The automobile industry is highly competitive. Convincing prospective buyers to purchase a particular brand of car requires both a successful sales and marketing program as well as a manufacturing process that results in a quality product. Car companies agonize over methods to improve their cars, trucks, and SUVs making them better than their competitor’s vehicles.
To assure that their vehicles meet consumer expectations and one-up competitors, car manufacturers conduct tests on their cars under all types of road and driving conditions.
The process covers everything including comfort, performance, safety, reliability, quality, and appearance. Car testing allows manufacturers to work out all the kinks and potential problems of a new model before production. It's much cheaper to eliminate a problem before beginning mass production than it is to discover the issues and fix them afterward.
Carmakers go to great extremes to keep a lid on the automobile advancements before they're ready to be made public. These measures include the use of hidden and secret proving grounds that provide extreme real-world driving conditions like rough-road tracks, steep inclines, gravel, curbs, railroad crossings, and more.
Another type of secret or unknown race track is the private club that limits facilities access to members only. Most of these tracts are known only to clients who can afford the membership.
The third type of race track is one unknown to all except a few enthusiasts for a variety of reasons including poor track conditions or a hidden, out-the-way location.
The following are 25 photos of the world’s secret or unknown race tracks.
25 Ford's Top Secret You Yang Test Track
Journalists who stand behind tall barbed-wire fences inside Ford’s top secret You Yang test track near Geelong, China are prohibited from taking pictures and have their cell phones confiscated before entering.
The lockdown policy is stricter than a military facility because the top-secret models, years away from showrooms, are being put through the paces on the labyrinth of roads, a variety of conditions, and a high-speed oval.
The number of cars being tested is surprising. In addition to the next generation Ford sedans earmarked for China, the car park is full of fascinating brand-new vehicles from rival brands. These benchmark vehicles allow Ford to understand how the current and future models are tracking against the competition, well before launch.
24 The Secret Racing Test Tunnel in Pennsylvania
Visitors are not welcome.
A secret tunnel in the Allegheny Mountains between Harrisburg and Pittsburg has been used for years to test race cars. Once part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Laurel Hill tunnel is covertly operated by Chip Ganassi Racing and has been driven by former IndyCar driver Darren Manning.
Tests conducted in the tunnel provide the standard aerodynamic information and, more importantly, data that is difficult to obtain in a scale-model tunnel. The effects of deforming bodywork can be studied. At speed, the wings and engine cover naturally flex. What is their impact on performance?
"You have to remember," Manning said, "that the cars are all extremely close. Five pounds less drag or 20 pounds more downforce has a huge cumulative effect over the course of a race. Those piddly little things add up."
23 tlanta Motorsports Park, Dawsonville, Georgia
Kart racing is perhaps the purest form of racing. Putting the driver as close to the engine and the asphalt as is humanly possible, it is the essence of motorist and machine in unison. Once a driver masters kart racing, he/she can tackle racing other vehicles in an intensely meaningful way.
As Road & Track stated: “Every Formula 1 driver had to start somewhere, and racing karts at a very young age is how most champions are cultivated.”
The kart school at AMP has classes for students as young as five years old. In addition to the 0.85-mile kart track, Atlanta Motorsports Park is home to two driving circuits. The 2.0-mile main course with more than 100 feet in elevation changes, multiple configurations, and a 35- to 40-foot-wide surface.
22 The Nardò Ring, Italy
The Nardò Ring, owned by the Porsche Engineering Group, is a dedicated and highly secure facility used to test its future products.
A perfectly round 7.8-mile-long track, it has four lanes, each 16 meters wide. With plenty of room for multiple cars and motorcycle testing, the lanes are sufficiently banked that a driver in the outer most lane needn’t turn the wheel while driving at speeds of up to 149 mph.
Porsche has recently made improvements the facilities and offers its use other automakers.
“With its rich array of facilities, from dynamic surfaces to acoustic and off-road sections coupled with the numerous workshops, our clients can continue to make extensive use of Nardò for their vehicle trials in the future as well,” said Malte Radmann, CEO of Porsche Engineering.
21 Idiada Proving Grounds, Spain
Idiada is one of the best-kept secrets in test track and proving ground circles. Located near Barcelona, all the main track testing facilities are surrounded by a 4.7-mile oval high-speed circuit.
The proving grounds are operated by the Applus+ IDIADA company which offers engineering services for durability and reliability, vehicle air conditioning, vehicle electricals and electronics, noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), powertrains, and active and passive safety.
