Austin. It is kind of a state of mind. It has a cool vibe that has to be felt to be understood. From the food to the live music, from the gigantic University of Texas campus to the pink granite State House, it distills all that is best in Texas. It is not all roses though, unbridled growth has made Austin traffic tough to deal with and (compared to the rest of Texas) the housing cost and price of living make cities like nearby San Antonio look positively cheap.
But a couple of years ago a former racer and promoter by the name of Tavo Hellmund had the unlikely dream of bringing Formula One to the Heart ‘o Texas. Really? Austin is known for a lot of things, but racing ain’t one of them, unless you count racing round town trying to track down and score admission to the hippest night spot. So against all the odds - working with the flakey and money grubbing Bernie Ecclstone, navigating Texas politics and a general population that did not know the difference between Formula One and Tito’s Vodka - Tavo got the whole project on track…
The bad news? Tavo got it rolling, but big money got it done. Tavo got kicked to the curb when Bernie Ecclstone (who would kick his own child out of the way to grab a shiny coin off the ground) finally connected with the money guys (namely mega car dealer Red McCombs). But $450 Million later, Austin got its track and the US got it Grand Prix back.
Flash forward to November 18, 2012, the sun rose of a frosty track just a few miles southeast of Austin now called The Circuit of the Americas (COTA). The chilly air gave way to a beautiful sunny day in the mid 70’s. A packed house greeted a Porsche GT3 Cup race and a Ferrari Challenge race before things spooled up for the big show. The F1 boys and their steeds were getting ready to roll.
Now if you take a stroll back through my previous posts you will know that I love cars (duh…) and racing (especially F1), so I was eagerly anticipating this race. I decided not to go and this caused more than a bit of consternation when I discovered that the Porsche Cup Car race had been added. I should have been there covering it for 9 Magazine. Lesson learned.
So to compensate, I hit Twitter hard - had three computers showing different in-car camera shots, plus the Formula1.com lap timer and the Speed TV coverage, I guess you could say I had it covered. I will tell you that the track, weather, crowd and the actual racing were top notch. Lewis Hamilton had the bit between his teeth and tracked down and passed Red Bull racing ace (and two time defending F1 World Champion) Sebastian Vettel and won the inaugural race. It was the second time he won in the US, the previous time being in 2007 at the USGP in Indy.
During the awards podium presentation, I loved the big Pirelli Stetson cowboy hats that Hamilton, Vettel and Alsonso wore on the stage. And we were treated to a living legend - Mario Andretti doing the post race interview (comment by Jeremy Clarkson notwithstanding). Fact was, Texas does it right and the first race at COTA proved it beyond a doubt.
Hats off to the COTA team, they were awesome. But note, the bar has been set very high. Hope they can repeat next year. And I hope I discover that there is a Porsche Cup Car race before race weekend. That way I can attend and have a hell of a lot more to write about! And a hell of a lot more fun attending the race, versus watching it on TV, even if I had a multitude of computers surrounding me.
And on that exhaust note, see you next time.