The Latest Luxury Hotel Perk Is a Chance to Hit the Racetrack
(Bloomberg) -- “Track driving is one of the world’s great equalizers,” says Maggie Smith, owner of Winvian Farm, a 10-cottage hotel in the posh countryside of Lichfield, Conn.
By most accounts, Winvian Farm is a slow-paced getaway. It’s an oasis for overworked New Yorkers and New Englanders, where activities typically consist of biking around the woodlands, picking herbs from an organic garden, and getting pampered at the spa.
Now, it’s also a place where guests can sign up for full-throttle, 135-mile-per-hour road-racing lessons at the undulating motorsport track, Lime Rock Park.
“It seemed so obvious,” Smith says of the new, hair-raising excursions her hotel is arranging. “Nobody was doing it.”
It’s true: Despite the ubiquity of luxury automaker partnerships at high-end hotels—where you can get chauffeured to and from dinner in a Bentley, or test-drive a Tesla—few properties cater to car lovers in meaningful ways.
Now, tracks across the country—including the Indy Speedway, where two hotels belonging to Hilton’s Tapestry Collection are currently under construction—are pairing up with luxury hotels in new and exciting ways. And hotels are eager to court car lovers in more exciting ways.
“Millennials—new young professionals—they want something more memorable than a golf course for their corporate outings,” explains Sandie Currie, chief operating officer at the Virginia International Raceway, a track whose perimeter is flanked by a handful of two-story villas. “Driving on a track, that’s the kind of thing they’re looking for,” she tells Bloomberg.
Whether it’s team bonding or a solo thrill you’re after, these are the places that’ll speak to car nuts and hotel aficionados in equal measure.
Winvian Farm, Lichfield, Conn.
This idyllic retreat—less country and more country club—debuted a program called Women at the Wheel in April, encouraging female guests to get behind the wheel as a means to build confidence and empowerment. “We were trying to think outside the box, and I was amazed at how much mental acuity and stamina the sport of track racing requires,” explains Smith, who had seen male hotel guests express interest in visiting the 1.5-mile Lime Rock Park track—located a half-hour away by car—while their spouses often stayed back at the spa.
Those programs kicked off an official partnership with the race course, which will now host Winvian guests of either gender. On beginner-friendly sessions, budding drivers learn the fundamentals of handling and cornering, test their short sprinting skills on a curvy course, and then take timed trials down long straightaways. All this is done with professional coaches at the track over the course of a half-day experience—leaving plenty of time for a calming aromatherapy massage back at the 5,000-square-foot spa. Packages from $4,400 for two.
The Villas at East Bend, Alton, Va.
Originally, the villas at East Bend were built to accommodate families who came to the 3.27-mile Virginia International Raceway to watch the races—which they could do from their balconies. Now the homes, which have sprawling footprints and comfortable furnishings, can be rented for full race car-driving weekends by burgeoning racers. That’s thanks to Formula Experiences, a company run by Peter Heffring, a tech entrepreneur and professional driver who happens to hold the track record at VIR.
Formula Experiences offers perhaps the most immersive driving experiences in the United States: Guests enjoy two full days of track time, beginning with a night drive in the passenger seat (for a no-holds-barred thrill). Then, by day, groups of 12 students are paired with coaches, taking turns on simulators and behind the wheel of an open-top, single-seat, high-revving car of similar style to those used in high-speed F1 racing. For those who need a change of pace between drives, a spa, restaurant, skeet shooting range, and other activities are scattered around the grounds.
“We don’t expect everyone to be pushing the limits of crazy driving,” Heffering tells Bloomberg. “But these cars only weigh 1500 pounds—half the weight of a street car—so even if a driver is conservative, they can experience a break force and cornering force they’ve never seen before.” Packages from $1,995.
Solis Two Porsche Drive, Atlanta
The Porsche Experience Center in Atlanta has long earned its reputation as a must-visit spot for driving enthusiasts. It’s home to the Porsche Sport Driving School, where fans of the brand can learn about its heritage and test their limits on an undulating, 1.6-mile course. But with a location a few miles from the city’s enormous airport, there’s never been a hotel to match the glamour of the track experience.
Solis, which opened in November 2017, solves that problem. The 214 rooms are decked out with subtle nods to the automaker: Think metallic headboards engraved with hub-and-spoke designs. Many have smack-on views of the track—and of planes landing at the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta airport right next door; considering that the land is leased directly from Porsche AG, it’s impossible to get any closer to the action. The evening brings happy hours at the Overdrive rooftop bar, and a drive-in movie theater on the lawn screens such car-themed flicks as Le Mans, with Steve McQueen, or Top Gun. During the day, it’s all Porsche, all the time. Rooms from $160.
The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown, Houston
Technically, the Post Oak—a top-tier hotel masterminded by Tillman Fertitta, American billionaire and owner of the Houston Rockets—doesn’t have any partnerships with race tracks. What it lacks in that department, however, it more than makes up for in other ways. The entire hotel was built around Tillman’s duplex Rolls-Royce dealership, a gallery-like space with a 30-foot-tall spiral staircase made of structural steel, marble, and glass. On the second floor, a dramatic chandelier imported from the Czech Republic casts glimmers of sparkle on a stately four-door Phantom with piano ivory and brushed-exotic-wood inlays across the dashboard and doors. “It makes beautiful optics from both the outside and the inside,” Tillman tells Bloomberg. “The visuals make somebody want to stay there; it shows what a cachet the property has.”
Indeed, the property offers plenty of comforts, from a helipad on the roof to floor-to-ceiling marble in each bathroom. The hotel is also in close proximity—just 40 miles—from the MSR Houston Motor Speedway Resort, where for $400 you can take a Lotus out on the 17-turn, 2.38-mile track. (A hotel adjacent to the course is in the early stages, including “exquisite luxury villas” and “state of the art garages.”)
To Fertitta, luxury tourism and luxury cars belong together. “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in car sales since the hotel’s opening,” he says. “It’s worked out very well.” Rooms from $389.
—Additional reporting by Hannah Elliott.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.