Professional motorsport drivers spend years on circuits all over the world, almost all of them dreaming of designing their own course. Our founder and lead designer, Jacques Villeneuve, lights up when talking about the process. So when we asked him to squeeze a few moments between his racing commitments and precious family time to review the track with us, he was happy to go over it - turn by turn.
“It’s always been the plan to use the layout of the land”, says Villeneuve. He and the team have designed a 4.9 kilometer circuit to wind through natural elevations and take advantage of the topography. For Villeneuve - who has raced on legendary circuits like the Nurburgring and Mid-Ohio - it’s about balancing what you want with what will be a natural rhythm for the drivers. “You always want too many things. But really, it should give you the feeling you’re going somewhere. Every corner should make sense.”
After spending hours in the cockpit on computerized simulations, Villeneuve is getting a feel for the rhythm of the circuit. “We initially did a walk through at the site”, he says. “Then we surveyed the ground to help us understand it - when you get out of a corner, what speed you need to be at, and what happens next.” Designing a track to fit the land is a complicated process, requiring knowledge of the physical location with the experience and skill of a professional driver who has been there.
With 16 corners and a number of elevation changes, the track at Area 27 is an excellent learning opportunity for drivers of all experience levels. “This fits the land”, explains Villeneuve, and you can almost hear him smile. “It’s good when it’s slightly complex.”
“The first corner is almost a hairpin, at a normal slow speed”, explains Villeneuve. “Good braking, not too complex, and gives into a straight line.” The stretch between it and the second corner will allow drivers to gain some speed. “Corner two is a nice high speed one; a little blind, goes downhill, and you can use slight braking.” Villeneuve laughs. “In an open wheel car I could see getting between 200 and 250kms/hour.” (We’ll leave that to you, Jacques.) Next, that slight downhill leads into the first true hairpin at corner three. “There’s a nice natural short chute, to help you get your bearings.” Keeping oriented is one of the skills Area 27 driver coaches will be able to help with.
Leaving the right hairpin turn, drivers enter corners four and five. “It’s a double left-hander”, explains Villeneuve. “Very intricate, going up a little at first. Medium speed, likely in 3rd gear. It’s a horseshoe, with the middle wider than the entry and exit.” That gives drivers a chance to accelerate between the corners and get ready for the slight right corner exit at turn six.
“Corner six is a high speed right hander”, says Villeneuve. “It’s not a long curve, flat in most cars, and slightly uphill.” This leads into a carousel, with corner seven a tight left at the top of a hill before heading downhill, slightly off camber. “That means an open wheel car would experience downforce.”
At corner eight you’re in a ninety-degree right hander. “It’s up a hill, so the trick is trying to see where you’ll be going when you come out of it”, Villeneuve explains. “You’ll slow down. That’s okay.” The exit takes you into another climb and a left turn for corner nine. “That one is at the peak, which drops as soon as you turn.”
Corners ten and eleven are close together with intricate high speed changes. “Corner ten is another right, close to flat, with corner eleven coming up as a slight left almost immediately after. It squishes you to the right and delivers you over a hump. It’s fast, fun, and meant to be slightly difficult.” Everything is preparing the driver for what comes next.
At corner twelve, things get interesting. “It’s a right hander hairpin”, says Villeneuve. “You need to pay attention and pick your line.” This corner was designed for multiple lines so drivers can learn a variety of skills. The straight between corners twelve and thirteen allow for drivers to orient themselves again and prepare for a fast entry into the next bend.
“Corner thirteen can be taken fairly fast. It’s a forty-five degree left hander with a slight drop downhill. Drivers have to hit the brakes, probably when coming into it.” Another reason to take it slow is the entry to corner fourteen. “That’s at the bottom, almost a hairpin left hander”, explains Villeneuve. “You exit out of that hole and into corner fifteen, a right hander, to get into the final corner. Sixteen is a straightforward left hander that exits into a climb. Then, it’s flat to the finish.”
The circuit at Area 27 is a mix of technical elements and natural elevation changes - ideal for those wanting to learn how to really drive their cars. “You won’t get bored”, says Villeneuve with a laugh. “We used everything naturally, so the drive makes sense. There are visual references. You won’t be saying ‘hey, why is that corner here?’, like we do at some tracks.”
Villeneuve anticipates corner two as the most engaging, taking drivers into their first big downhill. “I think corners ten and eleven will push people to their personal limits”, says Villeneuve. “The horseshoe and carousel provide good complexity, that stretch from corner four through corner eleven.”
Over the next couple of months Villeneuve will spend more time on the simulator, making adjustments along the way. “Once you change a corner it affects the next one.” He’ll ensure there’s a balance between complex and comfortable, but not too much of the latter. After all, drivers are here to learn something. “I want to make sure there’s a bit of a breather between things”, explains Villeneuve. “You want to have fun, but you need to be challenged. To learn.”
Thanks for the overview, Jacques. We look forward to seeing you round corner two.
Watch a lap on the simulator and get a feel for what’s in store.