2013 International Sports Car WeekendPosted: November 20, 2013
Back to the basics. The spirit of endurance racing born in a small French countryside town makes its way to a small Texas countryside town. Le Mans and Austin. Bar-B-Que and Bordeaux. September 21st and 22nd was the International Sports Car Weekend featuring a 2 hour and 45 minute ALMS race on Saturday and a 6 hour WEC race on Sunday.
Originally, my plan was to drive down Thursday afternoon and hit the track for practice on Friday – but God had other plans in store for me. There were heavy rains predicted for Friday’s practice, but I’d wait to see how it looks before making any decision on heading to the track. As I’m packing up my car Thursday afternoon, I get a call from Mom. She and Dad are out of town with friends and have hired a dog sitter. The dog sitter called Mom and said my dog, Seamus, is in distress. I head over there and my boy is in serious trouble – his belly is swollen and he’s having trouble breathing. I scoop him up and take him to our family vet. They can’t do anything for him there, so I have to take him to the emergency pet hospital where they tell me he’s suffering from heart failure. There’s nothing we can do, so we decide to leave him there overnight for observation. I’m pretty distraught, so I head home and cry/drink the night away.
Friday – The Drive Down and Dinner
I get up Friday morning and head to the pet hospital. They’ve drained 3 liters of fluid off Seamus’ stomach/chest and that’s allowing him to breathe better. He’s going to stay through the weekend and we’ll get him Monday morning when we’re all back in town. Here he is after a quick bath feeling better Friday morning.
I’m still not entirely comfortable with the situation, but again, there’s nothing we can do now and he needs to be watched over by doctors and nurses. A quick kiss goodbye and, with that, I hit the road. A quick stop off at Competitive Camera where I’ve reserved a 70-200mm lens and I’m on my way to Austin. It’s starting to rain, but it’s intermittent. Not intermittent enough. A trip that normally takes me under 3 hours took 4 1/2 hours due to the rain and several accidents. I actually came to a complete stop twice on the highway. I finally get to Austin and to Emily’s house where I have enough time to relax before I need to shower and meet up with some good friends for dinner.
About 2 weeks before the race, I get a note from my friend Kris in Atlanta. She tells me that she and Jim made a last-minute decision and are making the trip to Austin for the races. It’s Jim’s birthday the week after the race and she wants to plan a pre-birthday celebration and asks if I’d like to join them; but she needs restaurant suggestions. I agree without hesitation, and knowing where they’re staying, my only thought is the Driskill Hotel. I make reservations and tell Kris. We’re all set and Jim has no idea.
After a quick shower, I’m down at the Driskill with Jim and Kris right behind me. We check in and we’re seated at the same table where the Grand Prix Tours group had dinner for last year’s F1 race! We have a wonderful dinner catching up and making our weekend plans. Before we know it, 2 hours have passed. It’s time to call it a night, but not without a quick picture.
Happy birthday, buddy. I’m so very happy we could share the weekend together. I still find it incredible that our brief time together in France over 2 years ago has turned into a friendship that means so much to me.
Saturday – WEC Practice and ALMS Race Day
It’s a glorious Saturday morning, mid-70s and it’ll climb into the mid-80s. It’s a quick trip to the track and parking is a breeze. It’s about 10:30, and while there is a line of cars, there’s still a fairly empty parking lot. I park up close, enter the track, and head around Turns 20 and 19 towards my seats. I grab a souvenir ball cap and settle in familiar territory in Turn 15. The Porsche GT3 Cup support race is on-track. Not much action to write about and I’ve seen these cars several times before, but one stood out. I just liked the red-black livery.
It’s noon, the GT3 race is over, and I get a text from Kris. She and Jim are down in the ALMS paddock where Kris is stalking ALMS driver and actor Patrick Dempsey, who is signing autographs. I make it down to the paddock just in time to find them where we quickly make it to the front of the line.
It isn’t the best picture of Kris with Patrick, but trust me she has plenty and now she has ONE MORE of Dempsey’s autographs. Don’t worry Jim, I’m pretty sure she loves you more than him. If only slightly.
We stick around the paddock where the cars and drivers and mechanics and engineers are scattered about.
