Request – F1 Race report?

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    James Keane

    To those lucky buggers like Rob who attended the F1 race in Austin,

    I was interested in hearing your opinions on the race, the track and Austin. What worked well and what are your recommendations for those of us who are hoping to attend next years race e.g. stand sections, hotels, etc ?

    How impressive were those track elevations to see in person? Where were you seated, was there a good view, good action and what section would you recommend folks for next year?


    Rob Powers

    Happy to oblige!

    The race was extremely cool to see in person. In addition to the F1 race, there were 3 support races: Pirelli GT3 (Porsche) Cup West, Ferrari Challenge (458 Italia Challenge cars), and Historic Grand Prix (cars from about 1965 through 1982). The GT3s qualified at about 2:15. The F1 cars were more like 1:35. The difference in speed is astounding to see in person. I think I saw the F1 cars doing consistently 3.5-4G laterally through the esses as they climbed toward turn 9.

    The track itself was gorgeous. The terrain was very hilly, and the climb up the main straight into Turn 1 was extremely steep. Probably 80-100 feet of incline just on that straight alone.

    We sat in the grandstands at Turn 12, right at the start of the braking zone after the long straight. The cars were going from ~200mph down to ~50 to make it through the 110-ish degree turn. It was probably the best place on the track to sit in terms of visibility. I could see the exit of Turn 1 and the short straight before T2. The cars were then visible as they approached and climbed the esses. Then they were visible about 3/4 of the way as they appeared down the long straight from T11 (there is a hill along that long straight that kills the sight line, but any passing happens at the end anyway). Then T12 through T15 were visible before the cars disappeared (this is the “stadium” section of the track similar to Hockenheim).

    As far as “action” spots on the track, the long straight into T12 and T19 seemed to be where most interesting things happened. T19 is a very tricky turn, and it caught a LOT of drivers out (both F1 and in the supporting races).

    The facilities were not yet finished. Lots of last-minute dried out sod, steam-rollered dirt/gravel pathways where the asphalt just ended, not much in the way of benches, etc. The grandstand for T12 was a temporary scaffolding thing, and it looked like they didn’t have enough time to build something more permanent. It was quite wobbly feeling when everyone stood up at once. So hopefully for next year they’ll have that addressed. The concessions drew a lot of complaints for being super slow, running out of food, etc. Hopefully next year they’ll have that a little better figured out too.

    They had shuttle buses to get to and from the track, so it was not necessary to drive/pay for parking. Parking near the shuttle stop in downtown was $20 for the day. Shuttles started at 7 (and we got there at 6:45 each day), and we got to the track around 8:15 or so. We ended up leaving around 3:30 each day and got back to downtown around 5-ish. They were very organized which was nice, but the queueing was insane (you had to walk through over 1/2 mile of queueing even when there wasn’t enough people to fill it).

    They only allowed sealed bottles of water in the gate, so we brought a few liters each day and had no issues with dehydration. I could see this being a problem for people who didn’t plan ahead though since the shade was pretty sparse.

    There was only 1 “crash” the whole weekend, and it was in the GT3 race on Sunday morning first thing. As the cars were driving from the paddock up to the main straight to line up for the start, the last guy out of the paddock gunned it, lost traction on the cold track/cold tires, and hit the armco sideways right in front of our seats. He broke something and crabbed his way to the pit lane and didn’t start the race. Other than that, it was a pretty clean weekend (only 2 retirements in the F1 race, both due to mechanical issues).

    The airport was crazy busy on Thursday when we arrived and on Monday morning when we left. They had brought in like 3000+ extra rental cars from neighboring areas/states, and they had a special return location for all the extra volume. Hotels were insanely expensive. We stayed in a b&b on the west side of the UT campus, and it was nice to be away from the throngs of people. The owner told us that “the powers that be” told her how much she should charge for the weekend (4 night minimum stay), so that was interesting. The crappy motel places (like Super 8) were charging ~400/night, so there were definitely no “deals” to be had. If anyone is planning to go next year, I’d suggest seeing if you can score a deal on airbnb or the like (early–before people are fully aware of the schedule).

