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Test Track soft opening ride report

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A great review of Test Track by Jason Travis, thanks!

I got to ride Test Track several times yesterday, and I thought I'd post a detailed description. Please don't read if you don't want to know the "surprises".

Test Track is like a very intricate and expensive watch that is fascinating when it works, but grinds to a five-minute halt a the slightest jostle. When TT runs correctly, it's exhilarating. Out of about seven rides, probably only three were completely problem free. The CM's speak about
normal "zone stops" now--not a 101 but just a short delay because something gets out of synch, or they're loading a wheelchair. Unfortunately, the pacing of this ride is everything. Often you'll get stopped in the middle of a test, and the effect of that test and the whole ride is lost while you sit for five minutes in silence.

THE RIDE

The outside of the building is quite impressive. They've built a canopy over the exterior, where there will most likely be a line. (I especially like the highway-barrier structures) There are little signs and factoids to read, and during the time I was in line, this little car of CM's pulled up
blasting "Supermodel, Work", and other upbeat music while they entertained the crowd by throwing nerf footballs back and forth to us, and playing "chicken tennis" with children. Sometimes the crash test dummies will also work the line, which actually moves fast while the ride is operating. If the line outside isn't too bad, don't let the wait time scare you away, because the interior line is *very* well done and I was never bored, even though the ride stopped for ten minutes once.

The cars that shoot by on the track overhead run VERY close together. Sometimes seeming almost ten seconds apart. The track even *moves* and creaks a bit as the cars hurtle by sounding like jet engines. I'm assuming this is normal to prevent stress that would build up in a totally immobile structure...I think.

The inner queue is fascinating, and one of the neatest parts of the ride. It's like a large open hangar filled with gizmos and gadgets and television screens and car parts. I almost got sensory overload--you barely know where to look next. The whole room is a cacophony of clattery techno music made up of industrial sounds that changes depending on which part of the line you're in, due to different balances on the speakers that hang above your head. I noticed more than one person bopping along. It manages to sound like a busy industrial garage while also being musical.

You'll notice lights flashing by behind some mostly opaque vertically-striped glass on one wall--those are vehicles entering the lift hill. There are many interesting motorized displays--you'll see a huge weight being lifted up and dropped on a car door. Several test dummies also suffer from big mechanical hammers pummelling them. It's all quite fascinating, and a great lead up to the ride.

You're herded into one of three briefing rooms. (Make sure you check out the back wall before the lights go out--there are aerial photos of several "real life" test tracks, as well as Disney's.) On one screen the test director explains the tests to you while his assistant brings up computer
displays and little avi's of each one. Very interesting how they make this all look like a flashy internet browser display with status bars "downloading" and such. (The female assistant (Sherri?) is really funny in her own subtle way. I love how she almost gets a slightly sadistic glee from being allowed to "randomly" pick the last test--you see an avi of a crash test.) Then you get the usual seatbelt demonstration.

The doors open, and you're in another slightly cramped queue on the loading dock. This area is crammed with industrial machinery...all very well done. It's almost a brighter version of the TOT loading area with a bit of Tomorrowland Speedway mixed in. You load into the cars--very nicely detailed with running and brake lights, and headlights--and get dispatched in a "train" of three or four cars together. There is a four-inch monitor mounted in front and back seats. They seem to be the same type of track system as CTX and Indy, only instead of a motion simulator, they are wired with high-speed engines. Several speakers create sound effects...the motor idling and the tires squealing when appropriate. (The cars are actually electrical, and aren't supposed to ever really scrape or screech ever, although you do sometimes)

The cars roll forward and up a curved incline to the left, where another CM checks your seatbelts before clearing it to separate and move forward to the lift hill. You see the car ahead of you "burn rubber" up the hill, leaving smoke behind. (I thought this was real at first, but got a whiff of rosco stage smoke coming out of the floor.) The monitors pop on, and you're cleared for the incline test. You accelerate up for a few feet, then continue at a constant speed. It's not so much like a power climb as it is...well...a lift hill.

You reach the top and shoot over...for a second it seems like you might be in for a drop, but instead you hit the brakes and make a tight right turn. From the height, you can see a lot of the track laid out below you. The interior of the building is a vast open space that is dark except for some industrial floodlamps illuminating the test areas. It's a little like a parking garage--or a an indoor go-cart track. People have complained about the lack of "scenery" but it's very accurate that there isn't any. You very much get the sense of unfinished "testing".

You then grind down a VERY bumpy "Belgian block" hill, which is like driving over dowels. Then you level off and hit the "German blocks" which are bigger and cause some side-to side jostles. This is the one really realistic test in the ride. You actually hit all these bumps with your
tires. I wonder how difficult it will be to maintain these cars, as they take lots of abuse.

You make a right and stop for a second. A monitor on a pole pops on, and your test engineer tells you he's going to slam on the brakes and try to steer you through a left turn marked out by cones minus ABS. Your car accelerates quite realistically, then fishtails a bit and plows through the cones, ending up in a dark area near a wall outside of the test zone. You turn around and they turn the ABS on. In this lane, you feel two solid bursts of braking, and make the turn. Two monitors side by side show you the overhead videos of you missing the turn and making the turn. These are actually pretty good tests, although it would be cool if the cars had a few feet of lateral "swing" in the back so that the fishtailing would really seem out of control. (As built, your car follows the slot exactly so it doesn't ever feel dangerous.)

You make a u-turn to the right and enter the "extreme conditions" testing. You pull in between two giant banks of several hundred bulbs and they flash on, *quite* hot and glaringly bright for a moment. You then pull to the left into the cold chamber. Icicles hang down, and freezing cold air and mist blast down on you. Next is the "corrosion" chamber. The engineer says, "Did we remember to turn those robots off? Sherri says, "Um..." And two industrial robots on each side of you hose you down with mist that's lit yellow and has an odd scent. ("Paint!" one woman exclaimed during one ride.)