Kris heads off to get something to eat while Jim and I make our way from the ALMS paddock to the WEC paddock, where we set up camp right behind the Audi garages. Leena Gade – the first female engineer to win Le Mans – walks by and I extend my hand to congratulate her for the team’s victory in 2011 and tell her I was there with her in Le Sarthe. Various Audi team members milling about including Howden Haynes. Featured in the incredible documentary, Truth in 24, he’s a Le Mans winner, and it’s exciting to see him here in Austin.
This is Audi’s engine engineer/magician/warlock Ulrich Baretzky – the man responsible for Audi switching to diesel and turning motorsports on its ear.
Just behind him comes 3-time Le Mans winner Allan McNish. I first met him at Petit Le Mans in 2011. As he exits the pits, he sees me with my camera and slows his gait, allowing me to rattle off a few shots of him.
I ask around, but no sign of Brad Kettler, but more on that later. The three of us head back towards our seats and for some lunch. The ALMS race isn’t until 3:45 so we have lots of time to kill. Until then, it’s time for the WEC qualifying. Jim and Kris decide to take the COTA Tower tour and I set up shop for qualifying.
Here’s some of my footage from qualifying.
I love the sound of those Audi R-18 etron Quattros hissing by.
Qualifying is over, and COTA has some pre-race festivities for us while we wait for the ALMS race. Drifting through the Turn 15 complex.
I’ll be honest, I don’t get it. Sure, it takes incredible skill and amazing car control to enter a corner sideways and come out pointing the right way. But drifting competitions are judged – like figure skating or gymnastics (two other things I can’t do) – and it seems like a terrific waste to me. I’m sure I’ll hear from someone telling me I’m an idiot, but this is my site and I’m allowed to write what I want. Anyway…
Jim and Kris have returned from their tower tour and it’s almost time for the ALMS race to start. Soon enough, they’re off and running.
This year’s ALMS season has one good thing going for it: the GT class. Corvette versus Viper versus Porsche versus BMW versus Ferrari. They’ve all won and they’re all incredibly close in terms of performance. And they’re right there, 50 feet in front of me.
The DeltaWing Coupe. This was the debut race of the radical racer with a roof. Originally seen at Le Mans in 2011 as the 56th garage spot for its innovative design and cutting edge technologies, it has morphed into this chrome-domed racer.
Double checking the time I took this photo and his time sheet, this is Sean Edwards driving the NGT Motorsport Porsche GTC Cup car. Sean died during a private training session at Queensland Raceway in Australia on October 15th. He won the 2013 24 Hours Nürburgring, conquering the Nordschliefe, and won earlier this year at the ALMS race at Long Beach. He is the son of former F1 driver Guy Edwards, who is known as being one of the drivers who pulled Niki Lauda from his burning Ferrari in 1976 at the Nürburgring.
We’re nearing the end of the race, and I head to the newly constructed and branded Crown Royal Club over looking Turns 18 and 19.
I’m not feeling my best, so I decide to call it a day. I find Kris near the Tower who tells me Jim is down overlooking the Esses. I tell her I’m calling it a day. She has to fly home early tomorrow morning for work Monday morning. I tell her to tell Jim I’ll catch up with him in the morning. And with that, I’m off. Emily and Andy are going to the Texas/Kansas State football game so it’ll be me and the kids for the evening. I order a pizza and we watch Texas soundly beat Kansas State. Emily and Andy are home early and we call it a night.
I didn’t write much about the action at today’s race, and well, that’s because there wasn’t much. For almost 3 hours, we raced uninterrupted – no safety cars. It was great to be back out at the track, but it’s difficult to keep up with the race action going on just in front of us.
Here’s a nice recap from the ALMS of the race.
Sunday – Brad Kettler and The 6 Hours of Austin
Before we get started, here’s a quick lap around the track with Allan McNish.
It’s one thing to love the track as a spectator, it’s another to hear from one of the competitors saying how much he enjoys this track as a driver.
