A Ridiculous Amount of Fun at The US Grand Prix in Austin!
Our next post will be about our time in Austin but for now we will focus on our long weekend camped at the Circuit of The Americas (COTA) for the Formula One (F1) Grand Prix. We don't watch any other forms of motor sport but we are big F1 fans. Iain has watched since he was a child and I became interested in 1992 when we first met. A young German rookie captured my imagination back them and I quickly became a devoted fan. The up and comer was Michael Schumacher who went on to be the most successful F1 driver to date. I wore my Schumacher hat throughout this weekend's race in support of Michael. I hope he and his family can make it through his health troubles and one day, we can see his smiling face again.
We have faithfully followed F1 every Sunday on TV for more than twenty years. My sister Vicki also became a fan after being forced to watch with us!! She flew over from the UK to join us for this race. We have been to a few other F1 events including Belgium, Spain and Canada but the Austin race is hard to beat. We came two years ago for the inaugural race in Austin, when the paint on the purpose-built track was barely dry and it was an amazing experience. At that time we stayed in downtown Austin and traveled to the track each day by shuttle bus. This time around we jumped at the opportunity to camp at the track in our Airstream.
Attending an F1 race is an expensive endeavor which means for most people, including us, it is a very special occasion. This creates a huge atmosphere of anticipation. By the time the "circus" rolls into town (that really is the best way to describe an F1 weekend) the excitement from everyone attending is palpable.
For us the weekend started on Wednesday. We could have settled into our spot at the track that day, but decided to wait until Thursday. This gave us time to visit downtown and watch a demonstration of the Infiniti Red Bull Racing car in the streets of Austin. Congress Avenue was closed off for the 5 or 6 blocks up to the State Capitol. The two Infinity Red Bull drivers, Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo, took turns driving an Infiniti Q50 Eau Rouge prototype and the Red Bull F1 car in which Vettel won his 2nd World Championship in 2011. We guessed it would be best to be near the press photographers for a good view. The local police on duty reliable informed us that we would see the cars doing donuts where we were stood. They were right! We got to see both cars roar up and down the streets. Although if the F1 car was a lion, the road car was a pussy cat! It makes your realize just how fast F1 cars really go. We got to see the drivers up close afterwards at the Infiniti event. It was the perfect start to the weekend.
We decided to grab a coffee in the hip South Congress neighborhood after lunch. Iain casually mentioned as we sipped our drinks that Nico Rosberg, one of the two contenders still in the hunt for this year's world championship, had just walked by the window with his wife. Iain thought it wasn't fair for us to disturb Nico on a day off. Vicki and I felt differently and chased after him to a store where he was waiting while his wife browsed inside. We politely asked if he would pose for a photo and wished him luck for the weekend. He was super nice, and didn't seem to mind us bugging him. We did come across him again after leaving the coffee shop and Iain took the chance to shake his hand and wish him luck for the race weekend. We were quite starstruck and giggly!!
We moved to the track-side location on Thursday. The camping is just 100 yards from the Turn 3 entrance with plenty of space provided between each rig. After setting up we wandered around to say hello to our neighbors and soak up the atmosphere. We found four other Airstreams among the many rigs on site. We didn't hesitate to introduce ourselves and accept a tour of their trailers. It always fun to compare decor, layout and tips with fellow owners.
Friday was Free Practice day, so we entered the COTA track for the first time. They had pulled out all the stops to make the place fun just as we remembered from our last visit. What makes this place so amazing are all the activities and events going on away from the racing track itself. Not all F1 venues make this effort to entertain which is a pity since it creates special carnival atmosphere. Over the weekend we spent some time at the Western Style bar, complete with an electric bull ride and a rodeo queen on a swinging saddle. We drank margaritas at La Cantina, a Tequila bar with a mariachi band and lots of Mexican fans! There was also a Beer Garden that seemed pretty lively with oompah music when we wandered through it. We also watched a Rodeo monkey, herd sheep, riding a dog, (oh yes, I can check that off my bucket list), stroked some beautiful Beer Burros, and admired the majestic Longhorns.
In addition to all the fun at the track, there is also a FanFest in the center of Austin. We went there in Friday night and had a lot of fun racing remote control cars, listening to some live music and I had my first henna tattoo courtesy of Etihad Airways. We also made some of our own fun. Vicki had brought a Lewis Hamilton mask from home, and who knew a simple piece of cardboard could cause such hilarity. Walking to our grandstand seats, Iain wore the mask and spoke to a good proportion of the 100,000 people who turned up for the race, pretending to be Lewis. Vicki and I were in hysterics following him and watching people's reactions.
Of course the main event is the racing!!! On Saturday we watched the third free practice and then took our seats for qualifying. We had great seats at Turn 12, which turned out to be a perfect spot for most of the action during Sunday's race. My sister is a die-hard Lewis Hamilton fan but Iain was cheering for Nico Rosberg. I don't have a particularly favorite driver currently, but really wanted Nico to win given the photo opportunity we had with him earlier in the week. I won't give you a report of the race, as there are a gazillion media outlets who can do that. But our man Nico had the upper hand in qualifying, while Lewis prevailed in the race, resulting in a very happy Vicki.
After the race we decided to miss the free Kid Rock concert, instead opting to go onto the track and peek at the post race action in the pit lane. Actually what you really find is lots of forklift trucks packing up team gear to get everything to Brazil for the next race in a few days time. The atmosphere was still special and being on the track is a fun perspective.
We got back to the Airstream thoroughly exhausted! We had so much fun, it's hard to imagine what could have made it better (Nico winning!!). Camping at the track avoided all the hassle of getting to and from the race, and the atmosphere was great. The only thing that could make it more fun would be to come with a few other trailers and create our own little community similar to the Balloon Fiesta experience last month. Maybe next time (yes, we've already considered coming again) we can enlist some more friends to come along with us.