WDMS - Chapter 207 - November 2012


Circuit of the Americas

Well, it was a fantastic first F1 race in Austin and I’m so freaking glad that we got to go. It almost didn’t happen and we certainly did not plan for it to happen, but sometimes things have a way of just working out...

Panorama (iPhone FTW) shot from the T15 grandstand on Friday practice.

We were set to close on our old house on Friday the 16th and we had the last trailer load going to the new house after the close.  That same day was the first day of F1 practice, with qualifying being the 17th and the race being Sunday the 18th. With plenty going on, we didn’t get F1 tickets and they had sold out weeks ago. I kept an eye on StubHub and CL and both of them had BUCKETS (SH = 950+, CL = PAGES!) of tickets the week prior to the race. The first break occurred early in the week when the buyer’s realtor asked if I could close on Thursday in order that the buyer could close Friday morning and get the loan funded. Awesome! A quick check of SH and I bought a premium grandstand T15 seat for twelve dollars. Yes. Twelve. Dollars. 12$. It arrived Thursday to the new house and so did I with the last trailerload (furniture that was used to ‘stage’ the house) of stuff. Anna had to work and so I got up very early and left before the sun, scooted 100 miles to the west and used the free parking at the Travis County Expo Center and caught the free shuttle and was on the Circuit Of The Americas ground fully an hour before the first F1 practice. COTA was incredible and an awesome facility to behold. I hooked up with Cody, Nick, Gary, Laura and Laura’s dad (they had all purchased tickets when they were first released) and we hung out a bit, cruised for swag, and then it was off to find good spots to view the action. 

I had a waffle breakfast taco....scrambled eggs with potatoes and cheese wrapped up in a thick Belgium waffle...verah good!

I stayed through the whole first practice watching how the cars were handling and what lines the drivers were taking and enjoyed it a lot. After a break, they went back out again in the early afternoon and I left just prior to the end of their session and got out of Austin with enough time to be home for dinner (with a Kimi shirt for Anna!). It was really interesting to me to see the techniques and lines of the drivers. The turn-in points and most particularly the exact foot where the drivers picked back up the throttle. It was pretty obvious in the exit of T17 and where on T19 the guys hit the loud pedal. Kimi, Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton consistently picked up the gas about a half-car length sooner than anyone else. Very cool. The next few pictures are from Friday at the track from my phone or point-n-shoot. Part of me wished I had taken a good DSLR, but most of the time I simply watched and listened and didn't mess with taking shots. 

Anna and I chatted Friday night and priced tickets on SH and CL but nothing was compelling. On Saturday a few friends contacted me to ask if I’d been to the track; thoughts on the track; the speed of the cars, etc. A fellow GT1 racer and I discussed the lines and surface as we are both hoping to run the upcoming SCCA race there at COTA in March 2013. My old racing friend Rege (we’ve been around the world, Atlanta and everything) and I chatted as he was there and he called to see if Anna and I were going to be there Sunday. I had told them both (and a few others) to keep their ears open if any tickets became available as Anna and I still kept an eye on SH and CL to watch the growing list of tickets that folks were trying to unload. It was not a huge list by any means, but they were out there. Saturday evening is coming upon us and Rege texts me to say that it looks like he is not going to be able to make it for Sunday and he…..wait for it…….offers his pair of T18 Hospitality Chalet tickets with paddock club parking pass. I fainted. We got INCREDIBLY LUCKY (foreshadowing) that Nick and gang were staying in San Antonio and they GRACIOUSLY (foreshadowing) did Anna and I a HUGE FAVOR (foreshadowing) and went to Rege’s to pick up the tickets. The only problem was that we were not going to be at the track as early as them and so a drop and pickup was going to have to be arranged.

"Oh hai Mr Charcoal, I can has tickets?" - Yeah, that is the main grandstand behind the 4runner with the awesome parking pass (thanks Rege!)

