In a hailstorm of tire smoke and acceleration so fierce my neck still aches just thinking about it, we exited pit lane on the new Kansas Speedway Road Course and caught three full-throttle upshifts before entering the first banking. Just moments earlier, I’d poured myself into a fire suit and wedged into the shotgun seat of the Continental Tire Daytona Prototype racecar. It all seemed surreal, the fort-like roll cage, the dozens of switches and buttons throughout and the dash-mounted fluid reservoirs staring me in the face. As one would expect, the cabin was ripe with the unmistakable aroma of race gas and there was plenty of carbon fiber, the obligatory high-tech steering wheel and the sky-high sequential gearshift. Overwrought in sensory input, my glance caught a glove extending from the doldrums of the cockpit. Oh hello, didn’t see you there. It was pro driver, Jordan Taylor and with nary a nod and a thumbs up (in racer speak I believe he was asking, “are you ready?”) I nodded and the raucous 5.0L DOHC Roush Racing Ford V8 cracked to life. Hell hath been awakened and the rowdy idle and quick-revving nature gave no doubt as to 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 turbo M3, but the comparisons stop there. Grip. Say it with me now, G-R-I-P. A Daytona Prototype brings new meaning to the term, as the G-forces were so intense it took several corners to acclimate, likely from my brain sloshing inside my noggin. Talk about trail-braking, Taylor was late braking like a big dog and carrying what felt like threshold braking right to the apex, and without consequence. When the track called for straight-line braking, the forces generated were enough to throw me forward into the harness. I did my best to prepare so as not to look like a total newb, alas my head flew forward and I momentarily got a nice look at the floorboard. If the Top Gun like Gs experienced during braking and cornering weren’t enough to thrill, the sequential gearbox was. Full throttle upshifts came with DCT- like quickness and downshifts were equally snappy – I need a sequential box in my daily driver!
The new Kansas Speedway is a mix of high-speed banking and plenty of tight infield turns. The slower corners inside the bowl were brutal as Taylor transitioned from braking to cornering and back in what felt like a heartbeat. The infield was impressive, but the banking was equally ludicrous as the combination of the steep banks and the speeds North of 150 mph shove your body into the seat so hard it’s difficult to keep your head up. A click into top gear with the throttle-bodies howling brought us to the mouth of the banking as Taylor held the throttle steady. He started from the top and drifted down to the apex before transitioning back to WOT for the arching first turn that suddenly drops flat and kinks left–braking from 160 mph in such a short distance isn’t something I’ll soon forget.
In what felt like an instant we were entering the pits and Taylor was popping downshifts like a SoCal surfer drops “dude,” and “bro.” Trembling with adrenaline I smiled for the cameras and sat for a few minutes. As much as the visceral overload took me back, what was perhaps the most impressive was the simple fact pro drivers do this day in and day out for hours at a time. If that’s not impressive enough, they race in all different types of weather and temperatures and lap the tracks at threshold speeds. There’s one word for this folks, talent. I suppose the proper phrase at that moment was, welcome to the big leagues.
MLS All-Star ride-along experience
Speaking of the big leagues, Continental Tire invited us to Kansas City not just for the ride of our life in the DP car, but to join in the major-league soccer festivities. Along with a special Ryan Lewis and Macklemore concert the night before, a select few of the MLS all-stars were also invited to the very same ride-along. Much as we suspected, the high-profile athletes exited the racecars after the hot laps white faced and trembling. “I love speed, my dad used to drag race his Corvette Stingray so I’ve always liked fast cars, but this is way better than I thought with the brutal acceleration, the G-forces and all; I can’t believe the drivers deal with that for hours at a time,” Brad Davis of the Houston Dynamo said.
Amazing power and I just couldn’t prepare for the downshifts or the braking, the G-forces were just insane.
While some players had enough composure to form full sentences, others were still at a loss for words.
“I have a BMW X6 and I thought it was fast, but no way, this was a fun experience...but only to do once,” Nick Rimando of the Real Salt Lake said.
And like us, some were grinning from ear to ear for hours after the laps.
“Amazing power and I just couldn’t prepare for the downshifts or the braking, the G-forces were just insane. Martin Nance, NFL free agent and former Pittsburgh Steeler said.
Once into KC we realized the magnitude of Continental Tire. Not only does the company builds quality tires for all automobiles from high-performance summer tires to all all-season touring mounts, all-terrain knobbies and motorcycle tires, but Conti is also heavily involved in many other industries, including manufacturing and even soccer. Yes, soccer. It’s no secret Continental already makes rubber for sneaker soles, but Conti let it slip they might be breaking into soccer cleat technology as well. This made perfect sense when we realized Conti is one of the main sponsors of the MLS, a great partnership that shows just how widespread the company has become.
Kansas Speedway Road Course
The 2.37-mile road course features a tri-oval with banked turns up to 20-degrees and a winding road course through the infield that features six turns. There are but a few passing zones and with Daytona Prototype cars hitting speeds approaching 200 mph on the banking followed by tight 80-mph turns, it’s going to be interesting for the drivers come race-day.
In addition to the challenging road course, the expansiveness of the facilities is nothing short of amazing. In fact, the track can seat over 72,000 fans and can accommodate up to 35,000 parked cars. If that’s not impressive enough, the Sport Park (the home of the MLS game) and the Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Chiefs, can both fit inside the Kansas Speedway – chew on that for a second.
But the speedway isn’t just big on numbers, it’s also big on safety with Steel and Foam Energy Reduction System (SAFER) barriers throughout that absorb energy for the driver’s sake and are steel and concrete reinforced for spectator safety as well.
The upcoming Grand-Am race is going to be intense, and with Continental recently releasing the news that the Daytona Prototype and The Grand-Am series will be combining forces into one series that will compete on a Conti-spec tire with a mix of road course and oval tracks, things are about to get exciting.
All in a day’s work
Nearly every person who walked away from the Continental Tires ride-along experience, even the world-class MLS athletes, couldn’t believe how rigorous the conditions were inside the racecars. It was hot, loud, smelly, bumpy; one part war-zone and another part heaven. I know I won’t soon forget the experience and the lucky few who got to make hot laps with me certainly agree. For the love of speed.