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RMDE II: High speed at High Plains Raceway

Some folks are born to the racetrack and others find themselves there by a less direct route. Driving the latest automotive models about a track designed by, operated for and maintained in the interests of regional car and motorcycle-racing clubs is a rare opportunity for many in the automotive media. High Plains Raceway is just such a place under an hour East of Denver, where the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press provided track time for those attending the second annual Rocky Mountain Driving Experience this week.
Posted: June 17, 2011 - 5:57PM
Author: Don Bain

If you have never driven on a racetrack, it is a much more mental exercise than you might think. Juggling speed, upcoming curves, others on the track and learning to create the most efficient and graceful arc through the nuances of the course is heady stuff at first. As you begin to grasp some of these basics, the thrill of sheer speed starts to come through and get a grip on your soul.

Arriving at the track, the Jaguar XFR beckoned and proceeded to deliver the full promise of its 5.0-liter, 510 horsepower SC V8 engine and 6-speed automatic transmission with sport mode and paddle shifters. Unless you drive HPR frequently, however, the first set of laps is reduced to re-assimilating the layout and intricacies of the track itself. The 2011 XFR is a very powerful and responsive vehicle requiring a high level of driving proficiency on the racetrack – like a spirited stallion not just anyone can ride. Nevertheless, it is well worth the effort.

In contrast, the 2011 Acura TSX made fewer demands on the driver despite its 201-horsepower i-VTEC engine and 5-speed sport shift automatic with paddle shifters. It simply lacked the acceleration to make the track a thrilling ride but it is really meant to be a high-mileage commuter. The sporty aspects are there more to make the compromise with practicality easier to swallow than to really win rallies. Still it corners very well and was a good way to finalize getting to know the track again.

A similar, if somewhat different, experience was afforded by the 2011 Lexus CT200, the highly promoted hybrid commuter from the brand. Getting over 40-mpg out of the combination of a 1.8-liter engine with an electric motor and still emphasizing a youthful sportiness, we are reminded Lexus first offered hybrids as a performance option. Like the TSX, the CT200 provided insufficient acceleration to really make the racetrack circuit thrilling, but it was interesting to see how a somewhat electric car performed against a gas-only vehicle of the same class. With its higher fuel efficiency and better emissions score, the Lexus takes a slight edge in our eyes.

In comparison, the 2011 Dodge Charger provided excellent acceleration, but lacked the cornering capabilities of the smaller and even equally sized foreign makes. With its 5.7-liter HEMI V8, the Charger would get up to speeds over 100 very quickly but you’d have to slam on the brakes to bring it down to speeds at which it could negotiate the curves even with a lot of squealing complaints. Though we think Chrysler is making major progress with their line, suspension and cornering ability could still use some work. Not everyone drives in straight lines across the plains.

We got an exhilarating impression of what a professional race driver can do on this track taking a ride in the hot little 2011 VW GTI hatchback. This experience had more in common with amusement park rides than most automobile rides we’ve known and at one point I suggested the driver let me know should I need to lean out the window to balance the car, feeling centripetal forces I’ve only known before in a sailboat.

By far my favorite surprise at HPR and best time around the track came from the 2011 Acura TL. This delightful offering from the luxury line delivers quick, solid acceleration from its 280-horsepower VTEC six-cylinder engine and tight, responsive handling in the curves. Comfortable, easy-to-drive and economical at 29-mpg highway, the 2011 Acura TL is a lot of car for a base price of $35,605. We recommend a look to anyone considering a sporty, well-equipped sedan under $40K.

In closing, out hat's off to the folks at High Plains Raceway for providing a stellar event to the media.

Image courtesy of Acura