US Grand Prix November 16-18th 2012 in Austin, TX

For five years Formula 1 has been absent from the United States.  When I started to get into F1, they had a yearly race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  My first race was in 2006 and I went again in 2007.  I will never forget my first experience, seeing the cars race down the front straight of Indy at 200mph, the noise, the smell, how it made my body shack.  My second and the final race in America, I went with my dad and that was an incredible experience we shared together.  So when it was confirmed that F1 would come back to the States, I jumped at the chance to go.

Gate 1, Circuit of the Americas. We finally made it!

I wrangled Jeremy to come along and we planned a road trip to the brand new, purpose built Circuit of the Americas in Austin.  We were trying to do this on the cheap so we decided to drive down and and rent an apartment using Air BnB.  He spent the night at my house on Wednesday and at 6:15am on Thursday, we were on the road towards Austin.  We knew what time we needed to be in Austin, first practice started at 9am.  Google said it would take 26 hours of straight driving, it would be close but we where on a mission and I was determined to let nothing stop us from getting there on time.

Let me tell you, 26 hours in a car and not much happens.  We had tons of music to listen to, lots of Starbucks and the changing countryside to keep us company.  We got to Memphis by dinner time and decided to eat at Corky’s BBQ.  It is a well known BBQ place in the city and was packed when we arrived, on a late Thursday night of all times.  We lucked out and got a spot at the bar and enjoyed some great Memphis style BBQ.  A quick bit to eat and off again on the road.

Friday Practice

Early on Friday morning we both were exhausted and found a Wal-Mart parking lot in Waco to rest for an hour.  It didn’t matter how uncomfortable it was, that quick nap was a much needed break.  As dawn broke on Friday we continued our trip to Austin.  With the sun coming up we made good time down I85 and arrived at the Q parking lot by 7:30am.  We had been up for 26 hours and driven 1500 miles, but we where excited to finally be in Austin.  A quick breakfast and off to the shuttle bus.

Turn 15 in the stadium section. A slower section of the track, great for getting a good look at the cars.

We had assigned seats at turn 1 but we both wanted to check walk around the brand new track.  All day we walked with purpose up to different grand stands to check out practice.  We started by going to the grandstand along the start/finish line.  This was the perfect spot for Jeremy to see the cars for the first time.  Along the straight you get the full speed of the cars and the nose as it reverberates off the grandstand and the paddock.  You can fell their power as they rush pass you at 200mph, engines bouncing off the rev limiter at 18k rpm’s as they climb 133′ to the hairpin turn 1.

This track is pretty amazing when you look at it.  The coolest feature, the climb to turn 1.  133′ doesn’t sound like much but when you see it in person, its an impressive climb the cars make going full throttle.  Later in sector 1 you have the fast chicane which lead to the blind turn 10.  On Friday we got close to this corner and it is crazy to see the cars come out of no where over the crest of the hill as they go to the hairpin turn 11 and the long back straight.  Then comes the slow stadium section where cars will turn around on themselves giving everyone a good look before hitting the three apex turn 16, 17, 18.  Finally turn 19 and 20 before crossing the start finish line.

Starting with the blind turn 10 on the left all the way to the hairpin turn 11.

All day on Friday we walked around the track sitting in different grandstands.  Of course we started on the straight away, then headed to turn the 15 to check out the stadium section.  While you can see a lot of action it is mostly slow turns which is not very exciting.  The best corner will be turn 12 after the back straight where you can get some passing action.  During the lul in driving, we got some lunch and lounged on the hill around turn 18.  I got a breakfast waffle from The Belgian Waffle Company and it was delicious.  We took the opportunity to smoke a cigar and I even took a nap before the vintage cars took the track for practice.

For the inaugural race they managed to get 30 or so vintage F1 cars from the late 60’s to the early 80’s.  When I was in Indianapolis, I saw many of these cars at the museum but there is nothing like seeing them out on the race track.  This was perhaps the coolest thing the entire weekend for me.  We saw vintage Ferrari’s, the Morgan six wheeler, John Player Specials, a Ragno that was quick as shit and many other famous cars.  Hats off to the drivers for putting on a great show all weekend and to the owners for allowing these historical cars to be race like they where meant to be.

