hellcat comes in a sedan?? It’s like a family car but with the power of the muscle cars my parents grew up driving. And then some. I am going to admit right here and now that I hogged that Hellcat not once, but twice around the track. The first time, I was in awe, drinking in the feel of the American-made car. The second time, I took one of the Dodge experts and filmed it on Facebook Live. The growl of the Hellcat is like no other.
The Mercedes-AMG GT S Supercar
Top Gear calls it a “noise machine… sports car in a baroque hot rod suit.” It is as advertised, this car turned out to be my favorite one to drive on the track. At a cool $170,000, this Mercedes-AMG GT S was the ultimate driving machine. Wait, I know that is another car maker’s tag line, but this truly is. With a hand-built V8 biturbo engine, it delivers both supreme comfort and incredible power. Check out my video for a live feel with vehicle specialist AJ.
The Mercedes blog says there will be a four-door version of this supercar in 2019. I’ll want to test drive that one… just to be sure it’s as good as the coupe, of course.
Have you ever tried track driving? What did you think?