The Return

I can hear the beasties. – Matthew Bowden

It isn’t a sound that you can really describe in words.  “Loud” doesn’t quite get the full grasp of what a 18,500rpm 2.4L V8 really sounds like, unless you are ok with describing a banshee wail as “loud”.  I hate to use the word epic due to its overuse in our times, but that starts to get a bit closer.  Immense works.  Immense adequately describes the feeling of being over a mile away from the track and still hearing that sound of the most advanced engines in a racing vehicle on the planet.  It is a sound that you actually feel; not in your chest like you would at the drags or NASCAR, but throughout your entire body and into your bones.  It is the sound of Formula 1.

Fair warning – this post will not be image heavy like our normal updates.  If you are looking for nothing but pretty pictures you’ll need to wait till later.  If you are in for a read though, read on.

I’ll start off by saying this: absolutely nothing on this planet will prepare you for what it is like to finally hear them in person.  I’ve followed Formula 1 for a number of years now, starting with the fanboyish tiffosi-ism of Ferrari and Schumacher, leading towards Button’s season of domination with a team that cared about winning, and now as one of the loyal followers of Red Bull Racing and the Wunderkind Sebastian Vettel (although Mark Webber gets some love too).  I have always wanted to go to a race, but after the disaster and a half that was Indy in 2005 and the lack of a ’08 race, I came to the conclusion that getting the money together and going to Europe would be the only chance, and that was a slim chance on the best of days.  Then it was announced they were coming back to the US, and even better they were coming to the Cars And Cranks homeland in Texas.  Hope was restored.  Seeing F1 was back on the bucket list.  I would just have to figure out a year to go, and start planning, which of course would be far off.  That was until a good friend and reader Matt B told my wife and me not to make plans for the weekend of November 16.

The months turned into weeks, weeks into days, and on Friday, November 16 the days turned into hours.  Sleep the night before came strenuously from the excitement.  Our host, my wife, and I all piled into our battle wagon: a Porsche Cayenne Turbo S* and headed to the track.  As we approached the track, stuck in a surprisingly quick moving traffic line the windows of the battle wagon were rolled down.  Even a mile out you could hear the howling of the cars piercing the otherwise serene central Texas air.  Approaching, the sound grew.  Our lot backed up to the end of the back straight and it was here that it would finally settle in that it was real.  We were at Formula 1.  We were at the Inaugural Formula 1 race at the Circuit of the Americas.  This.  Was.  Immense.

The weekend went by all too fast as the best ones usually do.  The racing was amazing.  I’ve developed a new found love for the Ferrari Challenge, and seeing the Historic GP with the P34 running made two things this weekend I can check off the bucket list.  Race day was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.  There was an energy that could be felt everywhere, and while I wasn’t 100% happy with the outcome of the race itself, seeing the battles in person made the sunburn, the waiting, the aching feet, and every penny spent worth it.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing, like Formula 1 in person, and you can bet Cars And Cranks will be back next year in force.

However, I won’t just leave you jealous with stories of getting to see the spectacle that is F1 in person.  No, we here at Cars and Cranks aim to provide you with the help and guidance where needed.  So we now present to you the Cars And Cranks Official Formula 1 Weekend Survival Guide!  This guide, developed over a five day period, will help you next year when you go to the Austin Grand Prix.  And go you will.  Because really, if you don’t, you will never get to know how it feels to stand over the bridge over turn 16 and feel what it is like to be that close to F1.

1. The Track

The Circuit of the Americas is an amazing track.  It runs out at 3.4 miles, with an elevation change of 133 feet, and is made up of 20 turns.  The track is run counterclockwise, which puts more physical stress on the drivers.  The track set up itself will lend well when the next races come.  It should handle the MotoGP, V8 Supercars, and Grand Am racing well.  COTA itself is well set up for spectators who have both grandstand and general admission tickets with good elevated viewing on the better turns.  It never felt overly crowded as long as you moved at the right time.  There were plenty of concession areas, and the Grand Plaza was beautiful.  When you go, make sure to pony up for to go up in the Observation Tower.  It was one thing I wanted to do but never found the time to do, and if offers a spectacular view of the track and surround areas.

There is plenty of GA seating available, but I would recommend setting up at Turn 11 or Turn 19.  If you sit midway down the hill at 11, it will give you a great view of turn ten, the downhill leading to 11, and then the hairpin and the back straight.  Some of the best battles of the day were heating up in this sector, and you really got to see the drivers work in this area to not only hold the best lines but also fight off any encroachers.  Turn 19 seating had a good view of the flat out space before turn 20 leading to the front stretch.  I would also point out that the 7/8 complex had a good view as well, being elevated enough to also pick up the cars coming out of six and heading into the S.

If you are going for grand standing seating, the grand stands on the 9/10 straight offer an excellent view as they are not only elevated to see the full area of 6/7/8, but also are on the elevated side of the track to give a good shot of the back straight.  Obviously, you will want to get some time at Turn 15 as that will let you watch some of the action through the13/14/15 set up.  The main grand stands at Turn 1 and the start finish line have some good shots, and there was a decent bit of action on the turn I call the next corkscrew.  Also, if you aren’t in the grandstands, bring a camp chair.

