Creating the Perfect Turn
A Classic Racetrack To Be Renovated At NJMP With Surprises For Drivers, Riders, and Fans
Car and motorcycle racers and track day enthusiasts are thrilled when a racing circuit is repaved, with new speed to be found, new lap records to be set, and personal bests to be achieved.
Even so, New Jersey Motorsports Park’s (NJMP’s) announcement that their classic Thunderbolt road course will be repaved has much more to meet the eye.
“We have surprises in store for drivers, riders, and fans,” teased Brad Scott, President, and Chief Operating Officer of NJMP.
Repaving the circuit, which debuted in August 2008 for the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Supercar Life 250 race, is news enough.
Over its 15-year history, Thunderbolt has hosted major professional automobile and motorcycle racing series, has been enjoyed by grassroots racing clubs with their national and regional events, has played a role in driver and rider education through the many schools and development days held there, and has left countless drivers and riders challenged and smiling after their track days. Thunderbolt is home to the NJMP Drivers Club and NJMP Riders Club. And it has been used by major manufacturers as well as film crews for their projects.
“NJMP has grown and diversified over the years,” noted Lee Brahin, Managing Director of NJMP, highlighting the action on its two world-class road racing courses, its state-of-the-art karting center, the development of NJMP’s Exotic Car Garages along with its Drivers and Riders Clubs, and the broad range of off-track events and activities hosted by the park.
“We welcome over 600,000 visitors and participants to our facility each year. We are investing for the future, putting that success to use to offer even more to our customers and partners,” added fellow Managing Director and experienced professional racer RJ Valentine.
The multi-million-dollar project is part of NJMP’s ongoing investment plan and is due to begin in October 2023 in time for the opening of the 2024 season. The project team will include Dr. Brian Prowell, Principal Engineer at Advanced Materials Services. During his distinguished career, Dr. Prowell has overseen the construction or rehabilitation of over 30 racetracks of all types across the nation. Bryce Engelhart, Lead Designer at Technical Track Design (TTD), will provide his expertise in track design and safety to the project.
While renovating and preserving the classic feel of the original circuit, with its combination of flowing high-speed corners, traditional medium speed turns, and its challenging technical section, there are exciting enhancements in store.
“The renovation project allows us to accomplish many things on our wish list – an extended run-off area in Turn 1 at the end of the high speed front straight, expansion and redesign of the curbing in key turns based on input from our drivers and riders and partners, and creating new viewing areas with elevated mounds for spectators to relax on a grassy hillside while taking in the on-track action,” explained Scott.
The Turn 1 safety area expansion is engineered to FIA 2 design standards and includes more asphalt run-off extending toward Turn 2 serving as additional space for cars to regain control, as well as a robust 150-foot-long gravel trap backed by upgraded tire walls for those unable to do so.
The best part of the project involves creating new course configurations alongside the classic Thunderbolt circuit. “We have a team of veteran drivers, riders, and track operations professionals involved in proposing new track layout options – versions intended to offer a variety of driving and riding experiences with more speed, with a different feel and flow to the course, and new passing zones.”
“Brad shared his vision for new designs to be added to the traditional circuit,” commented multi-time road racing champion John Hainsworth – who began his driving career at NJMP in 2009. “The discussion which ensued among the group of assembled drivers and riders, each sharing their insights on the characteristics of various road racing circuits and turns, was a thrill to be a part of.”
NJMP Driver Club member and long-time amateur racer Tom Smith agreed. “There is a unique opportunity here to preserve a fun and challenging road racing circuit while bringing new configuration options for everyone to enjoy in the years to come.”
Technical details of the milling, base preparation, and repaving will be defined following base testing, extensive analysis, and detailed planning in preparation for the work to begin at the end of the 2023 season.
The preliminary designs for the new course options include a variation code-named “The Clip” which creates a 180-degree hairpin at Turn 7 linking the existing Turns 7 and 10. Simulations predict this configuration delivers a higher minimum speed by excluding what would normally be the slowest corner on the track (Turn 9). New passing opportunities are now created into and through Turn 7 as well as into the faster approach to Turn 10. The preliminary rendering of “The Clip” is shown below.
Simulations predict that the second variation, code-named “The 90”, will be the fastest of the track layouts. “The 90” keeps the traditional Turn 7 which exits onto the flat-out sweeping bend to the right. But instead of then slowing for the tight technical section of the traditional course, you continue to accelerate onto a new straight followed by a braking zone and “The 90” rejoining the original circuit halfway through the Esses. This offers the challenging flow of setting up through the sweeping right and subsequent straightaway for a new passing opportunity – and a critical turn to execute perfectly for speed down the front straight! The preliminary rending of “The 90” is shown below.
These two new options, with or without the existing Turn 3 chicane, will be available for use in addition to with the Classic Thunderbolt course and Classic Thunderbolt with chicane, resulting in six unique and enticing experiences for NJMP’s customers.
CLASSIC THUNDERBOLT & CLASSIC THUNDERBOLT WITH CHICANE
”It is exciting to be able to share preliminary designs and project details,” said Scott. “There is a lot of energy in our team and with our partners to create the perfect turns, the most important turns for competitors and students to try to get right as they take on the challenges the new Thunderbolt complex will present.”