    There was a “Fan Fest” zone downtown between 5th and 6th streets, which is the main restaurant/bar/music area of the city. They had concerts all weekend and a bunch of f1 themed activities. If you wanted to people watch and look for drivers, that was the place to be. We decided to avoid it due to the tons of people and being exhausted from sitting in the sun all day, so I can’t telly you much more about that aspect of the weekend. Most of the larger hotels are right in that general area, so if you were to stay there you’d be right in the thick of the “action”.

    There were driver autograph sessions, but they were very short and required standing in line starting at 7:30 for a 3:00 session on Saturday. So unless you *really* needed to get a signed whatever from a driver, it was unlikely that you could actually get one (they only did 15 minute sessions, which maybe translated to about 50 signatures). We did see Kimi and Vettel when they came out for their sessions though (at maybe 30 feet distance), so that was cool.

    T12 was probably the loudest spot on track because the cars were all downshifting 3-5 times as they came into the turn, and the downshifts are LOUD. Most of the downshifts sounded as expected with each shift coming with a corresponding rev-match. he Force India cars had some weird shift program set up with their transmission making each downshift sound like a giant backfire. The Ferraris also sounded like they had 2 or 3 different mappings on downshift where sometimes it would sound like a backfire, sometimes, it would sound “clean”, and sometimes it sounded like they were doubling-up the downshifts with 1 rev match per 2 shifts. Pretty interesting to experience live.

    One other thing that I found fascinating.. At T12, there was a huge variation in the lines that people were taking, mostly because they were not braking or turning in consistently. However, Vettel and Hamilton each only took about 3 laps in FP1 on Friday to nail down a perfect trail-braking line to the apex. Most of the other drivers were missing the apex by a lot, locking up brakes, not trailing smoothly, etc. It continued into the race itself, and the difference in lines was pretty cool to see.

    I’m sure there are other interesting things I experienced this weekend, so if you have any other questions, please feel free to post them..

    James Keane

    Now that is a pretty fantastic race report! Nice one Rob. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to an F1 race, but your description brings a lot of the cool race memories back.

    A few questions about how to get tickets, lodging and travel early and try to avoid getting fleeced.

    It sounds like turn 12 is the best place to sit for passing – like Turn 1 at the Indy F1 track. I have a sneaking suspicion that there will be massive demand for these tickets when they come out, so any suggestions on getting onto these tickets early? I just subscribed to the COTA mailing list.

    What about lodging & flights. Did you book this WAY early? Would you suggest booking [b][i]now [/i][/b]for next years race, and what site was useful for B&Bs, etc?

    If there is interest, we might even be able to co-ordinate with a few of the club members and do a group thing.


    James Keane

    Here is the track map

    [img size=1619×1260][/img]

    Rob Powers

    For tickets, this year COTA had a mailing list for notification when tickets would become available. They sent a special link to Ticketmaster a day before they were made available to the general public, and that’s how I got my tickets.

    For the early tickets, only 3-day passes were being sold. T12 was the ‘best available’ location when I was purchasing. They were basically the best tickets you could get without buying a Personal Seat License. T15 is the next “upgrade” location, but it requires a PSL. The start-finish straight are the big-buck tickets, and they all required a 10-year PSL (in addition to the ticket cost). So in my view, none of that was worth it. There were a lot of empty seats in the T15 and start/finish grandstands, probably because of this.

    The grandstand tickets were $399-$499 for all 3 days. There were also General Admission tickets for less.. not sure what those sold for. If you go that route, there is a big hill at T1 that had a ton of people on it. Definitely bring a folding chair if you go that route.

    This year the tickets went on sale in early June. I have no idea when they’ll go on sale next year. I bought plane tickets and reserved a rental car that same day. I think I booked the room that same week, and availability was already tight. There will be no deals on either of those due to the demand, so you have to just suck it up and find the best deal you can. Southwest flies nonstop between SJC and AUS, but their pricing excluded this route from any special offers during that weekend.

    There is probably no harm in booking a room and car as soon as they open their booking for next November. If you don’t get tickets, you can always cancel. Our place required payment in full (no refund for cancellation) 30 days prior to arrival. So definitely consider getting Travel Insurance too, just in case things go pear-shaped. We had a near-heart attack with my wife’s work 2 weeks ago that almost prevented us from going.

