Courtesy of the FIA/WEC
Time to get back to racing.
I’ll get something online soon about the 2013 US Grand Prix, but with Le Mans only 78 days away, it’s time to start focusing on the 24 Heures.
In the beginning of March, at the Geneva Auto Show, Porsche unveiled their 919 livery. Sporting a less than creative (my opinion) Porsche Intelligent Performance themed livery, the theme is shared with it’s GT competitor.
With the history of Porsche liveries, you’d think they could have come up with something a little more interesting. At least tie it in with their racing heritage. Gulf, Rothman’s, The Pink Pig, Salzburg, Martini, something other than this. Where’s Andy Blackmore when you need him?
Audi at least did something cool. Revealing their livery in the center of the town of Le Mans, Mr. Le Mans – Tom Kristensen – drove the redesigned R18 e-tron quattro around the Bugatti circuit. I find this livery stunning.
White, silver, red and matte black…I think it’s stunning. They said during the performance the red has some sort of reflective quality that should make night-time pictures jump.
Last but not least, Toyota finally pulled the covers off their new TS040 competitor.
Toyota didn’t change much from the TS030 to the TS040. The familiar blue and white with the red streaks highlight the changes in the new car. The TS040 has more upright headlights and all three cars have higher cockpits as mandated by the FIA over safety concerns – primarily pilot vision.
In a little over a month, all three will battle each other at Silverstone and then through Eau Rouge at Spa as warm ups for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This is going to be great.
Back in late 2000, early 2001, my marriage was falling apart. We’d gotten married in 1999, but it wasn’t much of a marriage. Something I’ve written about before and something I’m not going to get into right now. Because of Mom and Dad – who had several King Charles Cavalier Spaniels – my wife decided she had to have a Cavalier. We found a breeder through Mom and we adopted a puppy: Barrister. He was a good little pup, but we felt bad about him spending his days at home alone.
In the middle of the downward spiral of our marriage, my wife convinced me we should get Barrister a friend. The only reason why I agreed was to make her happy. Or, at least, try to make her happy. Things in our household were anything but happy, but if I could do something to appease her, I did.
We found a Cavalier rescue group and drove almost to 2 hours to some woman’s house – fighting almost all the way. When we finally got there, in and among this group of puppies, we found one special boy. The product of a puppy mill in Missouri, he spent the early weeks of his life in a kennel with a least a dozen other puppies – less than ideal. But this, however, lead to one of his better traits. This rescue group saved a dozen or so puppies on Saint Patrick’s Day, so they all had Irish names. I’m not sure if we picked him or he picked us, but they named him Seamus.
We brought him home and immediately he took to me and I to him. Our first puppy, Barrister, was “hers”, so I made Seamus mine and he made me his. During our divorce, as we were splitting up our belongings, it was only natural that I would take Seamus with me. And I was glad to do so.
After the divorce, I had to move in with Mom and Dad. Seamus took the move well and made quick friends with Jack and Chelsea – the other dogs in the household. But more importantly, he made friends with Mom and Dad. Again, because of his puppy mill upbringing – where he was forced into a cramped environment with a dozen or more other puppies – he craved touch. Being next-to or on-top-of someone was what he wanted and needed. When you sat down, he was almost immediately in your lap. He slept with me, he followed me. If you sat down, he was in your lap immediately. More often than not, I would wake up in the middle of the night, pinned against the wall with him right next to me in bed.
When I moved back to Arkansas to finish school, I couldn’t take Seamus with me. I had to leave him with Mom and Dad. This wasn’t a big deal for him, for he had, in turn, adopted Mom and Dad as his parents. But, when I came home, he knew “daddy” was home. I was gone for 6 months and then lived with Mom and Dad for another year afterwards before I could afford to move out. Once I did, it wasn’t an easy decision for me to leave Seamus with Mom and Dad, but he loved them, and they loved him. It worked on many levels. But still, when I came over, he knew me and paid me close attention.
Over the past decade, I’d come and go from Mom and Dad’s house, but Seamus was always there. As he grew older, he’d nap more, but whenever I came over, he was always the first I went to. I’d wake him and he’d wag his tail; he knew I was there to see him. I’d plop down on the couch, and he was close behind me, scratching at the couch, asking for help up, just so he could sit in my lap. I cherished those moments with him.
I will miss those times.
