Pittsburgh International Race Complex opened in 2002. Its original configuration, now known as the North Track is 1.6 miles long. Designed by Alan Wilson, the North Track was all that was there when Jim and Kathy Stout purchased the facility in 2011. It was a layout that Stout felt needed something more, so they have added the South Track, which when combined with the North Track, makes for a 2.78-mile-long configuration. A quick Spec Miata laps the full circuit in about 2:08.
What drivers in the regions surrounding Pittsburgh know is that PittRace is one of the most underrated tracks in the country. PittRace flows wonderfully, and is as well suited to Time Trial as it is for racing. PittRace has a challenging layout with tricky turns of varying speeds, blind rises and elevation changes that add to the fun. The Stouts not only added the South Track, but also repaved everything while they were at it. The result is an excellent racing surface with usable curbs and ample runoff.
Turns 3 and 4 will remind you of the Corkscrew at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Turn 5 is tight downhill bowl with a tricky entry and a steep uphill exit. Turns 7 through 11 are some of the finest esses in the country. Turns 12 and 13 are essential to get right because they lead to the blind Turn 14, which feels a bit like Turn 8 at Sonoma Raceway, and it empties onto the long back straight with high-speed turns 15 and 16.
To help competitors make the most of their experience, we enlisted the help from NASA Great Lakes Spec Miata driver John D. Allen, who has put in a lot of laps at PittRace. He was good enough to write this one for us, so we hope you learn a little something from his work. If you do learn something, be sure to stop by his paddock space at the NASA Championships and thank him.
Here’s how Allen broke down PittRace for this installment of “One Lap Around.” At the end, we’ve posted an entire lap in one video, the one from which the screen grabs were pulled. Look closely at the photos. We made every attempt to get braking markers and apex cones in the images. The first image that appears is the approach to a turn, right before entry. The second image is the apex. We’ll see you at the 2023 NASA Championships!
As you arrive at Turn 1, you will want to initiate braking around the No. 2 board, earlier for heavier, high-horsepower cars. It is possible to brake later, but the subsequent crest, plateau and drop off into the left hander make braking without any wheel lockup more challenging with every increment you wait to engage the binders.
You can turn in earlier than you might expect because grip at the apex is enhanced by the suspension compression at midcorner. If you push the limits on track out, your chassis is punished by a couple large bumps that reside where the short track configuration departs at driver’s right.
Turn 2 is really just an afterthought as you slowly unwind the wheel while climbing the short, steep hill. Be aware that the pit exit blend line on your left here overlaps with the preferred racing line. You grab fourth gear and the next crest reveals a brief drop before a continued climb toward the almost 90-degree left-hand entry into turns 3 and 4.
Much like Turn 1, your comfortably repeatable braking point is at the No. 2 board. Again, it’s earlier in heavier, high-horsepower cars. Nearly threshold at the start followed by a trail off as the car lightens over a subtle rise in the pavement. The speed into Turn 3 is slow enough that the progressive but smooth curbing can be usable track surface to help navigate the snappy left/right combo. The speed midcorner is slow enough for second gear, but third will suffice thanks to the gravity assist of a now rapidly descending approach into Turn 4 awaits.
Turn 4 arrives roughly one second after the apex of Turn 3, which is essentially where you set up for 4. After the apex of 3, open the wheel and let the car head right toward the apex of Turn 4. A good exit from 4 results in a few bounces off the rev limiter before braking for Turn 5. Similar to considering second gear for Turn 3 a moment earlier, an extra shift to fourth gear here is largely viewed as too brief to prove very useful. Decide for yourself.
Execution of Turn 5 is critical as you pilot the car into the hard right while transitioning from an 82-foot drop directly into a 85-foot climb. With the modest power output of a Spec Miata, minimizing rear wheel slip and front wheel scrub while in lower rpm is a massive priority for a fast lap.
Turn 6 is a blind rise that leads to a 1,249-foot straightaway, and it is a continuation of the work already in progress from the exit of Turn 5 as you decide between unwinding the wheel to reduce rolling resistance or keeping the steering angle aggressive to reduce distance traveled en route to the summit of the next straight. Dealer’s choice.
