My friends John, Adam, and I did the Formula Experience yesterday at the Milwaukee Mile. What kind of cars are these? I don’t really know. They’re open wheel, and they are stated as “formula 2000 style”; 1100 lbs, 2.3 liter Ford engine producing 140 hp, 150 mph top speed. Are these Formula Fords? They may be, although quite retired and probably not within their original race spec. I’m guessing they redline somewhere around 5200 rpm or so. They were running random tire spec, so whatever was on each car was a lottery of different tires! Edit: Nemesis SC99, stats pretty close… 5600 max rpm.
On that note, it would have certainly been nice to know that at the driver’s meeting. The Rusty Wallace Racing Experience runs Nascar cars around the oval mile while the Formula Experience takes place on the infield. Our scheduled session was at 12pm, and I think we started a few minutes after with a shared driver’s meeting for both experiences. A lot of it is taken up for the oval experience, and in reality, not a ton applies to the Formula Experience as the primary goal of the Nascar education is to keep you from crashing to the right up into the wall.
I’ve driven some other open wheel cars before, but they had paddle or sequential shifters; these have a 4 gear H-pattern shifter. We were told that we may get up to 4th when going down the back straight; I shifted into it on some earlier laps but later realized I was definitely not running out 3rd gear. Shifting was pretty challenging in these, it’s probably normal and by design but the shifter had a lot of free horizontal movement. This contributed to the difficulty of finding the right gear, as well as smashing my hand into the car when shifting to 3rd or poorly grabbing it to drop into 2nd as my hand smacked into the car. After a while I started using the horizontal play to try and position the shifter for the next shift. I had plenty of nasty shifts though, clearly evident in the video! Oopsies into 1st a few times, some pretty rough attempts to heel toe as well. I think we all would have had more fun if we were more comfortable with the shifters.
I think my line started out pretty poorly, it probably didn’t end much better either. There were lots of cones out there, it would have been nice if some had been different colors to indicate things. The hairpin was pretty tight and it was challenging to try and get through it smoothly. I got brought in from braking too short/hard, noting that I was flatspotting the tires (which were already pretty well flatspotted.) I tried braking earlier and more smoothly and longer going forward; I’m not sure how much it really helped though. You can see the front left tire locking up plenty of the time in the video; although I didn’t notice smoke coming off of it and thought some of the time it was lifted, mayhaps not the case though. I also needed a cone extracted that I picked up earlier on course, so it was a much needed pit!
We got earpieces to listen to the organizer and spotter; they were pretty loud but seemed the right amount of volume on the track. This let us know when it come in, or let off and allow someone a pass. Near the end of the session the spotter guy must have switched channels or something, as my earpiece went silent. I didn’t hear much for a while and when I caught someone, I didn’t hear anything and was behind them for some time – so I thought mine may have run out of battery or something. In reality, my friends were laughing as they heard me being yelled at, as they called out that it was time for my car to come in, and as I kept going, demanding that I come in else I will end up paying $100/lap for each additional laps. Eventually he ran out to the course and waved me down and in; it would have been nice to have some kind of flags to indicate a last lap or a session over for someone. I came in (hitting a cone along the way) and parked; he switched channels and my audio came back on and realized the mistake he made, and I got a few extra laps. Adam and John came in shortly after. Adam seemed to be pretty smooth out there, whereas I’m pretty sure I’ve documented some of the least smooth driving I’ve ever done!
In the video I’m not sure if I’ve topped out third or just breathed off it at some point and could/should have grabbed 4th. I wouldn’t have held it there for very long if so. Then I probably would have just had another crappy downshift and picked up a few more cones. 🙂 We brought our own helmets – and I’ll note that if you do, be prepared to clean them once you get home, as we all had oil on ours after the session, there’s some oil blow by occurring somewhere and you’re particularly going to eat a face full of it when riding behind someone.
The cost for our experience was:
$249 for 20 laps
$3 booking service fee
$17.30 Milwaukee Mile state and local sales tax
$6 for parking at the Milwaukee Mile
A video package is available for $40, or if you bring your own camera, you can pay $20 and use their SD card (they only had 4 GB) in your camera. They won’t let you use your own and want to confiscate the card if you stuff a car into the wall.
You’d be crazy to pay the list prices for the experience; in the end I think no one actually does, and they are always run at some type of discount. As far as I could tell, this was the deepest this package gets discounted. Was it worth it? I wouldn’t have done it without going with some friends. I wouldn’t say you will learn too much from this class, but you’ll get a taste and (uncomfortable!) feel for what it’s actually like to sit in and drive an open wheel race car on a race track. There’s simply not a whole lot of available opportunities to do this; this is the best one in town because it’s the only one in town. Would I do it again? Probably not any time too soon. It was fun, although it could be more fun. I wouldn’t want to do it with any of the smaller lap packages, 5 laps is just way too few, and at 10 you’re just starting to get more comfortable and figure things out. 20 is the way to go, although even at this deep discount, it doesn’t necessarily warrant its way at the top of a priority list because of the price. One would spend the same or less on a track day, get a lot more seat time, learn a lot more, and have a lot more fun. I don’t regret doing it, but I probably won’t be doing it again soon or emphatically suggesting my carbro friends to sign up.