From here we cut across the track and headed towards turn 11.  First stop was along the fence at turn 5 and the fast sweeping chicane.  Then to turn 7 which was pretty uneventful.  Turn 10 was really cool as it is a blind left corner.  The drivers come up a slight hill to the blind left hander and onto turn 11.  It was crazy seeing the cars appear out of no where at the top of the hill and down towards 11.  We eventually made it to turn 11 and finished out the second practice from here.  This spot was great as you could see the blind turn 10 and the slow turn 11 right in front of you before they dashed down the 1km back straight.

When practice was finally over we made it back to the car and headed into the city.  It was almost 4 and we still hadn’t been to our rental apartment or even seen the city.  As tired as we were it didn’t stop us from eating a late lunch at Habanero Mexican Cafe before unloading at the apartment.  By now it was about 36 hours since we left home and we both needed a shower.  We wanted to go to Fanfest in downtown but decided to just hang out and smoke a cigar at the apartment.  Saturday was going to be another early morning with the third practice starting at 9am sharp.

Saturday Qualify

Surprisingly, the track on Friday was packed with spectators and Saturday was more so.  Both prior races I went to there were of course people, but not nearly as many as in Austin.  You could tell the fans where here to support Formula 1’s return to the United States and I think we made a good showing after a 5 year absence.  For the first time we sat in our actual seats to catch the final practice and the qualification.  Turn 1 was certainly a great spot to watch the race.  We could see the cars come out of the pit lane and with turn 1 being so sharp, the cars really had to slowdown to make the turn successfully.  During the Ferrari Challenge race that day one of the cars skidded for 100 yards before hitting the barricade.  He just popped it into reverse and rejoined the race.  We saw lots of close call at turn one as well with racers doing their best to overtake but not hit each other.

Red Bull, Ferrari

By late afternoon the Ferrari and vintage F1 races where done for the day and we headed to The Salt Lick for dinner.  I was recommended this place by Tracy for some good BBQ in Texas.  We already had Memphis style and I was looking forward to some Texas BBQ next.  This place is pretty famous for their huge pit where they cook all their meat.  First off this place is in the middle of no where, literally.  It took almost an hour to get there from the track and when we arrived the place was smashed.  There must have been over 100 cars in the parking lot and policy where directing traffic.  The hostess said 40 minutes to get a seat, we had come this far we where going to wait.  The place is a large banquet hall when you walk in, large rooms have been built onto the original structure and it is impressive how many people were in there with just as many waiting to get in.

I got the Thurman’s Choice sampler with sides and for the most part I was not impressed.  The ribs and sausage where ok but I must admit that the beef brisket is possible the best I have ever tasted.  I got the wet version which has more fat on it and it was amazing.  The long slow cooking over the wood fire really makes it tender, juicy and with the perfect amount of smoke flavor.  It was so good in fact I brought some back for Nancy to try along with two bottles of wine from their vineyard.  I even got some peach cobbler with ice cream for dessert.  We where on vacation so I figured what the hell, unfortunately this too was disappointing.  The unique atmosphere and the brisket would certainly make me come back despite most of the food being mediocre at best.

Most of the cars on the grid before the race.

Fat dumb and happy we headed back to the apartment for a cigar and bed.  It was nice sitting outside as the neighbors where all college kids and more than willing to chat with a couple of strange random dudes smoking cigars.  I unfortunately had homework to finish and didn’t get to sleep that night till 2am, 6am was going to come early on race day let me tell you.

Race on Sunday

All weekend the track was pretty packed yet the shuttles worked really well.  The bathroom lines where mostly short but food and drink was always a problem.  Race day we knew things would be busier so we left by 7am to get there long before the crowds showed up.  There was a Ferrari and vintage support race before the 1pm F1 start so we had plenty of things to keep us occupied before the light go out.

Fly over by a great mix of airplanes: two P-51 Mustangs, P-38 Lightning, F16

For the Ferrari race we stood around turn one and smoked a morning cigar with coffee.  Saturday night I stayed up till 2am working on some homework so coffee and nicotine was just what the doctor ordered.  The race was pretty ho hum, it is rich people driving really expensive cars.  We were rooting for “Bob,” that was the nick name we gave to the slowest guy on the track.  All weekend he was dead last and in both races was lapped by several people, pretty amazing when you consider the race was only 10 laps long!

