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A Hoon’s weekend at the Formula One USGP race in Austin

Jim Yu November 20, 2012 Featured, Formula 1 25 Comments

I was dead wrong. When I first heard rumors of a potential F1 venue in Texas, I guffawed.* Where are they going to find the money to build a track in the middle of a deep recession? How can they build a world-class track in such a short amount of time? Who is even going to go to Texas to see a bunch of foreigners race? I was dead wrong. The track was amazing, the fans were all there, and the race was fantastic.

We landed in San Antonio, about an hour away from Austin, on Saturday. Airfare was a bit cheaper and hotels still had vacancies. Our Dodge Dart SXT rental was a great little compact people-hauler. We spent Saturday evening/night/early morning in Austin’s Sixth Street district, which was closed to traffic for the F1 FanFest event. People roamed around bars, food stands, and team exhibits while listening to competing live bands. Red Bull, Lotus, and McLaren all had their cars on display. Also on display was a fleet of classic American convertible muscle cars that were to be used for the drivers’ parade just before the race.

When we were walking back to our car, David Coulthard walked past us on the sidewalk.

Me: Dude, that was David Coulthard!

My buddy: Yeah, did you see his smokin’ hot date?

Me: Huh? He was with someone?

After getting only three hours of sleep, we woke up Sunday morning. The media anticipated the mother of all traffic jams for the race. Only a few narrow roads connected Austin to the track. Hundreds of shuttles (tour buses, school buses, you name it) were commandeered to transport attendees from downtown to the track. We arrived relatively quickly.

The volunteers and paid staff at the track were very friendly and even more helpful. The track and facilities were impressive.

My buddy and I sat at the end of, and the top of, the already infamous Turn 1. It is 133 feet above the start-finish line and sharply curves to the left.

This being Texas, security was provided by the National Guard, driving these Humvees.

This is our view from our seats, looking down and to the left.

This is the first corner on the first lap. Fortunately/unfortunately, there were no crashes.

Though I am not a Ferrari fan, I rooted for Fernando Alonso, who was in second place in the points. He finished third, ensuring a shootout with Sebastian Vettel at the last race of the season in Brazil.

The race was attended by a veritable who’s who of North America. Rick Perry,** outgoing Mexican president Calderon, Ron Howard, Ken Block, Gordon Ramsay, and that McDreamy guy were all in attendance. On the way back to our shuttle, we spotted Matt “How you doin'” LeBlanc.

The race will be well-attended indefinitely. Its location (and the presence of current Sauber driver and future McLaren pilot Sergio Perez) drew A LOT of Mexican fans. Whether F1 will gain prominence here is doubtful. The local newswoman called Sebastian Vettel “Sebastian Kettle”. In the sports section of USA Today on Monday, the F1 race was buried on the last page of the second sports section. NASCAR was on the cover.

And what’s a great car event without a little carspotting? This Bentley Turbo RT Mulliner (just one of 39 in LHD form) was the coolest car I saw. The hood/bonnet vents sealed the deal for me. Second coolest car I saw– a RAUH Welt Catalina Porsche with a spoiler the size of a twin-sized bed.

My only complaint concerned the merchandising. There were not enough points of sale and the lines were long and slow. They were even using those old manual credit card imprint doodads. You know, the kind you slide and makes that clunk-clunk sound. Without a shredder nearby, I walked around for two days with a carbon imprint of my entire credit card number in my pocket. Very retro, in a not-so-good way.

Images source: Copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Jim Yu

* I have never used that word before, ever.

** When Governor Rick “Oops” Perry met Red Bull Racing principal Christian Horner, he saw Horner’s uniform and the Pepe Jeans logo on it. Thinking that was his name, he called Horner “Pepe”.

  • I call Horner "Pepe", too. But that's because he's only a couple years older than me.

    Should I meet him in person, I will gladly call him "Pepe" mostly for the reaction.

  • MVEilenstein

    Awesome review. You guys definitely had some great seats.

  • Van_Sarockin

    Sounds like it was a very good race. Amazing they could get the track built and ready in time. Also heard that there was plenty of passing, and some decent wheel-wheel racing.

    • Van_Sarockin

      100pts, Bisshez!!!1!1!1!1!

    • watched the last half of the race on TV… some exciting moments for sure.

