For the past several incarnations of All-Stars, we visited our Las Vegas–area friends at SpeedVegas and the Resort on Mount Charleston for our evaluations, but this year we moved the show to the Palmdale, California, area, with track work at Willow Springs International Raceway and street driving on roads near Lake Hughes. Although some of us missed Sin City’s bright lights and plinky sounds, all of us appreciated the change of pace when it came down to the actual driving.
The best-known track of the several to be found on the grounds of Willow Springs International Motorsports Park is Willow Springs International Raceway, also known as Big Willow. But that wasn’t the one we chose for our assessments—the big speeds and high-risk elements in certain areas aren’t well suited to the All-Stars evaluation process or (most of) the cars in the field. We instead opted for Big Willow’s little brother, the Streets of Willow.
This 1.6-mile, 13-turn course makes for a much more appropriate testing ground, behaving in practice like a speed-unlimited, one-way private road. We are, after all, appraising street cars here, as close as cars like the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, and McLaren 600LT may come to delivering race car performance. The validation of Streets as the right place for our track testing sits in our winners list: Whether it was a $30,000-ish hot hatch or a $500,000-ish exotic, the circuit allowed the cars that had the mettle to shine and punished those vehicles that didn’t.
But track testing is only a small portion of the All-Stars judging. Even more important are the public roads we use for our real-world loops. Fortunately, the Transverse Ranges of Southern California near Lake Hughes provide the sort of steep, canyon-rich topography that creates some of the best roads on earth. While out there, we kept our blood sugar and caffeine at hyper-alert levels thanks to the delicious wares and friendly service at the Heart N Soul Coffee House, a true hidden gem of the Southern California hill country (which we sadly later learned has permanently closed).
Location, people, cars, hotels, food—so much was under our control. But one aspect most certainly was not: weather. And the weather caught up with us in epic fashion, with record rainfall and even some snow modifying our plans for the second day of road driving, forcing us out of the higher elevations and back down into Palmdale itself, where the water at least had the courtesy not to freeze.
Thankfully, our lodging for the duration of the main evaluation, the Element by Westin, was a perfect impromptu base of operations for our second drive day. It was also the perfect free-cheese-and-free-beer-four-days-a-week place to unwind after a long day of studying the finest automotive hardware the industry cooked up this year.
From there, we sent most of the contenders and most of the staff back to the office, saddled up our winners, and headed for Death Valley—a three-hour drive through some of the most beautiful, desolate country anywhere in the Union, let alone just a couple of hundred miles out of the Los Angeles Basin. There, we continued our evaluation of the very best of the best, capturing some breathtaking imagery of our variety pack of cars against the wild desert palette.
The results—photographic, vehicular, and otherwise—speak for themselves, but from where we sit, this might just have been the best All-Stars yet—until the next one,
Streets of Willow
Track length: 1.6 mi
Willow Springs Int’l
3500 75th St W
Rosamond, CA 93560
Elizabeth Lake Road
Test-loop length: 28 miles
Element by Westin
39325 Trade Center Dr Palmdale, CA 93551