2. The Schedule

Plan to visit the track Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  This means you will want to be getting to Austin on Thursday.  You will want to get to the track between 8 and 9 on Friday to see all the practices for the weekend.  I would recommend going Saturday for a bit, but not make it a full day.  Qualifying is more exciting on TV.  The practices and the races themselves were more fun to watch.  On Sunday, just get their early, as early as possible, and grab a spot if you are in GA seating.  My ideal schedule would be thus:

  • Get there Thursday, unpack, and get some dinner and rest.
  • On Friday plan to leave around 8:00.  Depending on where you are coming from, there will be rush hour traffic.  Spend a good bit of Friday at the track, but don’t burn yourself out.
  • Friday night, if you are brave, go down town.  F1 is an event, not just a one day race, and the teams will have fan events downtown.  Also, all your fan gear will be cheaper down town than at the track.  Have fun, walk around, eat a fancy dinner and pretend you are one of the beautiful people that come to watch the race.
  • Saturday, don’t worry about getting their as early for qualifying.  There aren’t very many cars out on the track and the dead time between heats eats up most of the day. I would use this day to walk around the track, and maybe hit up the fan area to pick up any team gear you want that you weren’t able to get downtown.  Yes, I know most of the team gear is overpriced and you can get it cheaper online, but there is something about saying you bought your hat, jersey, shirt or whatever else actually at the race.  Also suck it up and wait in line forever to hope and get autographs.  Get home early Saturday, have a good dinner, and just relax.  The next day is going to be a bit draining.
  • Sunday, get up and out early.  There will be considerably more traffic as there are a number of fans that are going to go for race day early.  Get there and set up at your turn in you are in GA seating, or find your seats if you are in the grand stands.  I would get there as early as possible so that you can see all the races, not just the F1 race.  The driver’s parade isn’t the most exciting thing, but you are going to want to say you saw it, and same with the final practice runs while the pit lane is open.  Then just sit back and enjoy the race.

3. The You

Surprisingly (or maybe not) sitting and watching the race can take a lot out of you.  First off, you do remember that this in Texas so even though it may be a bit chilly, there is a good chance the sun is going to be out all day.  When you combine that with being close to the track and the throngs of people, the ambient air temperature of high sixties feels a lot more like the eighties.  Bring a jacket (if the weather calls for it) but be prepared to carry it with you.  That means lathering up with sunscreen, which I should have done but didn’t   As a result, I can’t really feel my face and I can only assume it is still there.

Swear off soda for the weekend as well.  If you are going to be hiking around the track stick with water and Gatorade.  You are allowed to bring your own water in, but that is all.  Don’t forget that everything you bring in that you don’t throw out you will have to carry with you.  If you are ok with waiting for trams or shuttles, that is no big deal, but walking the track is more fun.  With that in mind, wear good shoes.  Even if you are parking close to the track, tennis shoes are a must, if not good boots.  Much of the walkways are packed gravel so stones will get in your sandals if you take that approach, and the elevation changes will kill you without good ankle support and a comfortable sole.  You may want to bring ear plugs, or you can be like me and man up and not wear any for the weekend.  Depending on where you sit, you may not need them.  When we were down at the bottom of Turn 2 it wouldn’t have been a bad idea, but at the crest of the seating at 11 and 19?  Meh.

I would recommend bringing a real camera.  I ate up most of my iPhone memory on the first day and spent most of Friday night going through and deleting everything to have room for more pictures and videos.  Even then, the best smart phone cameras can’t match a good real camera.  Even if you aren’t a pro bring one along.  Service was hit and miss at the track, though I assume it had something to do with near as makes no difference 100k people all trying to use their phones at once.  I would still recommend bringing the phone or a tablet of sorts so you can keep entertained in the down time between practice sessions and races.

Also, splurge for a parking pass: doing so will allow you to not be at the mercy of the buses to and from the track.  Traffic was actually as well managed as one would hope, better than any Cowboys or Rangers game I’ve attended.  Communication amongst the traffic directors was good except for the last day.  The mad rush following the end of the race meant it took us over an hour to just get out of our parking lot.

Lastly, I recommend watching all the races.  There was many a time during any sort of non F1 racing that people just walked around, or moved spots.  I know that the main reason we went was for F1, there is no question about that.  But how often are you going to get to see those classic GP cars like the P34?  Or see the competitiveness of self owned racing with the Porsche GT3 Cup cars and the Ferrari Challenge?

Regardless if you choose to follow the Cars And Cranks Official Formula 1 Weekend Survival Guide (which, of course you should because we are right about everything), please, try and find a chance to go to F1.  You will experience nothing else like in the world of motorsport.  I’ll keep an eye out for you next year.

Oh, and GO VETTEL!

*  I will say with some certainty that the Porsche Cayenne was easily the most represented vehicle at the race in its varying configurations.  Base models, Turbos, Turbo S’es, Hybrids, and even the GTS could be seen in every lot, and for good reason.  Following the Cayenne, I would say a solid tie existed between the 911 and the E9x models of BMW 3 series, from 325 to M, but we can talk about that later. 

PS: It goes without saying that I must extend a most humble thanks to Matt for extending to my wife and me the experience.  It was an unforgettable weekend and we cannot thank you enough for the opportunity to see F1 up close on the inaugural weekend for The Circuit of the Americas and the return of Formula 1 to the US.

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