Seamus passed away today.
I am sad and I miss my “son”.
He was a reluctant addition to my life because of someone else. But he was with me through the hard times and through the good. He loved me and I loved him. He wanted nothing more than to love someone – that and treats. That dog loved treats. Whether Cheerios or dog biscuits or cheese or french fries or Cheetos – he could eat. You had to be careful when giving him something. More often than not, giving him a treat resulted in you pulling back a nub as he’d nearly bite off half of a finger.
But he could love even more. He was a loving boy.
Through my sadness, I remember an email that was sent to me however many years back. True story or not, there’s no better way to describe Seamus.
Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife, Lisa, and their little boy, Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.
I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.
As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.
The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.”
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation.
He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?”
The six-year-old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”
I wish Seamus could have stayed longer.
He was rescued on Saint Patrick’s Day and he went to sleep in my arms on Saint Patrick’s Day. I can’t think of a better way to complete the circle.
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.
Tomorrow is the opening day for the ALMS/WEC International Sportscar Weekend at The Circuit of the Americas in Austin. What is quickly becoming my home track, the American Le Mans Series will race for 2 hours and 45 minutes on Saturday and we’ll have a 6 hour race on Sunday for the World Endurance Championship.
Between the two series, I’ve seen most of these cars at Le Mans.
I was supposed to drive down to Austin and stay with my sister and her family tonight and spend most of tomorrow at the track, but God had other plans for me today. So, I’ll get up early, head to Competitive Camera where I’ll pick up a new lens for the weekend and, weather permitting, I’ll hit the track.
Fox Sports 1 – originally SpeedTV – was set to broadcast Sunday’s WEC race, they’ve since cancelled those plans. ESPN2, however, will broadcast Saturday’s ALMS race on Sunday. Set your DVR’s.
Until then, here’s what you can expect from this weekend:
Here are Andy Blackmore’s fantastic Spotters Guides.
From the manufacturers themselves.
Toyota will be back.
Audi will defend.
Porsche will return.
2014 will be epic. And I will not miss it.
24 Hours of Le Mans…Done. United States Grand Prix…Done. Time to catch up on my writing and focus on my most recent trip to The Circuit of the Americas: The V8 Supercars Austin 400.
V8 Supercars? Yes, V8 Supercars. To say it’s Australia’s version of NASCAR is unfair to these drivers and cars, but for now, go with it. In Australia, there are two major car manufacturers: Ford and Holden. Sure you can get other makes and models, but the debate Down Under is Blue vs. Red – Ford vs. Holden. This year there are two new marks to enter the fray: Nissan and Mercedes and Volvo recently announced their return in 2014. Tracing it’s roots to 1960 with the Australian Touring Car Championship, the series has gone through various name changes, manufacturers, and teams. Since 1993, however, the one thing that has remained the same: the engine. A 5.0 liter V8 engine producing 600+ BHP powering a 4-door touring car. Fire-breathing beasts that are built like tanks and drivers who follow the rule “rubbin’ is racin’ “; the V8 Supercars is extremely entertaining.
In October 2012, V8 Supercars announced they’d be traveling overseas for the first time ever to The Circuit of the Americas in May 2013. After watching V8 Supercars for years on Speed, I put it on my calendar that I’d be down in Austin that weekend. Of course, while I’m planning my trip, I reach out to my friend Tessa at Grand Prix Tours and offered my assistance. I’m already going and if I can help GPT out – and make up for more than a few mistakes over the USGP race weekend – I will. So, in the months and weeks leading up to the race, GPT started filling up their roster of guests attending the race. We didn’t think we’d need a bus for the race, so I made a deal with Tessa – pay for my gas to and from Austin, rent a nice van, and I’ll take care of the rest. As we get closer to race weekend, our roster is set with 5 Aussies. We don’t need a van so I make arrangements with my brother-in-law to borrow his Yukon. And as it turns out, his truck was in the shop so I’d have a brand-spankin’ new truck to taxi our guests to and from the track. Perfect. The week before the race, I received my care package from Tessa: official GPT shirt, roster, itinerary, and tickets. I’m driving down Thursday before the race and am to meet my guests in the Hyatt lobby Friday morning. I’m all set. The drive down Thursday was a snap. I made sure I packed everyone’s tickets and did not repeat my US Grand Prix mistake. I catch up with Emily that afternoon, watch my niece show off her gymnastics moves, have dinner and call it a night at their new house.