It’s Sunday morning and there’s the pit walk followed by the 6 Hour World Endurance Championship race. Just as I’m getting up, I get a text from Jim; he had to drop off Kris at the airport because she has work Monday morning. He texts me saying he’s seen the sunrise at Le Mans, and now he’s seen the sunrise at COTA. Similar, but not quite the same. I’m out the door and down at the track in no time. Walking up to the main gate, I ask the track workers where to go for the pit walk and they usher me towards the tunnel under Turn 1. Walking up to the tunnel, I’m joined by a gentleman with a bag in-hand and wearing an Audi shirt. I mention it a beautiful day for another Audi victory and he responds: “We hope so”. We continue chatting about the track, how it compares to other tracks, our favorite tracks – Le Mans, Spa, Nordschleife, and Silverstone, as well as the next WEC round at Fuji. He’s more than engaging as we walk through the main gate. It was a pleasant conversation and we bid each other farewell. I see a short line forming for the WEC pit walk that’s set to begin at 8:30. Minutes later, I get a call from Jim, he’s walking down towards the paddock. I turn around, looking up towards the tower and raise my hand, Jim responds with a friendly wave and he joins me shortly. All around us, again, are various car and tire engineers, scurrying about. Looking behind me now, the line is quite substantial – we got here at the right time. Soon enough, the gates open and a flood of fans descend upon the pit lane.
The competitors are laid out in front of us with very little keeping us from the teams themselves. We set up camp right in front of Audi where they’re practicing driver changes.
We’re soon joined by Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich – the head of Audi Motorsports.
Moments later, here comes Brad Kettler joined by the same Audi gentleman I walked into the track with.
Back in 2011, when I met Jim and Kris as well as Clayton in Le Mans – oddly enough, all from Atlanta – they’d convinced me to join them for Petit Le Mans. I was so taken with Le Mans racing, I couldn’t resist. Along with my best friend Ted and Dad, we flew down to Atlanta and enjoyed the 10 hours of Petit Le Mans. While at Petit, Dad and I were down in the pits during scrutineering. I recognized and rattled off a few shot of Audi engineer Brad Kettler overlooking the new Audi R-18.
When I got home, I found Brad’s company website and reached out to them. I had a few more photos of Brad, and if they’d like them, they’re theirs. A few weeks later, I received a note back from Brad’s wife, Lisa, thanking me for the photos. As I was planning my 2012 Le Mans, and once I found out I’d be across the track from the Audi pits, I wrote Lisa again and told her where I’d be and I’d send whatever pictures I had of Brad and the team. Alas, I didn’t have any specifically of Brad. Once they finalized the full details of the ALMS/WEC race weekend, I again wrote Lisa and told her of my weekend plans. She wouldn’t be joining us, but would pass onto Brad a note that I’d be there. I waited for Brad to finish his conversation with that Audi gentleman and I called out his name where he walked over to me. I introduce myself, and while we’re shaking hands, I say: “I know this sounds funny, but I’m the guy e-mailing your wife”. With a wry smile, he responds: “Oh yea, I heard about you.”
Thanks to Jim for taking these pictures of me meeting with Brad. We chat for a few minutes about the track, Austin, and the race ahead of us. I wish him good luck and let him get back to the business at hand. Lisa, I said it before: it’s silly, but meeting Brad was a real treat for me. Thank you for passing a note onto Brad. I hope you’ll make it to Austin in the next few years and our paths will cross.
With that, Jim and I continue down pit lane.
Watch for the sparks when the right-rear tire changer takes the gun to the wheel nut.
Just as we’re watching the teams put the finishing touches on their cars, suddenly, there’s some rumbling through the crowd. Turning around, I see what is causing such a stir.
My photo hosting site, Flickr, gives me stats on my photos. I’ve been a Pro member for almost 2 years. I have over 1,000 photos on Flickr. Mostly racing, some of family and friends, and other random projects I’ve worked on. But the funny thing is, these two photos are the most viewed in my inventory. And they’ve only been online for 2 months. Either my photography is getting better or I’m taking pictures of the wrong subjects.
Turning our attention back towards the cars, I’m immediately greeted with an internet celebrity – Leo Parente of the YouTube channel /Drive and host of their Shakedown episodes.
I’ve been a fan of Leo’s for a while now so I introduce myself and Jim takes a quick photo.
We continue up and down the pit lane where I get up close and personal with several of the drivers.