Homologation and certification services are provided not only for cars but for other vehicles including motorcycles, trucks, and coaches. Component certification includes helmets and visors. Idiada also has a unique “fatigue track” dedicated to absolutely wearing out the brakes, powertrain, and gearbox.
20 Ehra-Lessien Test Track Facility, Germany
Ehra-Lessien, Germany is about a half-hour drive from Wolfsburg. Passing through a dense forest, nothing is around until a clearing reveals Volkswagen's secretive proving ground.
The sign at the front gate tells visitors "radio transmissions are monitored" and discourages unauthorized entrance by warning of an infestation by poisonous caterpillars.
Built during the Cold War when the area was in a no-fly zone near the East German border, the test facility was safe from prying eyes seeing secret prototypes.
Ehra-Lessien has one feature no other track has: a perfectly flat, straight section so long (5.6 miles) that when standing at one end, the other end cannot be seen due to the curvature of the Earth. The McLaren F1 and Bugatti Veyron recorded their top speeds there, managing 240 mph and 253.81 mph respectively.
19 Mercedes-Benz's High-Banked Test Track
Although Mercedez-Benz has continually made improvements to its secret testing facilities through the years, perhaps the most significant changes came in 1967 when it completed almost 10 miles of new testing surfaces. The facilities included rough-road tracks, high-speed straights, steep inclines, a crosswind simulator, and that insanely-banked curve.
By comparison, the curve at NASCAR's Bristol Motor Speedway banks at 36 degrees, while the MB curve becomes completely vertical at its top (90 degrees). Drivers claim on approach it appears as though they are about to drive into a wall. The maximum speed on the turn is just under 125 mph; at higher speeds, drivers risk of blacking out from the excessive G-forces.
18 Ferrari Fiorano Test Track
The Fiorano test track built by Enzo Ferrari in 1972 is a top-secret test facility where Ferrari racing and road-legal vehicles are tested and calibrated. It is also a training facility for drivers, mechanics, and teams. Absent of spectators, only one vehicle moves around the track at a time.
The track was designed to test every aspect of vehicle performance on a variety of road conditions and aid in resolving precise problems. For example, the track tests for the real-world relationship between the process of left and right turns, curves with a differential radius ranging from 13.71 m to 370 m, and turns with one or more centers that have different characteristics.
17 Holden's Secret Lang Lang Test Track
General Motors opened the Lang Lang research and development center in 1957 to secretly develop and test vehicles suited to Australian conditions. In 2017 the company announced plans to invest $8.7 million to upgrade the emissions labs and started recruiting engineers and drivetrain calibration specialists to work on future Buick and Cadillac-badged products.
The Australian group is expected to run more than 7000 tests a year on nearly 100 models from GM’s ten global brands. The enhanced facility takes some of the pressure off GM’s overloaded emissions testing teams in the US and Europe, as the growing divide in emissions laws splits drivetrains to meet different market requirements.
16 Toyota’s Secret Proving Ground, Arizona
The Toyota Arizona Proving Ground (TAPG) is the most extensive Toyota testing facility in the world, and it may be one of the most secret. The few visitors allowed to enter have their cameras confiscated and the lenses on their smartphones stickered over to prevent any top-secret work from escaping the property.
The proving ground at TAPG was designed to replicate the extremes a car could experience throughout an average 10-year life, whether it's freeway conditions, running over speed humps, dropping into potholes, or speeding down a damaging gravel road. The Arizona facility provides one of the most hostile environments on Earth, not only for its security but also for its dry desert heat and maybe the rattlesnakes.
15 VW's Secret Desert Proving Ground
For more than twenty-five years, Volkswagen has used their anonymous 2.5- square-mile tract of sand in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, with its merciless sun and triple-digit temperatures, to test the breaking points of every VW vehicle and component.
Designed to inflict maximum stress, Jim Marsella, senior director of the proving ground said, "Somewhere in the production life cycle of every model that we build in every plant worldwide, we pluck a car off the assembly line, send it here, and in 90 days of running through the chambers and test roads, we can equal 12 years of corrosion that you would see somewhere back on the East Coast, where they're salting roads in the wintertime and where corrosion is a real issue on vehicles."
14 Monticello Motor Club, New York
The Monticello Motor Club is a private country club for automotive enthusiasts, with an initiation fee $95,000 and annual dues of $13,900 for the Gold Membership.
The exclusive club features a 4.1-mile race-grade asphalt road course that includes: 22 turns with both decreasing and increasing radiuses plus hairpins, 450 feet of exciting elevation changes, and over 1.5 miles of straights.
