BMW Club staged an HPDE at Road Atlanta last weekend. This 2.54-mile, 12-turn track hosts the Petit Le Mans and has been featured in video games such as the Forza series. It boasts startling elevation changes and a couple of nasty turns that blindly apex on the crests of hills. Other tracks (e.g., VIR) have more total elevation changes, but the steepness of the hills at Road Atlanta is something to behold.


The hills start right away with turn 1, a fast increasing-radius right-hander that climbs high above the front straight. The hill and slight banking allow this turn to be taken pretty quickly.


Track out at turn 1. The pro pits enter from the right-hand side of this turn, and the markings on the track form handy reference points.


The trees, light posts, and the aforementioned hash marks on the asphalt help in lining you up for turn 2, which is just past the crest of this hill but still can't be seen.


Once the crest is reached, turn 2 comes immediately. The apex cone for turn 3 can be seen in the distance. There is a short braking zone between these turns, then the sharp right-hander comes into view.


Turn 3. This turn starts the downhill run into the esses.


Turn 4 is a left-hander that takes you back across the track to set up for entry into the esses.


The entry to the esses is still downhill, but the track falls further away as you turn into the esses. If lined up correctly, not much steering is needed to thread your way through the esses.


Entry to the esses:


The track starts climbing halfway through the esses. You want to straighten the car out for the short braking zone going into turn 5, the left-hander going up the hill on the far side. This is where Scott Sharp demolished his Acura prototype during practice for the 2009 Petit Le Mans. I think turn 5 is among the most fun on the track. It's a busy turn: you're finishing threading your way through the esses, then a short, sharp brake application to slow and steady the car, downshift, then crank the wheel and floor it to get up the hill and onto the short straight. Good times.


Turn 5 is followed by a short straight.


Turn 6, at the end of the above straight, does have some banking, and is therefore a pretty high-speed turn.


Turn 7 is immediately after turn 6, and leads to the longest straight on the track. It's also the tightest turn on the track, and is decreasing radius to boot. Early braking and late apexing helps; get the car slowed and turned so you can get back on the power early and make the straight as long as you can. Note how late the apex cone is placed relative to the geometric apex of the corner


Once you're through turn 7, it's off to the races. Turns 8 and 9 are bends in the back straight.


Make your way across to the right side of the track (using the black flag station as a guide, perhaps), since a visually intimidating corner is coming up next. Turns 10a and 10b form a chicane at the end of the back straight designed to scrub off speed before coming onto the front straight. The track again dives downward, and from your vantage point on the straight, you can see the left-right complex of the chicane, as well as the gravel trap immediately behind the track, and the hill and bridge immediately behind the gravel trap. It took me a while to become comfortable with driving towards all this at 130 mph.


The gators of 10a and 10b are very rough. Lighter momentum cars may want to brake early and apply power sooner to make a diagonal line across the chicane. Heavier cars may need to track out of 10a near the left-side of the track to make a later apex of 10b. Regardless, after these turns, another large, steep hill looms...


The Suzuki bridge crosses at turn 11, which apexes on the crest of this hill. The track falls away to invisibility on the other side, so lining yourself up with some text on the sign or the colored placards below the bridge is a necessity. Short-shifting here is also beneficial, since you'll need the extra RPMs on the far side of the hill.


Once under the bridge, you have to have faith that the road will still be there.


The turn-in point for turn 12 can finally be seen. This is a fast, off-camber, sweeping turn. The curbing here is smoother than in turn 10, but can easily upset the car if hit heavily. A BMW did exactly this on Sunday; he hit the left-side curbing, tried to recover, and the car dove into the wall on the inside of the track. This is a pretty intimidating corner to me.


Once through turn 12, it's onto the decently-claustrophobic front straight to do it all over again.


All pictures are by Colour Tech South. Here's some video of the track in motion. It's the final session of the weekend, and they started combining groups in anticipation of people leaving early. Comments or criticism is always welcome. We begin after the warm-up lap.

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