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Oh MAMA 2012 Spring Rally - Track and Road

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MAMA Spring Rally
All the cars, all the time

By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau
and Larry Nutson with Paul Sichert
Chicago Bureau

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We always look forward to this time of year because the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA) rounds up cars, SUVs and crossovers from nearly every manufacturer and herds them all into the paddock at the famous Road America race track in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Then they bring in all the MAMA member journalists to drive, drive, drive. We have the opportunity to test the hotter cars on the race track, the regular cars on the beautiful country roads in this part of east central Wisconsin and the heartier ones on the three off-road courses on the far end of the property. Then, to test the more agile cars we’ll have an autocross just before we wrap up the event.

What could be better than this. It’s rather like being a kid in a candy store limited only by time, not by sugar tolerance.

The big disappointment is that we only have a day and a half to drive as many cars as we can, experiencing them as thoroughly as we can. We have about 90 cars and just about that many enthusiastic drivers. Since we have to be a bit selective to make the most of the opportunity, at the suggestion of our colleague,

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Paul Sichert, we decided to focus the first morning on the top-of-the-line luxury cars in the pack and see if we can pick a favorite. Paul provided the feedback for our evaluation from the navigators seat.

We started our luxury car testing with the amazing Hyundai Equus and finished with the Audi A8L. In between we cruised the country roads in the Chrysler 300, Audi A7, Hyundai Genesis, Rolls Royce Phantom II, and Bentley GTC. Since I did not keep a formal list I may have missed a few. The A8L (L is for long wheel base), priced at just about a hundred grand stood out as a magnificent limo and both the Rolls and the Bentley impressed us as a level fully beyond an automotive experience. If we were to select the best value in an ultra luxury sedan it would have to be the Hyundai Equus which competes head-to-head with the S-Class and 7-Series but costs tens of thousands of dollars less. If they developed a long wheelbase Equus they’d have a real bargain.

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The afternoon was spent on the racetrack - the thrilling 4-mile-long Road America road course where two straights are long enough to manage speeds of a hundred and plenty and undulating twists and turns require intense concentration the whole way around. At our disposal are the Porsche Carrera S, Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG and SLK55 AMG, VW Golf R, Mustang Boss 302, Cadillac CTS-V, Challenger and Charger SRT8s and Camaro SS and ZL1. We had nearly three hours to make hot laps in whatever car we could snag. I was most impressed, believe it or not, with the basic Ford 5-liter Mustang GT, the rumbling V8-powered pony car anyone can drive away from their local Ford dealer for around thirty grand. While some of us headed for a little diversion at Bridgestone Americas sponsored karting on the go-kart track others managed to maintain a different adrenalin level with more frequent hot laps.

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Day two found us first on the combination of three off-road courses at the far end of the property. Receding glaciers 10,000 years ago left behind a wonderful array of gravely morainic hills covered with trees into which the adventurous folks at Road America cut narrow, steep paths to test the mettle of the serious SUVs and wannabes. Under the guidance of Land Rovers off-road team, we ran through those trails with everything from the Jeep Wrangler, to the Land Rover LR4 to a woosie Kia Sportage SX. The latter got its fender a bit scruffed but the rest got through unscathed. There is still nothing short of the now-extinct Hummers that can manage that kind of challenging driving better than the Wrangler.

Photo courtesy of Wendy Orthman
Later on day two we spent a couple hours on the well-designed autocross course laid out in a large parking area. Many tight kinks and one good sweeper allowed testing of the more agile cars, some with autocross cred like the new Fiat Abarth, Mazda MX-5 and VW Golf R and some you’d not likely see on such a course like the larger Cadillac CTS-V Coupe and the Mercedes-Benz SLK55 AMG roadster. The latter, while a bit brutish in sound and fury, handled the small course like a champ. We just had to drive that one with a light touch. Probably the most fun on the autocross course, though, was the little Fiat Abarth.

That was really a couple days of hard work. But, someone had to do it.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions and Larry Nutson, All Rights Reserved