A variety of layouts span over four miles. The course can be operated as three independent circuits running simultaneously. Brian Redman, world-famous driving champion says the road course at Monticello Motor Club, “is among the best in the world, with turns and challenges that will excite drivers of all levels.”
13 The Thermal Club Racetrack
Opened in 2012, The Thermal Club is another well-kept secret race track due primarily to its exclusivity and its affluent clientele. Not only do associates pay a steep membership fee, but they are also required to purchase a parcel of land and build a condo.
Thermal has both a 1.4-mile and 1.8-mile course. Both are flat but were designed for a fast, flowing rhythm.
Ideally located close to classy Palm Springs, Thermal entices race enthusiasts from Newport Beach and San Diego. “Our target market is interested in racing,” managing partner Tim Rogers says. However, he explains, the venue also appeals to collectors of vintage cars with storage garages, and a spa is available for spouses to enjoy a massage or manicure.
12 NOLA Motorsports Park, New Orleans
Starting as a project for a local businessman who wanted his own private track, NOLA evolved into a motorsports park. The facility offers a kart track with rentals and several courses for cars or motorcycles.
The 2.8-mile North Track varies in width from 40 to 50 feet, includes a 3,360-foot straightaway and 16 turns. The 1.8-mile short course offers 12 turns, and the 2.4-mile track uses a 5,090-foot straightaway. Safety features include FIA spec tire walls and large runoff areas.
NOLA Motorsports president Kristen Engeron explains their inexpensive membership policy, “We can’t do a country-club mentality. We want to convert everybody who walks through these doors whether or not they were previously a racetrack fan…We’re looking for a Disneyland feel without it looking like Disneyland.”
11 Millbrook Proving Ground, UK
Although the Millbrook Proving Ground has been the scene for the TV series Fifth Gear and Top Gear, and James Bond when he flipped his Aston Martin on the Hill Route in Casino Royale, the race track is relatively unknown.
Rated as one of the best test tracks in the world, it offers a variety of driving conditions.
High-speed testing is conducted on the two-mile circular banked bowl. The Inner and Outer Handling courses are used to verify a car’s handling and chassis integrity with the extremely technical and twisty circuits. Finally, the Alpine Course/Hill Route, divided into three sections or loops comprises progressively steeper gradients and tighter corners and a superb jump.
10 ADearborn Development Centre, USA
Opened in 1925 as a commercial airport, Ford overhauled the 365-acre plot of land in 2006 to create the Dearborn Development Centre. The company added a 2.6-mile steering and handling course, 2.5 miles of high-speed track, and a 0.8-mile straightaway.
The vehicle dynamics area includes curbs, railroad crossings, gravel, vertigo-inducing brake hills and a 12-acre wet pad for testing traction on less-than-ideal surfaces.
Although Ford has a much larger proving grounds outside of Phoenix, Arizona and in Romeo, Michigan, the proximity of the Dearborn facility provides secrecy and security while streamlining the development process. Ford engineers can fine tune their creations quite literally in their own backyard.
9 GoMentum Station Proving Ground
Toyota’s Research Institute is testing its autonomous vehicle tech in “hazardous driving scenarios” at GoMentum Station, a 5,000-acre proving ground for self-driving vehicles located in Concord, California.
The facility provides simulated real-world driving conditions, including parking lots and bridges. It allows TRI to replicate some of the harshest conditions potentially encountered by drivers and vehicles without waiting for them to happen in real life. Extreme driving conditions can be tested that are not possible to evaluate with testing on public roads.
TRI is testing both its “Guardian” and its “Chauffeur” autonomous driving systems, which were developed to automate safety protocols for assisting human drivers, and full autonomy respectively.
8 Acura’s Top-Secret Test Track
Hidden behind Honda R&D Americas, surrounded by a barbed wire fence and a high dirt barrier with a tall screen of trees, is the Transportation Research Center (TRC), the largest independent proving ground in the Americas. TRC discreetly serves more than 1,000 clients including Honda and Acura, plus many competing automotive brands under a cloak of tight security and secrecy.
Camouflaged vehicles of unknown origin move around the expansive facility in near-perfect anonymity, scanned 24/7 by a network of security cameras. Visitors are required to sign confidentiality releases, their cameras are disabled, and questions are not permitted.
Approximately 4,500 acres of wooded trails, road courses, a 50-acre vehicle dynamics area, and a 7.5-mile high-speed oval test track make TRC an ideal place to test any vehicle imaginable, any time of year.
