In a cloud of tire smoke, and with acceleration so fierce my neck still aches, we exited pitlane on the new Kansas Speedway Road Course, catching three full-throttle upshifts before entering the first banking. Just moments earlier, I'd poured myself into a racesuit and twisted into the shotgun seat in Continental Tire's own Daytona Prototype (DP) racecar - a car used by the tire manufacturer to test its racing slicks and give rides to saps like me.
It seemed surreal, the imposing rollcage, dozens of switches and buttons, dash-mounted fluid reservoirs in front of my face... As you'd expect, the cabin was ripe with the unmistakable aroma of race gas and hot friction material. I was encased in carbon fiber, trying to work out the controls on the high-tech steering wheel while peering around the sky-high sequential gearshift.
Overwrought by sensory inputs before we'd even started moving, a glove extended into my peripheral. "Oh hello, didn't see you there!" It was pro driver, Jordan Taylor and with a nod and thumbs up the 5.0L DOHC Roush Racing Ford V8 crackled to life.
Hell hath been awakened, with the rowdy idle and quick-revving throttle inputs leaving no doubt about its intentions.
Bam! We caught first gear and with a healthy dose of clutch and throttle. My automotive existence was forever changed.
Sure, I'd felt comparable acceleration in a 600whp M3 turbo, but the comparison stopped there. The DP brought new meaning to the term "grip." It had g-forces so intense it took several corners to acclimate, no doubt from my brain sloshing inside my noggin as the slicks refused to let go.
Talk about late-braking. Taylor was carrying threshold-braking right into the apex without consequence. But when the track allowed straight-line braking, the forces were enough to throw me forward into the harness. I did my best to prepare so as not to look like a total newb but, as my head flew forward, I was momentarily looking at the floorboard.
If the Top Gun g-force during braking and cornering weren't enough to thrill, the sequential gearbox was. Full throttle upshifts came with DCT rapidity. I need one of these in my daily driver!
The new Kansas Road Course is a mix of high-speed banking and tight infield turns. The slower corners inside the bowl were brutal as Taylor transitioned from braking to cornering and back to acceleration in what felt like a heartbeat.
The infield was impressive, but the banking was ludicrous as the 150mph+ speeds and steep banking shoved you hard into the seat, making it difficult to keep your head upright.
A click into top gear, with the throttle-bodies howling behind me, brought us to the mouth of the banking. Taylor held the throttle steady and started dropping down towards the apex before transitioning back to WOT for the arching first turn that suddenly drops flat and kinks left - braking from 160mph in such a short distance is something I won't soon forget.
After what felt like a matter of seconds, we were entering the pits and Taylor was popping downshifts like SoCal surfers drop "dude" and "bro." Trembling with adrenaline, I smiled for the cameras and sat in a corner for a few minutes.
The visceral overload was thrilling and it's hard to comprehend that pro drivers do this daily, for hours at a time in all kinds of weather on the edge of grip and braking. It was a remarkable welcome to the big leagues.
MLS All-Star Ride-along
Speaking of big leagues, Continental also invited us to Kansas City for Major League Soccer festivities, with the MLS All-Star game happening the same weekend. So along with a Ryan Lewis and Macklemore concert, a few of the MLS all-star players were invited to the same ride-along. And just like us, the athletes entered the car excited, but stepped out silent and trembling.
"I love speed. My dad used to drag race his Corvette, so I've always liked fast cars, but this was way better than I thought. It was brutal acceleration and g-forces. I can't believe the drivers deal with that for hours at a time," said Brad Davis of the Houston Dynamo.
While some players had enough composure to form full sentences, others were lost for words. "I've got a BMW X6 and thought it was fast, but no way: this was fun... but I'd only to do once," said Nick Rimando from Real Salt Lake.
And like us, some were grinning from ear-to-ear. "Amazing power. I couldn't prepare for the downshifts or braking. The g-force was insane," said Martin Nance, NFL free agent and former Pittsburgh Steeler.
As the exclusive tire supplier to the Grand-Am series and main sponsor of the MLS, it made sense for the tire maker to combine the two disciplines. It also gave us the chance to see the breadth of its products, from quality car tires for high performance summer to all-season touring, all-terrain knobblies and even motorcycle tires. Conti also makes rubber for sneaker soles and somebody let slip they might break into soccer cleat technology as well.
Kansas Speedway Road Course
Kansas Speedway has been around for more than a decade, but the Grand-Am race on August 16-17 was the first sanctioned event on the new road course launched in 2012. The 2.37-mile facility features a tri-oval with banked turns up to 20?, connected by a six-turn infield road-course. There are few passing zones, and with speeds approaching 200mph on the banking, followed by tight turns that require heavy braking, the first race was going to be interesting.
In addition to the road course, the Speedway can seat 72000 fans and accommodate up to 35000 parked cars. In fact, the Sporting Park (home of the MLS game) and Arrowhead Stadium (home of the KC Chiefs) would both fit inside the Speedway!
The Big Game
The atmosphere inside Sporting Park - the new $200 million home of Sporting KC and venue for this year's MLS All-Star soccer game - was electrifying. The sellout crowd of 20,000 ardent fans was so loud the reverberations were shaking the entire stadium.
Holding the game in the new stadium made it even more of a special occasion because just a few years ago the KC team, then known as the Wizards, played in Arrowhead Stadium in front of a few thousand fans at best. Now they were 20,000 strong and reflected the strength of the growing MLS championship as well as the KC team, which has previously won two Eastern Conference titles.
Sadly, winning wasn't on the cards for the MLS All-Stars. Their visiting opponents, AS Roma, won the match 3-1. The Italians were the first non-English team to play in the MLS All-Star game and they proved to be a very popular addition with everybody in attendance.