Friday – Meeting my guests and practice
Friday morning I’m to meet my guests in the hotel lobby at 8:00. Friday is an open day for the group – no trip to the track planned but I’m definitely heading out for V8 practice. Shortly after 8, my guests meet me in the lobby. Ian and his mate David, then Bobby, and finally Phil and his wife Hazel. While talking with Phil and Hazel, another Australian couple overhears our conversation and politely raise their hands. They ask about transportation to and from the track. I tell them they’re basically on their own. They tell me that back home in Australia, when they visit a track, the track has transportation arranged for the patrons. While COTA and the city of Austin did have free shuttles for the F1 race, they’re not doing it this weekend. I tell them a taxi will take them to the track and there should be taxi’s for the return trip. I have a full load otherwise I’d take them. They thank me and we all go our separate ways.
It’s 8:30 or so and there isn’t any V8 action until 10, so I head back to Emily’s. I change shirts, gather up my camera equipment, and I’m on the road to the track. Tessa got me/us a parking pass in the main lot so I know right where I’m going. Traffic is light and I’m at the track in no time. I park next to a couple of blokes from Australia. We chat on our way to the main gate. One of them is a marshal for the series and was at last year’s race at Abu Dhabi. He had some hot sport opinions about the Hermann Tilke designed tracks and the lack of action they ultimately promote – lots of runoff areas, wide racing surfaces – something the other tracks on the V8 schedule don’t have. While he’s excited to be here, he’s not expecting the “typical” show on-track. I’m cautiously optimistic because the race officials decided to run the “short track” that cuts out Turns 7-11 with the goal of keeping the cars bunched together.
We pause at the main gate where I offer to take their picture with their camera. We shake hands and head inside. The first of what will be several excellent interactions with some friendly visitors.
Through the gate and turn left…I again have seats in Turn 15, but this time a little closer to the apex of the corner.
I settle in and take in some of the action. These cars have an awesome growl about them.
The first and second practices are done and it’s getting hot. I decide to call it a day and head back home. It’s great to be back at the track for the first time in six months. I’ve said it before, it’s a beautiful facility and with the concert amphitheater complete at the base of the tower, it’s damn near perfect. I’m back at Emily’s in no time where I spend the rest of the day just goofing off and relaxing. That night, Emily, my brother-in-law, Andy, and I have dinner plans downtown. We hit this awesome little tappas place for an excellent dinner before heading to one of their favorite spots where we take in a U2 cover band. It was a great show but it was over all too soon and we call it a night. Tomorrow is a big day.
Saturday – Qualifying and Racing
Saturday morning I’m up and dressed and out the door. Yesterday, I told the group to meet me in the lobby and we’d make our way to the track. Waiting for me in the lobby are Phil and Hazel with Bobby just behind them. Ian and David, however, are nowhere to be seen. We have an 8 AM departure time and everyone is eager to get to the track. I call up to their room. No answer. I head up the escalator to the restaurant to take a quick look…nope. I call up to their room again, this time I get an answer. A very groggy Ian picks up and says: “No thanks, mate. We’ll take a cab.” With that, I gather the others and we pile into the truck. Hazel jokes, that because we had to wait, Ian and David will have to sit in the far back seat the rest of the trip. We all laugh and make our way out.
On the way to the track, the four of us are chatting it up and getting to know each other. Asking what a Texas Ranger is, what I do back home and if I have a horse, where they’re from, and what they do in Australia. Just like yesterday, we’re at the track rather quickly. We find a parking spot and unload. I have my seats in Turn 15, Phil and Hazel are in the Paddock Club, but Bobby has a general admission ticket. Knowing this from yesterday, I grabbed a folding chair from Emily and gave it to Bobby. We also all have a go with the sun block. It’s a cloudless day and it’s going to get hot. And like that we’re off.
It’s about 9:00 and the World Challenge cars are on-track. I head off to my seats and watch some of the World Challenge – Mazdas against BMWs against Hondas against Minis. While it is a race, there isn’t much action going on, so I get up and start wandering around the track and watch from Turns 16-17-18 at the base of the Tower.
There’s a tent with several COTA representatives offering Tower tours for $20. I strike up a conversation with one and decide I need to check out the scene from the top. I was told I could go up for 15-20 minutes. I make my way to the base of the Tower and into the elevator where I notice there are only two buttons: “1” and “2”. Well, sure, that makes sense.