Turns 7 and 8
More than 1,200 feet later, we arrived at Turn 7, the gatekeeper to the sequence of esses that makes the meat in the sandwich of a lap around PittRace. Brake as close to the No. 1 board as you dare before controlling the weight transfer as you release the brake pedal into the right-hand entry.
At this point the proper line becomes debatable. Consider the whole recipe in forming your own approach. Car setup, driving style and tire management all play a part in how you navigate the ensuing rhythmic, undulating slalom that dominates the next 20 seconds of lap time. The curbing in this sequence is again wide and inviting. Including them in your line of attack proves quite non violent on your way to Turn 11.
At the exit of 7, you can be about two-thirds to track right and turn in for Turn 8. It’s slightly downhill, so know that going in. Some curb is helpful, but corner exit to track out can produce some oversteer as try to get the car placed for entry to Turn 9.
Turns 9 and 10
I generally don’t feel I have to get all the way out to track left for entry to Turn 9. As the video shows, I can make it work turning into 9 from midtrack and still be able to get the car fully to the right after apex in time entry to Turn 10, which comes up quickly.
There is a rise in the track to help you get the car turned in and set for 10, which is a bit tricky because it starts heading downhill after apex and you can’t see everything you want to see at entry.
Turn 11 is less of a true corner and more of an awkward right-hand kink where the seldom used short track configuration rejoins the full circuit layout. The amount of curb you can use depends on your speed and suspension.
After the previous five alternating rights and lefts, the brief approach to Turn 12 gives you a quick beat to reset before immediately tackling another five-zig-zag sequence, which starts with an uphill right. You can get aggressive with 12 by going back to throttle early and jumping the apex curb, but know it may cost you a better position for the next two switchbacks that follow.
Any speed sacrificed in Turn 13 leaves you vulnerable because you are now full throttle down the hill and crooked backstretch all the way to the sharp right at Turn 17.
Turn 14 is a blind right-hander that empties onto the back stretch. In a Spec Miata, it’s taken flat in third gear near the rpm where you shift to fourth. There’s a rise ahead of the apex, which helps you get the car turned. Use all the track and corner exit to set up for Turn 15.
Turn 15 is a fast left-hand kink that requires smooth inputs and using all of the track at corner exit. Use as much track as you can to increase the radius of the turn.
Turn 16 is right-hand kink that is even faster than 15. Again, use all of the track width to open the turn as much as possible for entry to Turn 17.
Proper arrival at 17 first requires skillfully settling the car balance just after the kinked approach of Turn 16 which boasts the highest apex speed on the lap. Be prepared to share that apex with a dance partner who has been enjoying your draft for the last half mile.
Turn 17, 18 and 19
Let’s discuss Turn 17 in more detail. Yes, it’s the best passing opportunity on the track. As such, it may be appropriate to prioritize strategy and track position over outright pace. Like Turn 5, Turn 17 — and 18 — turns 180 degrees and requires a delicate balance of maximizing your minimum speed while not sacrificing power through traction loss. Also eerily similar to Turn 5, the rpm in third gear are frustratingly low for the uphill climb facing you. You waited nearly the whole lap but finally second gear is worth legitimate consideration.
It does make the turn busier overall, and prudence might tell you that you can’t mess up a shift you never attempt, but you will likely find a second gear pull up the hill better in one-lap pace. Just keep in mind that after several laps of repetition, the rear tires will protest and may start to cost you grip and pace through the midlap esses. The only thing left to consider out of Turn 17 is car placement when contesting a position across the finish line.
You are coming out of a long, loaded right hander that offers more exit speed on the outside radius, which remains outside still as you continue through Turn 18, but then becomes the inside for the left-hand kink that is the 19th and final turn around the wall that splits pit entry from the front stretch to the checkers.
On the whole, the track provides great racing and often rewards the patient driver with some late opportunities to gain the elusive edge they seek. Be smart, resourceful and courteous, and you’ll leave the 2023 NASA Championships with great stories to tell. Happy car prepping and we’ll see you very soon!
If you made it this far, check out this hot lap from Allen. Watch him put all the corners together in one lap.