    • MVEilenstein

      I watched almost the whole thing (missed the first 15 laps). It was pretty exciting all through the field.

      • Van_Sarockin

        I wanted to, but just caught a quick lap update before heading out. Stupid family…

        • MVEilenstein

          If you ever find the replay, it's well worth watching. Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

  • skitter

    So could you walk around the entire track, or were spectators restricted to tiny little spots?

    • rennsport964

      You can walk around the whole track, but most of the trails are unpaved, and track visibility is somewhat restricted due to grandstands (naturally). There are two prime GA viewing knolls. Turn 1 is the best, but Turn 18/19 is pretty awesome too. Drivers kept getting 19 wrong the first two days, but pretty much had it figured out by Sunday.

      [edit: spelling]

    • I was kinda hoping to walk the track after the race but it was inaccessible for all but those spectators over the pits.

  • vwminispeedster

    Jim, please email me at SecondsSaturdays@gmail.com. I want to pick your brain regarding lodging and getting around logistics. I'm thinking this might be next years "midlife crisis" event. Attention Greg Wiessner.

  • rennsport964

    The reason for the old-style paper credit-card processing was being used because the cellular network wasn't up to the task. On Friday, just about every place (including the team merchandise kiosks) was cash-only because they couldn't get their point of sale transactions working electronically. The paper processing would have been a complete step up. Half the ATMs I tried to use were nonfunctional for the same reason. By Saturday, it appeared they had ironed out most of the cellular problems, but the gremlins would reappear on Sunday when 117,000 people showed up – approximately 50% more than the previous day. (For the record, I'm on Verizon, which was rock solid the entire time. But my dad, who is on AT&T, his service would come and go pretty randomly).

    • rennsport964

      On the whole, it was pretty well run, but there are a lot of logistics that need to be worked out. The trams COTA rented from Six Flags and were supposed to shuttle people all the way up to turn 1, but they didn't test them with full load and were incapable of climbing the hill once they loaded them up with people. The following day, they contracted with two different bus operators but wrote the contract in such a way that the buses went home at 4:30p, once again leaving people stranded at the top who decided to stay a little longer than the rest.

      The transportation options were extremely limited. We stayed near the airport (where there are a bunch of hotes), which is pretty close to the track, but we had to park at the Expo center which is six miles out of the way. I would have preferred a third shuttle location at the airport that didn't require buying a parking pass.

      • rennsport964

        They seriously need more kiosks, especially for food/beverage and the F1-specific COTA merchandise. The crush on Friday for the latter was incredible; a borderline free-for-all. They made ingress/egress better on Saturday and Sunday, but the lines were still lousy.

        Turn 12 was exciting to watch from, but COTA really need to pave the backside. They also need to pave the main parking lot. It was windy and I had to shake the grit out daily. If it had rained, we would be swimming in a river of mud. Thank God it didn't do that.

        But lest you think I'm a bastion of negativity, I loved the race weekend. I got to see the Hamilton pass on Vettel, a handful of Ferrari Challenge idiots with more money than brains, Pirelli-liveried John B. Stetsons, and the Longhorn Marching Band. Where else but Texas?

        To coin a phrase: I'll be back.

        • MVEilenstein

          Remember, 2012 is the worst it will ever be in terms of logistics. I'm sure they're already making plans to improve.

          • rennsport964

            No doubt about that. There is a lot for Austin and COTA to be proud of, especially considering it almost didn't happen. I view the first weekend as a gigantic learning experience. Hookem horns.

            I'll be sending my feedback just the same in case they missed something…

    • Did you drive your 964 to the race?

      • rennsport964

        That would have been a nice idea. Sadly, I don't have that kind of time. Quite frankly I would have been completely out of sorts after spending three solid days in the sun and would need extra time to recover prior to heading back home. We in the Northwet don't handle that very well. We tend to wilt.

  • 2 weeks before the race, I did the "Formula Run" 5ish K around the track, and traffic was so terrible for just 5000 people that I decided not to go. I so wish I would have now.

    That said, I got tickets to the MotoGP in April.

    • rennsport964

      I'm really tempted to get tickets to the Australian V8 race. Those guys are a riot.

      • I plan on keeping and eye out for tickets to all the events next year. V8's are on the list, to be sure.

  • gearz1

    Seems like a good location for one of the "LeMons" races?