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The Way It Is/ A sporting driver's country club

by Gordon Kirby
In recent months, Mario Andretti and Brian Redman have told me about the new road course for wealthy motoring enthusiasts under construction by the Monticello Motor Club in upstate New York. Mario and Brian's tales of the unfolding project were intriguing, but when I arrived in Monticello last weekend I wasn't quite prepared for the entirety of the club's grand plans.

The concept behind the Monticello Motor Club's multiple road course is to provide a country club driving resort for the high-end motoring enthusiast. Located in upstate New York between the Pocono and Catskill mountains, Monticello is about an hour and half's drive northwest of mid-town Manhattan. The grand opening of the Monticello Motor Club's brand new track took place a week ago with Andretti and Redman on hand to respectively demonstrate a Formula 1 JPS Lotus 79 and Gulf Porsche 908/3 sports racer before the track's founding members took their first laps aboard their personal road cars.

Andretti and Redman have consulted with the Monticello Motor Club's founders on the design of the circuit and its facilities. Over the past year Redman in particular has worked with track architect Bruce Hawkins to refine the layout which is not intended as a race track but purely as a private circuit for a maximum of 500 members to exercise their high-performance road cars.

Membership in the Monticello Motor Club costs $125,000 with annual dues of $7,500. This buys you as many as 200 track days each year. Garages and condominiums are under construction so that cars can be stored and maintained at the track and selected owners and their families will be able to stay on the grounds in their own townhouses. Also under construction is a 20,000 square foot Members Pavilion which will include locker rooms, a full-service kitchen and conference rooms.

A full slate of professional driving instructors also are available to help improve the technique and driving skills of club members. Among the list of instructors are accomplished professional racers like Anthony Lazzaro, Matt Plumb, Mark Hamilton-Peters and Jeff Segal.

© Gary Gold
An onsite helipad allows members to helicopter directly into the track from New York City in less than half an hour. Private jets also can fly into the Sullivan County Airport, a former military airfield near the Hudson River in Newburgh about half an hour from Monticello. There's also regular commercial service into Sullivan County.

The Monticello Motor Club was founded by a group of successful entrepreneurs and motoring enthusiasts led by William McMichael and Ari Straus. McMichael and Straus respectively are the club's CEO and COO.

"The goal of the Monticello Motor Club," McMichael said, "is to provide a completely new way for enthusiasts to conveniently experience the very best in automotive luxury and performance driving."

While all the permanent buildings are under construction the club erected a temporary clubhouse for last week's grand opening. When the place is finished later this year it will include the aforementioned Clubhouse and Members' Pavilion, the latter located directly behind the pitlane. A ring of townhouses also are under construction just beyond the pits inside the first turn and the track's garages and 'autominiums' are going up adjacent to the Clubhouse. There's also a separate Events Pavilion with its own short pitlane located halfway between the main gate and the Clubhouse. And at the edge of the helipad are two buildings designed for maintenance and storage and as a service center.

The entire circuit and its multiple forms include 4.1 miles of pavement and 450 feet in elevation changes. Twelve different track configurations are possible and three separate circuits can be run simultaneously. Redman is proud that the track is different than many of today's recently-constructed road courses.

"It's quite fast, unlike a lot of modern tracks which are very tight," Redman remarked. "It's very different from most modern tracks which are built basically to keep the cars as slow as possible. It's a very challenging track but the entire philosophy of the track is built around safety."

Click to Enlarge
© Monticello Motor Club (click to enlarge)
Brian emphasized that the Monticello Motor Club will operate under strict safety guidelines with professional driving instructors involved every step of the way.

"Everything that takes place on the track will be highly controlled by numerous instructors," Redman said. "We have twenty instructors here today and I don't think people will be allowed to go out on their own to go whatever speed they wish. When everything is in full operation all the drivers will be checked-out by the highly professional and experienced staff before being allowed to run on their own on the track."

Redman was first invited to visit the new track twelve months ago and provided some valuable advice to McMichael, Straus and their partners.

"It was just a year ago when I first came here," Brian commented. "At the time, only the track layout was cut out. The trees had been cut down and earth-moving vehicles were running around all over the place. Originally, they wanted to have large run-off areas and no barriers, but in an area with this kind of topography that's just not possible. So they've designed and built a state-of-the-art barrier and safety fence system, as you can see.

"In the original layout many of the corners were long, sweeping curves which, if you were racing, would be very hard to overtake. So I added a few tighter areas and now, as I say, we've got to speed-up a few of the tighter parts through the esses and at the end of the main straight. That will make them a little faster and make it flow a little more smoothly.

"But the basic layout is fantastic and the work they've done in the last three or four months is just staggering. Even in the last twenty-four hours they've done a huge amount of work! It's been just a huge effort."

In addition to the slight reshaping of the track in a few places the final phases of construction also will see all the required curbs installed around the entire layout. And Mario Andretti reminded the club last week that another required item are a proper series of brake markers for the corners. A few hours before last week's opening ceremonies Redman took me 'round for a quick lap of the full circuit.

"We accelerate uphill past the pits and at the top of the climb there's a double-apex left-hander with adverse camber," Brian explained as we braked for the first corner. "This is a very tricky turn because it's hard to see a good line for it due to the camber of the road. I haven't decided yet whether to go out a little bit to the right because the camber drops away as you go downhill along a short straight which takes you over a blind rise into a ninety-degree right-hander."

This is a fairly constant radius turn with a late apex.

"You take a late apex because it's followed at a short distance by a ninety-degree left which you want to be lined-up properly for," Redman continued. "Again, you take a slightly late apex and come onto a fast downhill straightaway. At the bottom of the hill there's a ninety-degree left-hander with hard braking, followed immediately by a very tight, right-hander."

This is one of the corners the club will open-up a little bit to make slightly quicker on the exit.

"You then accelerate through a sweeper to the right, then brake for a smooth, ninety-degree right-hand turn which brings you immediately into a blind, uphill left-hander and a kink to the right," Redman related as he worked the wheel. "You don't want to go all the way across to the left exiting the kink because you want to be all the way to the right for the long left-hander. You get about two-thirds of the way through the corner before you can see the late apex. It's got a bit of camber to the road and it's pretty quick and you generate some good cornering power through here."

A short straight follows and then a long right turn.

"You come across the road for another quick brake to the outside and then a normal, double-apex, ninety-degree right-hander. Then we accelerate down to the next turn which leads onto the main straight. It's a ninety-degree turn that's going to be opened-up a little bit in the future and made slightly faster."

Which brought us to the fastest part of the course.

"In fact, the straight is already very quick," Redman remarked, "and there's a blind brow and after that a flat-out right-hander. A high-speed road car like a Ferrari or Porsche will reach about 150 mph through here and then we go into a part that's almost like Laguna Seca at the top of the hill before the Corkscrew."

This is another corner that will be opened-up.

"Because the second part is very tight," Redman remarked. "We'll open that up a bit and you'll be able to accelerate to the outside. The next turn is a flat-out kink to the right so it leaves you on the lefthand side of the road and then you have to move to the right."

We were nearing the end of the lap and a deceptively simple series of sweeps.

"The next bit is one of the track's trickier parts," Brian cautioned. "It's a very fast kink to the left and then right, and in a race it would be a very hazardous area because people would be getting off the road on both sides of the track. Then you brake to the outside of the road for the tightest corner on the track."

The pit entry begins partway through this hairpin and the pitlane follows around on the outside to the right, and that completes a lap of the Monticello Motor Club's new private road course. If you have the gelt and a proper selection of road cars, you should give it a try. It surely will make you a better driver.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2008 ~ All Rights Reserved

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