You exit the atmosphere chambers and get set for the cornering test. You climb up into a simulated mountain road (with the infamous two-dimensional trees) and make three tight turns while they seemingly accelerate you faster and faster. Unfortunately the ride constraints make it necessary to brake before each turn, so it doesn't really build in intensity too much, but you
do get some nice lateral g-pull in the turns. You then hit a giant dip in the road (the kind which normally makes you curse as the road scrapes your muffler,) and then twist into a tunnel. All the lights go out, you hear a honking sound, and a giant semi-truck lights up to your left as you swerve right. Not horrifyingly scary, as the truck doesn't seem to move much, but loud.

You pull back into a garage like area labelled "barrier test". Several overhead p.a.'s blare out to clear the area. You make a right turn and approach a testing area. A bank of very bright floodlights turn on (they film crash tests at high film speeds requiring lots of light) and a car
barrels in, smashing into a wooden barrier. You feel the wave of air from the crash. This part is really nicely done. The car wrecks very realistically. You then turn right into a dark garage. The lights come on and you are facing a similar wooden barrier. Two banks of the same bright
lights come on, and you peel out, hurtling toward the barrier, which splits in two and slides open at the very last moment. You turn slightly right and drop down a hill (braking again, dammit, there's not much clearance under your car) and then they *pour* on the acceleration. You bank to the right a bit, then hit a circular loop that banks to the left. It feels like you're going as fast as this car can mechanically go, but you hit the straightaway and the engine hits another gear and your the mechanism *screams* up to 64.3 miles per hour. It's loud and fast and incredible fun. You hit the big track going around the building at close to 65 mph and make it about 1/3 of
the way around before they begin to brake you.

You come to a stop outside of "thermal imaging" on the other side of the building where you enter a tunnel and edge down a steep hill past a camera showing your heat-level (yes wave, that's you). You then make a left turn, which puts you back at the loading dock, and you exit to your left. (Remember "And what about science...science...science... And what about science...science...science..."? If you're in the single rider line you get, "Hey, thanks for being such a great test crew...Hey, thanks for being such a great test crew...Hey, thanks for...)

As you exit around the corner, you pass a tiny cramped place where you can see a picture of you during the barrier test, which you can buy. You then pass through an area representing an assembly factory with robots sparking, conveyers whirring by, die presses stamping out parts--it's very neat but a lot of people miss it in the giggly rush of exiting. Then you enter a
showroom with about eight cars in it. This area is quite amazing--like a trade show with the computerized moving lights...three dimensional commercials happen in music and lighting effects as curtains whisk aside showing a vehicle on a turntable setting appropriate to the nature of the car. Then you exit through the requisite GM gift shop where you can pick up
your pictures if you want them.

MY THOUGHTS

It's quite a nifty ride, but it's over really soon. Unfortunately that means if the ride stops in the middle, you edge through the test you're in really slowly and it loses the effect. The first ride I took, we stopped twice; once during the first brake run, and again after the second brake
run. I really feel sorry for people who wait in line and then the ride stops in the speed loop, since that's effectively the best part of the ride.

Nearly half of the rides I took involved a delay of some sort during the ride--often just before the lift hill. It's unfortunate that Test Track was delayed over a year, because MUCH expectation has been built up which probably surpasses the actual reality of the ride experience. It's very
well done, but would have been much more impressive had it opened a year ago before CTX, when not much in Disney really compared to it.

Other than that, it's a great ride, and one that bears repeating since different parts of the ride vary slightly. I knew the doors were going to open in the barrier test, but knowing that gives you that little twinge of "oh my god, shouldn't they have opened by now???" And subsequent rides
seemed to get faster and faster---probably due to less traffic ahead of the car. Make sure you ride it at night if you can...the speed loop is much more impressive with the lights on.

PROBLEMS

I have one suggestion that would solve a bit of the zone-stop problems. Lap bars. Seatbelts are more authentic for a "car ride", but I swear I watched more clueless people struggle with them than not. A lap bar would not only be as safe, it would eliminate the need for the extra seatbelt check, and that would shave some time off of load/unload and eliminate that variable
from the ever-ticking away seconds before the ride has to stop because someone loading fastened the belt the wrong way and the CM has to sort out the snafu.

I also think the GM people overestimated how easy it would be to load the cars. The loading platform has a makeshift rope queue on it that I don't think was planned. I get the feeling the way it was supposed to work was this: Three briefing chambers. 48 people in a briefing chamber spend about 3-4 minutes doing that, then *bam* the doors open on an empty loading dock where they are all quickly assembled on the circles and squares. Four cars are loaded in 40 seconds and train into the check/dispatch area. While the last 24 people are loaded in the next four cars, *BAM* another door opens. 48 more people are assembled as that train goes away. This is the feeling I get from the setup, but it's just too split-second in the timing.

When I rode, they were only loading three cars at a time, and using two briefing rooms. The third one was an assembly area for the "single riders" (alone, not unmarried) line. This line is available to anyone. You get to skip the inside queue, and are used to fill in empty seats in cars that would otherwise go unused. Couples and groups can do this too, but they
*will* split you up. You're not guaranteed to be in the same car, nor to ride anywhere in cars even close together. Some people might scream "ride hog", but I think this is a *great* idea, and helps the queue monitors be more efficient since they don't have to check 45 people back in line to fill a car.

This ride is very appropriate for everyone, as it's never flat out *scary* like a roller coaster or CTX. It's bumpy and fast and loud. Good for old and young alike
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