After our morning smoke we settle into our seats for the forthcoming races.  Next up was the Porsche GT3 race.  These guys were much more aggressive around the track with lots of wheel to wheel action, including a few scrapes.  For the most part it was pretty unexciting.

As 11 o’clock rolled around the pageantry that is Formula 1 started.  The pit lane opened for everyone with Paddock tickets to walk around.  Then the pace car and medical car take a few laps to make sure the track is ready to go for the race start.  It sounds stupid, but I love the way that V8 Mercedes SLS AMG sounds.  As it roars down the track it has this awesome low rumble, even the medical car sounds good.  Next was the drivers parade lap which for Austin featured all the drivers on classic American cars.  I have seen at many other tracks they will drive around on a flatbed, the classic cars were a great touch.

Turn 1 of lap one, not one incident. I won the bet.

When the pit lane finally opened things started to get serious.  The teams start releasing their cars onto the track to form up.  Excitement was building in the crowd of 117,000 race fans.  All the grandstands I could see were full and the general admission areas where absolutely smashed with people.  Jeremy had to make a pit stop and I was nervous he wouldn’t make it back in time for the race start.  We had a gentleman’s bet on the first corner.  Yes the drivers had all weekend to learn the track, none of them had been around in race conditions.  Turn 1 would be tricky but I was confident that everyone get through unscathed, Jeremy was not so certain.  My only fear was Grosjean barreling down the track and playing bumper cars with everyone.  Alonso started 7th and Grosjean 8th so I was ultimately worried he would take Alonso out.  To stay in the contention for the drivers championship, Alonso needed to finish as far ahead of Vettel as possible.  With Grosjean’s record of wrecking into people and Alonso not getting past the first corner, I was really concerned.

Fortunately Jeremy made it back with only a minute to spare before the start of the race, running into Governor Rick Perry was no excuse to miss the exciting start of the race.  When the lights went out it was race time and everyone raced up the hill towards the first corner.  There was some great maneuvering by Alonso up to turn 1 to gain three spots and edge closer to Vettel.

Panoramic view of the start/finish to turn 1 from the top row of the bleachers.

As the laps melted away the race progressed nicely with few incidents.  Webber had alternator trouble which let Alonso get another position and finish the race in third.  While Vettel had a better qualifier, Hamilton was challenging after a few laps.  Vettel was never able to gain a substantial lead like in previous races.  Hamilton was able to stay with him and was often fighting for position.  Finally about two thirds the way through the race Hamilton made a pass that stuck on the back straight to take first place.  When he drove pass our grandstand everyone jumped up and cheered.  I couldn’t tell if everyone was happy to see Hamilton leading the race or that Vettel was bumped to second.  I was happy to see Vettel loose points, allowing Alonso stay in the hunt for the drivers championship.

With no other changes in position, this is how the race ended: Hamilton, Vettel, and Alonso.  Both Jeremy and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and can’t wait to come back next year.  We checked out seats higher in turn one and realized the price for these tickets was certainly justified.  It was just a much better view of the track.  You could see further and didn’t have the annoying fence blocking any of our view.  I think next year these are the seats we will try and get.

After the race we walked back to our car. Long shadows from the fall setting sun.

For the award ceremony they opened the gates and allowed people to stream onto the track which was pretty cool.  We watched the ceremony from our seats and I was horrified to see the drivers emerge wearing cowboy hats!  Only in fucking Texas would they do something as stupid as that, they looked ridiculous up there in those hats.  To this day I still can’t believe it.

We waited a good hour before trying to leave and were shocked at the line to get back to parking lot Q.  Eventually we decided to hoof it to our car.  This started the long trip back home that night.  We drove most of the night and only stopped for about 2 hours just outside Arkansas when nether one of us could stay awake any more.  We ran into a little trouble in Round Rock which caused the trip to take 30 hours, getting to my house at midnight on Monday.  We made only one extended stop and that was for hotdogs at Cori’s DogHouse which had some amazing hotdogs.  If you are every passing through Nashville, its worth the stop.

Full Results

1Lewis HamiltonMcLaren-Mercedes561:35:55.2692
2Sebastian VettelRed Bull-Renault56+0.6751
3Fernando AlonsoFerrari56+39.2297