    I flew in to Austin on Thursday and flew home on Monday. The b&b required a 4-night stay (as did everywhere else I looked), so that ended up working out well. You *could* fly back on Sunday evening since the F1 race ended around 3:30 or so and that was the last event of the day. You’d just need to find a place with only a 3-night minimum.

    I think for the hotel search, I used the usual suspects (orbitz, travelocity, etc), and also I’d also suggest for other options. If you can swing it, you really want to be in Austin as opposed to some of the farther away locations. The extra travel will end up being very tiring. Some people ended up staying in San Antonio and driving up, but that’s a 90 minute drive without traffic, so keep that in mind when you’re making plans.

    One other thing as I look at the map.. The track is *big*. Some people behind us decided to walk the whole circumference and it took them about 1:15 at a good pace. The google maps satellite view doesn’t do justice to how hilly the location is either. T20-T1 is all uphill, T1-T2 is all downhill, T3-T6 is all uphill, T9-T11 is all downhill, T11-T16 is fairly flat-ish, and T16-T20 is all uphill (less steep).


    I am the Race Director for the Pirelli GT3 Cup Series. The “crash” was very unfortunate for the driver, he was the slowest of the field, qualified 30th out of 30 and is just a very nice gentleman.

    Race Control has 40+ HD monitors with caneras all around the track so we do not miss anything. There is a replay facility with slow motion to analyse any incident to determine any immediate penalty assessment.

    Behind the scenes there were many changes taking place around the facility all the way until 9:30 Sunday morning.

    The logistics of the F1 circus is simply amazing. All the turnstyles are F1, the portable team buildings, the track lights, just about everything you see that can move is part of the traveling circus. Interesting fact, the large catering tent behind the garages/suites is a catering company out of Austria that is part of the traveling circus.

    It was amazing organization and you would not believe the attention to detail everywhere F1/FoM touched. COTA has some areas for improvement but considering it was a brand new facility without the benefit of any prior “test” event and starting with arguably the biggest event it could possibly host they did an outstanding job.

    BTW, I stayed in San Antonio and commuted the 1.5 hours each way. Hotels were available and affordable.

    Here are photos I snapped of the front straight and its 113 foot rise to turn 1.




    Mark Mervich

    Amazing, the course has almost as many turns and elements as an autocross.


    Here is a video of tire change practice from Thursday afternoon.
    [video width=420 height=315 type=youtube]ZXgMqsey-tg?rel=0[/video]

    Rob Powers

    Wow, cool that we had an ‘insider’ there! The GT3 race was awesome. Madison Snow is *fast* (he’s 16 and he won the race (10 laps) after starting from 3rd). I expect we’ll be hearing his name in the future.

    The car hitting the armco was very unfortunate. Hell of a way to spend a weekend with travel, practice, qualifying, and all of the rest of the circus (not to mention all the $$$$) only to not be able to participate in the race itself.

    Now that I’m thinking about it there was some other contact in the GT3 race. One driver had his rear bumper removed. And 2 cars came together in T12 leading to one of them losing their radiator (leaving water all over the place). But given the number of cars involved, it loked pretty ‘clean’ overall.

    Here’s a couple questions for you: with the guy who had his rear bumper hanging, how long do you allow something like that to continue before you meatball him? Also, the “astroturf” at the exit of T12 was getting some attention because it was starting to pull up.. do you know how they resolved it so it didn’t tear up?


    The lap 1 turn 1 incident was the typical ‘accordian” with people overly optimistic and not braking early enough, one car was lost from the race here, lost both radiators (they are in the front).

    There were several other side to side and nose to tail contacts but the most egregious was the T12 incident when a driver attempted to execute a pass that had a -100% chance of success. He lost his radiators and his engine trying to continue.

    The astroturf was epoxied down, I don’t know specifically but imagine they simply put more of it down.

    I had called for the meatball on 46 when the bumper separated, so I cancelled it. All decisions are based upon the particular situation, can’t give you a generalized answer. Think I waited for a full lap which would mean two laps after the incident before issuing the order and it came off in the third lap.

    Rob Powers

    Thanks for the details, Mike. Very interesting to hear the perspective of someone who could see everything from Race Control…

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