7 Lédenon Race Track, France
At one time, in the mid-1990s, Lédenon was a favorite of car and bike magazines but in recent years has become relatively unknown (almost a well-kept secret).
Built in 1970 and set high in the hills of Southern France, the undulating course plummets across two valleys and delivers an incredible rollercoaster ride of ups and downs with corkscrew turns and blind crests.
One of the most technically challenging circuits in Europe, the track is in one of the hottest parts of France just 30 minutes from the Mediterranean. The G-forces and heat generated on such a surging track will soon tire out all but the fittest track day addicts.
6 Folembray Near Paris, France
Folembray was closed for many years and therefore dropped off the radar for bike enthusiasts. Although it was refurbished in 2001 and restored to mint condition, it remains relatively unknown except to the most hard-core track addicts.
Nestled amongst an oak trees just north-east of Paris, the circuit is secluded from the outside world which gives it the feel of a natural amphitheater. The technical circuit tests riding skills to the limit with a mixture of fast sweeping corners, long straights, and hairpin turns.
A school run by former 500cc Grand Prix rider Didier de Radigues means on-track instruction is available from the man who used to race against Freddie Spencer and Barry Sheene.
5 Euroring Race Track, Hungary
Built in 2004 the Euro-Ring in Hungary is an impressive complex, a modern racing ring constructed for both professional and amateur enthusiasts. While it boasts one long circuit and six different short-circuit configurations, the new complex remains relatively unknown.
However, in recent years the course has hosted many successful races and events. The ring is used regularly by go-carters, motorcyclists, and car racers confirming its “raison d` étre” among speed-addicts.
While the track is not very fast, the layout itself is very complex. Its compact design and lack of a main straightaway only make it more challenging to ride, and the huge gravel-trap run-off areas make the Euro-Ring a reasonably safe place to thrash a bike.
4 Autodromo di Mores, Sardinia, Italy
Building a racetrack on an island is usually a guarantee of anonymity. The Autodromo di Mores on the island of Sardinia just off the Italian coast is no exception.
Completed in March 2003, the course is Sardinia’s only FIM-homologated racetrack hosting both auto and motorbike racing. The circuit features the Sardegna Vacanze, Prove Libere Motociclistiche, Gully Racing, BMW Academy, and Sardegna Motori.
Just over a mile long, the course hosts a round of the SuperMoto World Championship which is a good indication of its compact layout. Although former 125cc world champion Alessandro Gramigni holds the lap record at a seemingly slow average speed of 74.6mph, the track is difficult to conquer.
3 Autodromo di Pergusa Racing Circuit, Sicily
Perhaps the only racing circuit in the world that encircles a bubbling volcanic lake, the Autodromo di Pergusa in Sicily is a huge oval, and it’s very fast.
Built in 1951, the unique race track was the scene in the 1980s of the now-defunct TT Formula 1 World Championship. It’s reputation as a horrifically dangerous circuit, the area's Sulphur deposit odor, and the added hazard of a trip into the snake-filled lake if it all went wrong, contributed to its loss of racing events. Although the course was upgraded in 1991 with numerous serpentine curves and improved run-off, it’s still not considered a safe circuit.
2 Fiat's Lingotto Rooftop Race Track
The Lingotto Rooftop Race Track may be the most secret circuit in the world, only because it was built on the top of Fiat’s assembly plant with access exclusively to finished Fiat autos.
An integral part of the manufacturing process, the factory used a unique upward spiral assembly line. Each Fiat progressed upwards through the building story by story with each floor specializing in a designated part of the assembly. What began on the ground floor as raw materials and individual parts developed into a fully-functioning Fiat by the time it spiraled its way to the top of the building. A few laps around the rooftop banked race track verified the quality of construction.
1 Nürburgring Driving Academy
The famous Nürburgring is one of the longest, most demanding, and busiest race tracks in the world. While the racetrack is used mainly for sanctioned races and by car companies for testing, what remains a secret, or at least little known, is its availability to the amateur driver.
Public access is typically on the weekends, and all road-legal vehicles can pay to drive on the historic track. Sports cars, motorcycles, and even RVs and tour buses are allowed to have their turn.
The most famous layout at Nürburgring is the Nordschleife (Northern Loop). The fourteen-plus miles of road and corners have challenged many famous racing drivers, some resulting in devastating crashes. The toll for a single lap around Nordschleife is €26 ($30).
Sources: motormorph, roadandtrack, automobilemag, visordown, thedrive, carsguide, businessinsider, Digital Trends