Before we know it, the pit lane walk is over and we’re ushered out of the area. Jim and I make our way back to our seats where the race is about to begin. There’s a familiar buzz in the air as the Confederate Air Force/Commemorative Air Force makes its flyover.
And so it begins.
The 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas is off and running. Unlike yesterday’s ALMS race, we have an incident in the first corner bringing out the safety car. A few laps later, they’re back at it.
After almost 2 hours of good racing, Jim and I decide to get something to eat and get out of the sun. Right behind us, at the Turn 15 complex, is a wonderful collection of food trucks and regular track food stuffs. Having done this just a few months ago for the V8 Supercars race weekend, I find the food truck serving Australian meat pies – think of it as a hand-held potpie. We find an official WEC tent with a live feed TV and plenty of shade; Jim and I chow down and watch the race.
After a brief respite from the sun, Jim and I head off to a new pavilion overlooking the exit of Turn 18 and the short straight into Turn 19. It’s shaded, air-conditioned, and a great vantage point over the track.
After some time in the Crown Royal pavilion, Jim and I decide to check out the rest of the track. Heading over the bridges that cross Turn 16 and then Turn 4, we make our way down past the Esses towards Turn 10.
This was as far as we could go. There was a track official who drew the short straw and had to watch guard over the spectators to keep us from going any further. Quite a shame, actually. I think there are some great racing moments and picture to be had down at Turn 11. We stick around for a bit before heading back towards our seats in Turn 15.
We’re nearing the final hour of the race but there’s still plenty of action ahead.
The #2 Audi and the #8 Toyota swapped the lead position the entire race. The Toyota had better fuel economy and was easier on their tires, but they were marginally slower. In the final 30 minutes of the race, Audi decided to double stint their tires – the first time they’ve done it all day. And the gamble worked. Audi took the lead with 15 laps left and won the 6 hour race by a 34 seconds. Six hours of racing comes down to half a second. Not quite as close as the 2011 Le Mans – where Audi won by 13 seconds – but for 6 hours of hard racing to come down to 30+ seconds, it’s pretty amazing.
It was a glorious two days of racing highlighted by the GT battle yesterday and the LMP1 battle today. Jim and I gather up our equipment and make our plans to catch up in November for the F1 race.
Here’s Toyota’s race recap.
While this interview Allan McNish was filmed just before qualifying, /Drive published it after the race and I think it has some interesting stuff.
I decide to stay the night at my sister’s and drive home Monday morning. About a week or so after the race, I get a text from Jim confirming my address. I just figured he and Kris were updating their Christmas card list. A few days later, there’s a large box is sitting on my front porch. Inside, is this beauty.
The creation of racing artist Randy Owens, Randy set up shop at the track. Friday night at dinner, Jim told me about Randy and that they’re old friends. I found Randy’s tent at the track on Saturday, introduced myself and saw this lithograph on display. Later on, I told Jim and Kris I met Randy and saw some of his works. Well, little did I know, Jim and Kris also made a visit to Randy’s tent where they bought a framed copy for me as a gift. I now have this beauty hanging in the man room. Thanks again guys!
It’s now the week after the Austin F1 race – I’ll get to that report shortly – but it’s time for me to turn my attention to 2014 and specifically Le Mans. I missed it terribly this year. The cars, the event, the Tenths guys, Paris, Tours, French food and the French people. There are several new cars coming to Le Mans in 2014 – the new Corvette, the new Viper, a reworked Audi R-18, an updated Toyota TS030 and, of course, the return of Porsche to La Sarthe. This is one not to miss. And I will be there.
See you all in Le Mans in 7 months.
I’ve had several questions and I probably should have said something earlier, but, for all of you who have asked, yes, Seamus is fine. I got home Monday morning after the race and met mom at the hospital. Seamus has a failing heart, but with the proper medication, we can control his heart issue. We have to “tap” him and drain the fluids off his chest about every two weeks. He’s not in any pain and is still the happy, 13 year-old puppy he’s always been. The vet tells us he’s a strong boy and will go on until he tells us he’s tired. Until then, every time I see him, and he knows daddy is home, I sweep him up into my arms, let him rest in my lap, and love on my boy.