This past weekend marked the fifth US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, and my third time attending the race. To say I had a good time would be an understatement. To say I thoroughly documented every moment of the trip via photos and video would be a downright lie.
You see, because I’d been there twice before and documented past trips, I decided this time around I would simply soak everything in and enjoy the atmosphere. What I found is that things are a bit more relaxed when you’re not staring through a viewfinder trying to capture every moment.
So, what follows is a bit of a disjointed look at the race from a third-timer’s perspective based on the limited photos and video I did take.
It may seem strange that I started my trip to the US Grand Prix at a different race track driving Mazdas, but that’s exactly what I did. Mazda was my host for the weekend so it was only fitting to kick things off with Mazda cars. Friday morning I was reunited with my old friend number 56, the Mazda Global MX-5 Cup car that I raced last December at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, for a morning filled with laps around Driveway Austin.
While we’ve not seen each other in nearly a year, driving #56 was like riding a bike, and I look forward to another run at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill this December in another MX-5 Cup car.
Friday afternoon we moseyed on over to COTA to catch free practice two (FP2) and the other on-track activities. Given the track was not yet overrun with attendees, like it would be on Saturday and Sunday, I took the opportunity to get out and explore. I spent most of the FP2 session at the turn-15 grandstand.
The section made up of turns 12 through 15 is very slow and technical. If not taken properly a lot of time can get lost. As the race Sunday proved it’s also a place for some sketchy overtaking.
After FP2 I headed back to our Grandstand basecamp to chill out with the rest of the group. We watched a bit of the Masters Historic Grand Prix and Porsche Supercup racing before leaving the track for the day.
We capped off the night having dinner in Austin. It was my first time sampling rattlesnake and rabbit sausage. It’s safe to say I won’t be trying that again. I did, however, also try elk and pork sausage that was quite tasty.
Because our table was in the restaurants wine cellar it was quite chilly. So much so that a number of us got in the Texas spirit and donned suede leather vests that the restaurant provided.
Going into Saturday we all knew it would be a long day, what with a full day of racing and a trackside concert to cap off the evening. More on that part in a bit. I kicked off the morning by taking a handful of COTA first timers for a tour around the track. We began with a hike up the big hill leading to turn one to watch the cars come in hot and scrub off a ton of speed before cutting left and shooting back downhill. It’s simply amazing how quickly the cars go from nearly 200 mph to 50 mph in what seems like a split second.
We continued meandering around the track and got sucked in watching the cars speed through the esses. It’s simply incredible how much speed the cars carry through that section. My phone video simply doesn’t do the section justice, namely the way the cars change direction so quickly and the way the cars get weighted left to right to left to right.
A trip out and about the track isn’t complete without a trip to the beer garden to catch some Porsche Supercup practice. It was then back to the suite to grab some lunch and catch F1 qualifying. With a full stomach, and us all being a bit worn out from exploring the track, we decided to catch the rest of the track activities from our spot in the main grandstand. While racing wound down for the night, there was a flurry of excitement amongst tens of thousands of attendees for the night’s concert. Now normally I’d never seek out a Taylor Swift concert, but seeing as admission was included in our package a number of us decided to stick around.
Turns out it was her only concert of the year. Knowing this it’s no surprise that it drew 89,000 attendees with what seemed like 80% of it being 12 and under. Believe it or not, the show was entertaining. Would I actively seek out another Taylor concert? No way. Would I attend again if it was free and in conjunction with another event I was attending? You bet.
What blew me away was all the garbage and debris on the track surface following the concert. It has to be the first time that thousands of empty beer cans littered the back straight of a grand prix circuit. The track grounds crew certainly had their work cut out cleaning up overnight for race day.
Following the concert we spent what seemed like an eternity walking down the back straight and meandering around the course to get back to our shuttle. It was a long day. We saw lots of on track action. We “shook it off” and we were tired.
Sunday was the day everyone was waiting for. The day of the big race. It drew people from near and far. So how did our group kick it off? By sleeping in of course. Several days at the track had worn us out so we all opted to take the late (9am) shuttle from the hotel to the track.
In reality the only thing we missed was pit-stop practices, but my colleague Scott had me covered there. He was attending the race with Aston Martin and got special behind the scenes access to the Red Bull garages for pit-stop practice. You’ll find his video below. Despite seeing hundreds of modern pit stops on TV and in person, it still blows my mind that the crews can change all four tires in just over two seconds flat.
After the obligatory run through the team merchandise tents, before the big crowds arrived, we settled into our suite for the pre-race activities that included no less than two Texas marching bands, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, a driver’s parade using an eighteen wheeler, a helicopter flyover and a very well done national anthem.
My original thought was to wander out to the turn fifteen grandstand for the race. Perhaps I ate too much for lunch or maybe I was just plain lazy, but in the end I decided to stay in the grandstand.
Looking back I’m glad I did because it allowed me to catch all the action in the pits, including ,Hulkenberg’s eventual retirement, Massa’s tire puncture swap and the Ferrari wheel nut blunder.
I’ll spare all the race details, because there’s a much better 2016 Us Grand Prix race recap here, but I’ll tell you that despite Hamilton’s flag to flag domination at the front end of the field, there were some pretty good battles in the middle of the pack. Take Alonso for instance who managed to bring his McLaren home in fifth after starting 9th and Sainz who brought his Toro Rosso home in 6th.
Granted the aforementioned results, and Haas F1’s Grosjean finishing in the points in 10th place, wouldn’t have materialized if Hulkenberg, Verstappen and Raikonnen hadn’t retired. Still, that’s racing and a true testament to the adage, “if you want to finish first you have to first finish.”
As always it was nice to see Ricciardo atop the podium again. This time around he took his signature move of drinking champagne out of his stinky racing shoe to a new level, challenging post race interviewer Gerard Butler to drink from his shoe. Naturally Gerard accepted the challenge, albeit reluctantly.
All told, it was another great trip to the US Grand Prix. The weather was beautiful and the track drew a record crowd exceeding that of the inaugural US Grand Prix at COTA.