I came, I saw, I recorded. Yes, it really did happen. They held a Formula 1 race deep in the heart of Texas, just outside of hippie town Austin, and I was there. Unbelievable. I might be licking my financial wounds for a while but I was a part of racing history. I'll never watch another race the same.
The race components consist of two practices on a Friday, a final practice Saturday morning followed by qualifying to determine grid position, and finally the actual race on Sunday. Not everyone did, but I showed up for every event. I couldn't wait to explore the track and witness for the first time Formula 1 cars racing in ernest.
I'd made a few recon trips to the track during construction but this would be my first time onto the hallowed ground itself. The biggest surprise that first day was the ease of traffic. No tie ups or jams, smooth sailing all the way. I'd received an email from the organizers warning me delays of up to 90 minutes were possible. Maybe on other parts of the track it was, I don't know, but I breezed right in.
The bleachers I knew would be an experience and I tried not to think about the haste in which they were constructed. They did not flex as much as I feared even when at full capacity. I liked my view from turn 12 which was at the end of the longest straightaway of the 3.4 mile track. From there the cars would have to brake into a brutal chicane and I figured a lot of passing would occur here. I was right.
Turn 12 is at the bottom right leading into the chicane exiting past Turn 15 which were PSL seats.
To the left I could see turns 7-8 which lead to the hairpin that starts the straightaway below me.
Wasn't long before we saw some action! The sound of the shrieking engines is indescribable and you could sometimes feel the popping from the downshifting as the cars entered the chicane. Ear protection is a must!
Video cameras were on the forbidden list but I snuck mine in anyway figuring they would probably be pretty lax on their first go around. Below you can hear what I heard on my very first Formula 1 day.
One thing you can't miss from any point at the track is the observation tower. What the rules were for getting up into that thing I did not find out. I assumed the hassle factor would be off the charts anyway if just anyone could get in. It proved to be very popular, though, and I hear other tracks are now asking for their own version.
Was a full day on day one. Traffic was painless again on my way out but by the time I got to the hotel I needed to rest. There was still much of the track to explore as the engines still rang in my ears. I was drained but it all seemed to go by so quickly. For a complete look at the first day click here.
Day Two: Qualifying
Armed with sunscreen and an early arrival I managed to make my way over to the Main grandstands and pit lane. I wanted to get a firsthand look at where the hoi polloi were seated and, of course, the pit garages where the cars would come screaming out. My ticket was obviously no good for that area but I managed to slip by the checkers and stand in an aisle behind the lower level seats. No one bothered me as I took all the verboten video I wanted.
Below is video I took on qualifying day:
To see the entire collection from qualifying day click here.
During race week, blocks of downtown Austin were cordoned off for special F1 celebrations. Stages were set up for live bands as well as race specific events. Most locals stayed away fearing traffic jams but the area was not a problem if you didn't mind walking a bit. I did a LOT of walking over the course of three days!
Oh boy, did I want the Le Mans in the rain print!
After a very long day was all I could do to make the long drive back to the hotel. I went straight to bed and when I woke up, it was race day.
Day Three: Race is on!
The race quickly turned into a two man race between Hamilton and Vettel as they pulled away from the field.
After Senna's death in '94 I thought I'd never have interest in Formula 1 again. That took the heart right out of me. The ensuing Schumacher era was a snooze fest of monotony. Over the past three years I've gradually gotten back into it and next thing you know they build a track right in my own back yard!
I'll still be soaking in the race for a long time to come. These events are something I've been reading about since I was a teenager. It just didn't seem real I was there. Don't know when or if I will be back. Would be interesting to return in a few years and see how the track has matured. Developments are supposedly in the works for its immediate area but who knows what will come to fruition.
For the full collection of race day photos click here.
Hotel accommodations can cost multiples of race ticket costs with all the price gouging going on. I was lucky enough to find a regular room rate but had to drive 50 miles each day. Probably won't be so lucky to find that rate again. Book early and be prepared to drive!
Parking pass vs. shuttle. Definitely worth the extra bucks for the pass. Ingress and egress were relatively pain free.
Buy sunscreen! Face was red as a beet after the first day. Doesn't matter what time of year it is, the Texas sun is never kind.
Seat cushion! To get an actual seat you have to buy a Personal Seat License (PSL) for thousands of dollars. Otherwise you're sitting on bleachers like I was. After that first day I was walking like a ninety year old man. Bought a cheap seat cushion at Walmart that night and it worked wonderfully.
Here's my final video, from race day, including the opening and final laps: