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Friday favourite: The “no compromise” track where a Le Mans winner notched up a century

It may not be one of the standout venues on the sportscar racing calendar in terms of the history and prestige attached to the event, but Mid-Ohio is a challenging test for drivers that Christophe Bouchut singles out as his favourite track

#055 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b

#055 Level 5 Motorsports HPD ARX-03b

Dan R. Boyd / Motorsport Images

It’s been over a decade since Christophe Bouchut last raced at his favourite circuit. And while the 1993 Le Mans 24 Hours winner says the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course first opened in 1962 is “not the biggest, not the most beautiful circuit,” he reckons the track’s combination of corners, elevation and challenging braking zones means “everything is done for me there”.

“It brings me a lot of pleasure to drive there,” he says. “This is a mix from a normal circuit with a street circuit. If you do a mistake then you go in the wall.

“Many circuits in the USA, if you want to be fast, then you have to accept to take a lot of risk. But I’m more talking about some elevation, some angle of corners, than for this reason [of risk-versus-reward that] I like this circuit.”

Bouchut favours tracks where drivers can attack corner entries, rather than finding that they gain time largely from carrying speed onto straights and only having “to think about all the exit of the corners”. The 13-turn Mid-Ohio track, therefore, is a circuit that favours his style.

“I am a hard braker, I am braking late,” explains Bouchut, also an outright winner of 24-hour races at Daytona (1995) and Spa (2001-02). “And I like to push the car on the limit and to accelerate very early.

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“You can’t do it on many circuits, you need a certain angle of the corner to do it. And Mid-Ohio, it’s possible to be like hell on the corners, no compromise. It’s why I like this.”

Bouchut relished the enjoyment of attacking Mid-Ohio's corners

Photo by: Dan R. Boyd / Motorsport Images

Bouchut relished the enjoyment of attacking Mid-Ohio's corners

At both the first corner, a sweeping left-hander where “there is always some dirt on the track”, and right-hand final corner, Bouchut says “you don’t really know where the limit is, you think you are able to give again more each lap after lap”. His admiration for the 180-degree Turn 2 right-hander known as The Keyhole is evident in his description of it as “a perfect corner”, and the rapid approach to the “very challenging” Turn 4 right – the first corner after rolling starts – is another Bouchut relishes.

“You have to stay inside and then after that immediately left with a big elevation and then going down with no vision on the right,” the Frenchman ponders.

“Some corners, especially in Le Mans, you know exactly where you have to brake. You know exactly where the apex is, and then you know what you have to do at the apex. You start to take 50% acceleration, then you are accelerating progressively and then you go on the next kerb. But in Mid-Ohio it’s never like that. It’s more challenging than European circuits.”

It certainly helps that he has a strong record at the place too. Bouchut has two class poles and victories from three appearances at the FIA Grade 2 track, both with Level 5 Motorsport alongside team owner Scott Tucker, who in 2018 was sentenced to 16 years in prison for racketeering and fraud over illegal payday loan practices.

"The circuit gives me back the pleasure I take to drive there. When I raced with Level 5 in the USA, I had many other drivers driving very well with me, and then I had always a big difference there" Christophe Bouchut

After finishing ninth in his first appearance at the track in the 2009 Grand-Am Series aboard a Riley-BMW, Bouchut and Tucker switched to the American Le Mans Series for 2011 and won the single-make ORECA-based LMPC class by a lap, taking third overall. Significantly, Bouchut says it was also his 100th race win.

Mid-Ohio didn’t feature on the LMP2 calendar the following year when Bouchut and Tucker claimed the class title. But in 2012, Bouchut again converted class pole (by half a second) into victory and an overall podium in their HPD ARX-03b.

“The circuit gives me back the pleasure I take to drive there,” he says. “When I raced with Level 5 in the USA, I had many other drivers driving very well with me, and then I had always a big difference there. And then I won also my 100th race on that circuit, so for all these reasons it is my favourite.

“Sometimes you just feel happy to be somewhere and then it’s difficult to really explain why, but sometimes it’s just because you feel well to be there. Like when you meet somebody and then you don’t know exactly why you are good friends, this is a bit like this for me.”

Bouchut scored his 100th career victory at Mid-Ohio in the 2010 ALMS race

Photo by: Dan R. Boyd LAT Photographic USA

Bouchut scored his 100th career victory at Mid-Ohio in the 2010 ALMS race

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