The Austin Chronicle

Trackside at F1

By Richard Whittaker, November 17, 2012, 3:20pm, The Score

So the long-awaited/feared/hoped-for inaugural United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas has arrived, and so far all seems pretty calm. That is, except for the deafening sound of Formula One engines.

The circuit management must be breathing a sigh of relief over the first day of testing. Even though Friday is likely to be the slowest day for visitors, it was likely to be the day with the biggest traffic headaches. Instead, most people were reporting pretty average traffic – no better or worse than an average Friday in Austin. What's impressive is that the event managed to get (wait for it) 65,360 racegoers to the event and back pretty smoothly. I've seen way worse traffic on a Longhorns' home game weekend, but just to be safe, the city/county F1 Joint Information Center is recommending that the people taking their own cars out there think about SH 21 as an alternate route to SH 130 or IH 35.

Circuit management is probably feeling pretty excited about the circuit itself, and how it is standing up to its first big event. The crowd seemed big, happy and extremely international (I heard French, Italian, Spanish and German within a few feet of each other, plus a lot of Texas accents.) The A-listers are already here, including indie film makers George Lucas and Ron Howard. In fact, Howard admitted recently that it was Lucas, who directed him in American Graffiti, who took him to his first ever F1 race: Now Howard is working on his own F1 movie, Rush (read more about that here.)

And the track is exactly what project innovator Tavo Hellmund dreamed it would be. Challenging, accessible, with great sight lines. Turn one is the signature everyone thought it would be, with its long view to the Austin skyline. The big surprise may be turn 19, which has become a real challenge for drivers. Prediction: The first driver to conquer both takes the weekend. SO far, it seems to be Red Bull team in prime contention, with world championship leader Sebastian Vettel setting the top lap time in practice (1:37.718) and his teammate Mark Webber up close at 1:38.475.

Frankly, the only disappointment about this November date is that, if this were earlier in the season, some talented up-and-comer could throw the title hunt into confusion.

As the day ebbed, the visitors and the locals (yes, there were a lot there) headed to their homes, hotels and the Austin Fan Fest celebration. The feel Downtown is a mix of SXSW, early Halloween evening on Sixth, and the Pecan Street Festival. Bars were filled (some of them rented out for private events, but not many) and the streets were mostly filled with families. Frankly, the cops working Austin Fan Fest seemed a little bored.

Read more of our USGP coverage here, but in the meantime, here's some of our photos from Friday.

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