A quick primer on track traffic: The track is east of Austin. Nearly all the folks came from Austin so the stuff to the west of the track was packed. However if you came from the east of the track on State Highway 21, then Friday and Saturday had so far been easy. Nick’s crew had used that route with ease and it worked great for me too. So the San Antonio troupe heads up I35 and then up SH21 and then turns toward the track on Fm812 where they then pull into offsite lot Q which is about 4 miles from the track. They’d been stopping at the gas station at 812/21 for supplies each day so we used that as a drop. Cody hid the ticket pack into a stack of charcoal packages and texted me a picture and a few hours later we picked them up. We *almost* drove Anna’s silver Supra but had last minute worries about dirt roads or parking lot dings and decided to take the 4Runner (4shadowing?!!) All kinds of bad things went through my mind as we got closer to the station….I wondered if the tickets were found, if someone saw Cody place them, or if the display was scheduled to be moved Sunday morning. Ug. Thankfully, the worries were for naught and we pulled the envelope from the briquets. Wh00p! (Huge thanks to Nick and Cody!). How can we ever repay you guys?? (foreshadowing…)

The drive in on fm812 was quick and we didn’t see much traffic until we were very close to the track. We passed lot Q where Nick had parked (FORESHADOWING) and then scooted the rest of the way to the main gate. We had one lane going our direction and we met up with two lanes coming from the Austin loop and it was backed up for as long as we could see. The ‘approach from the sun’ route was working! We got to the facility and the parking guy attached our Paddock Club (thanks Rege!) pass and directed us straight in to the front straight grandstand where we were only a few rows from the front. We pulled out the hard-card clear tickets (thanks Rege!) and walked the few hundred feet to the main gate.

As with Friday, everyone was just incredibly nice. The folks directing parking, the folks checking bags, the folks taking tickets and all the tons of ‘event services’ folks all over the circuit grounds who were happy to tell you where things were and offer assistance. I’ve been to a few dozen major races (Indy 500, USf1 at Indy, Petit LeMans, Sebring, 24 Daytona, ChampCar, Indycar, Grand-Am, ALMS, etc) and have never experienced this kind of help outside of a posh hospitality suite! Also, even though I had been here two days ago, there was still a ‘shock and awe’ that they actually built this thing and it is actually so darn gorgeous.

Turn 1 looms from above in the background.

So we wander inside the main grandstand gate by the start/finish line and mosey over to the front straight to show Anna the massiveness that is T1. Pictures do not do it justice. Incar video does not do it justice. Videos do not either. It is just incredible. The run up and climb and blind corner look awesome and I really want to run there in March. We then wandered around and eventually ended up at the T18 Chalet and flashed our transparent hard-card tickets (Thanks Rege) and were met with our own hostess who gave us printed wrist tags allowing us access. Just outside the chalet is the massive 250’ tower and our tickets allow us access to that as well so prior to the F1 race starting we head up for a look around. First, we snacked on some buffet and watched the FerrariChallenge race which was a good one. There were some good battles going on and the TV crews did a good job of showing us stuff when the cars were not in ‘our corner’.  After that race it was time for the maximum checkout of the Tower (thanks Rege!).

Our view from the balcony of the T18 Chalet as the 777 Ferrari speeds to victory on Sunday

Now, I likely don’t follow the textbook definition of ‘scared of heights’ but I’m probably not that far off. While I’d been mentioning (reminding) Anna of that since we saw the tower after parking I dutifully reminded her again as we stepped into the elevator. I’ll give a huge thumbs-up to the elevator design folks, that thing gets you to the top VERY quickly. Anna is not scared of heights at all and bolted to the rail and I worked my way out there slowly. It really wasn’t that bad, even when Anna jumped on the glass floor to show me it shook a bit (heh). We migrated around the viewing deck for a while and took plenty of pictures and then (thankfully) headed back down. I kept thinking of that cult line “one step: street pizza” (100 points if you get the reference).

Uh.....they'd let you take the stairs if you wanted to...

View from the first trip, which was pre-race. It was a bit breezy up there (below)!

Soon it was almost time for the race and we headed back down to the chalet, scooted through the buffet line again and grabbed some good seats (yup….thanks Rege!) for the start. We could actually see T1, some of the esses and, of course, our T18 as well as several big flat-screen TVs with the track feed. In a few moments the installation lap had all the cars screaming right by us and then staging on the grid. The energy in the chalet went from casual to intense as the cars lined up and we could hear them revving the engines. We watched the TV for the launch and then shifted our eyes to the run up to T1 and watched the cars cycle up through the corner and then down to T2 and head towards the esses. Hugely exciting stuff! With a few more trips through the buffet line (small plates) and drinks (only top shelf stuff….so Anna got the good stuff and I got soda…heh) the race was unfolding quickly and it was awesome. We spent some time on the stepped patio deck (4 rows of chairs) and inside (tables, TVs, chatting with other folks) as the race unfolded.

Anna catching some cars on the installation lap, and moments before the green, the helicopters and boom-cameras are staged and ready. Tension!!

Above: Lap1, Turn1, the race is on!!!

Midway through the race we headed back up to the tower and with something to focus on, I was much more at ease with the height. I went to the edge quickly and easily to watch the cars chase each other and view the interpretation of the optimum line by each driver. It was incredibly fascinating to see about 10 minutes of the race from this 250’ perch. Of particular interest was the lead into the esses, the 12-17 complex, and of course, the parabolica-like T18. So many different lines by top drivers. Truly fascinating. While our passes (thanks Rege!) allowed us to stay beyond the normal 10 minutes that most folks were limited to, out of respect to the line down below we left with our group. Very freaking cool!! (pause here for a lot of pictures from the tower before the story begins again!)

Camera helicopters would climb and then drop to pick up speed and follow the cars for a segment or two..

Above: Such and incredible track! Below: Raikkonen fans and one big tall shadow!!


Above: Yeah, I'm gripping that handrail pretty darn tight...

Back in the chalet (buffet/drinks….thanks Rege!) we watched the race come to a close. The atmosphere in our tent had gone from one extreme to the other. At first, not many folks talked, but by now everyone was friends and we had a group we spent time chatting with. Some of them really knew their F1 stuff, but most were casual fans. Inside the chalet they had two COTA driving simulators and some folks even had radios with headsets to hear teamchat and were sharing what they were hearing. All too soon the checker flag flew and the staff put the remaining food out as the chatter continued as the TVs started playing all the race highlights prior to the podium ceremony. The black cowboy hats were a huge hit on the podium and we stayed a bit to chat and graze a bit more (pork tenderloin and oysters…guess who ate what!)(thanks Rege). Finally the crowds had thinned and about 20 minutes after the trophies we began to work our way back to the main gate.

Snacking near the end of the race, and a great shot of the T18 chalet while a Lotus screams by (motorsport.com for above and below pic)

Very few folks were going our direction as most were headed to the shuttle pick up points for the main two lots (downtown and Travis County Expo). When we reached the main gate we hesitated a bit to see if we could cross paths with Nick and gang. We had gotten a few spare drinking glasses that were COTA INAUGURAL F1 RACE emblazoned with a track map for Nick and Cody for picking up our passes. We sat on a golf cart and Anna started calling Cody and I started calling Nick. We almost gave up after about 10 minutes and then Anna got through to Cody. They had just walked to the very back of the ‘Lot Q’ shuttle line and had walked past folks who had been there since the end of the race and not moved. The line was over ½ mile and Cody was told it was going to be ‘hours and hours’ before they would be on a shuttle for the 4 mile ride to Lot Q. We asked where he was and he said they were over behind T2, but that we likely could not get to them. I said we’d try and we headed to the 4runner. We headed out the wrong side of the parking lot and took the perimeter road towards T1. At the first roundabout (really? A roundabout???) a cop was directing traffic. I pointed I wanted to go to T1 and he shook his head no. I then pointed to the big ‘PADDOCK CLUB’ parking pass (thanks Rege) and he enthusiastically changed his mind, stopped traffic, and let me go that way. After that it was two more checkpoints that waived me through and we found our tired troupe at the end of a (Scottish) HUUUUGE long line that was not moving. We pulled over and they bailed out of line and we loaded Gary and Cody on the floor in the way back, then Nick, Laura and Laura’s dad in the backseat and piled all our stuff in Anna’s lap and away we went. My heart went out to the folks in line with kids or disabilities still stuck in line as they’d be there a while and there was no water or seating in sight.

4Runner taxi!!

We were at Fm812 in no time and while the line to go towards Austin was packed and standing still, the road going east was moving nicely and we were at Lot Q in about 10 minutes at the most. We gave Cody and Nick their 'thank-you' glasses and shared some ‘COTA VIP’ awesome lanyards with all of them and dropped them off next to their gate. They were incredibly thankful and we were happy to be able to repay them for saving us from having to drive to San Antonio! Weird how karma works…(4shadowed)

We were on 21 in moments and shortly had a nice stop for jerky at the new huge Bucee’s in Bastrop. Traffic was about like a game weekend, but it didn’t slow us down much. Overall it was an incredible experience (thanks Rege) and a heck of a way for Anna to visit her first F1 race! When we got home we settled in, fired up the DVR and watched the race again to catch all the commentary and stuff that we had missed while sipping some home-made shakes out of our new favorite glassware. (thanks Rege!) With any luck, I'll be driving Scratcher at COTA there soon! I'm very much looking forward to it!!