In the elevator with me are several members of various Porsche GT3 teams. Heading up, they’ll have a bird’s eye view for the Porsche GT3 qualifying about to begin. They all have 2-way radio headsets to talk to the drivers.
Stepping off the elevator, I’m treated with these amazing views.
One of the cooler features of the Tower is the glass floor.
It’s 22 stories tall, 250 feet high, a little breezy, and surprisingly stable. It’s not that I was expecting it to sway back and forth, but it felt as planted as a 22-story office building. The Porsches are taking to the track for a quick 20 minute qualifying session. It’s a fantastic perspective watching the cars from this high up.
The Porsche GT3 Cup qualifying is over and the V8 Supercars will be taking to the track shortly. When I took the quick trip up the elevator to the top of the Tower, again, I was told I’d have 15-20 minutes before being ushered back down. Looking around, there are only about 12-15 people on the observation deck with me, and no one telling me it’s time to go. I move over to the side overlooking the Turn 15 complex and take in the V8 qualifying.
I settle in next to a gentleman wearing a Stone Brothers/SP Tools V8 shirt and we start talking Texas, V8 racing, the cars, the track and all things racing. By now the cars are taking to the track and I want to get some footage of the cars trying to set a fast time for Race 1 later on today.
You can hear Glenn sharing some of his knowledge with this V8 rookie.
I take a few more photos, but our conversation is too enjoyable to be stuck behind the viewfinder.
Glenn and I swap V8 stories of what I’ve seen on TV and what he’s seen in person. He asks me if I saw the incident from Sydney last year where Shane Van Gisbergen’s steering column broke and he collided with the medical car. I have seen it and it’s one of the more bizarre incidents I’ve seen in racing.
Glenn goes on to tell me he was at that race and was lucky enough to be down in the pits after that incident. While the team is rebuilding the car, he strikes up a conversation with one of the mechanics and asks what they’ll do with the damaged door. After a quick handshake, Glenn owns one of the more unique souvenirs I’ve seen.
All the way from Dapto, NSW – south of Sydney – Glenn and his family are in town for the race, obviously, but he’s also on an amazing cross country motorcycle trip. 14 days and 3,000 miles on a motorcycle through the Colorado/Canadian Rocky Mountains. On one hand, he’s riding through some absolutely beautiful parts of the country, on the other, it sounds completely mad.
Checking our watches, the first qualifying is done and qualifying for Race 2 will begin shortly. What was supposed to be 15-20 minutes in the Tower has turned into almost an hour and a half where I had the pleasure of meeting Glenn and adding another race friend to my experiences. Glenn, it was a genuine pleasure to spending time with you up in the tower. Good luck on your next ride and hopefully our paths will cross again soon.
We shake hands and make our way down the 419 stairs to the ground. About halfway down, the cars are making their way round and I have a great view of Turn 1.
Finally back on solid ground, it’s time to get something to eat. I’ve got about 3 hours before the first V8 race, so I’ve got lots of time to kill. Based on the recommendation of Tessa and the crew this morning, I seek out and find a food truck serving Australian meat pies. A hand-held, meat filled chicken pot pie. I got a fajita chicken/pepper filled pie and it was quite good. Finishing lunch, a three-some asks if they can share the table. I tell them I’m finishing up and the table is all theirs. I ask where they’re from and they all reply “Australia!!!” and proceed to laugh hysterically. Alas, it isn’t the first time I heard that joke, and unfortunately, it won’t be the last time over the course of the weekend.
It’s hotter than usual for this time of year and I’m doing my best to stay hydrated and in the shade as much as possible. The first V8 race isn’t until 3:15, so to keep us entertained, the Pirelli World Challenge is holding a round of their GT/GTS championship. Cars ranging from exotics such as the Audi R8, Nissan GTR, Mercedes SLS and the Cadillac CTS-V.R to race-prepped everyday cars like the new Chevy Camaro, Acura TL, and the Ford Mustang. It’s not exactly the type of racing I was hoping to see, but it’s racing nonetheless.
Where I’m standing in-between Turns 19 and 20, it’s dusty, hot, and completely void of shade so I head back to near my seats where I find some trees and get a quick reprieve from the heat.
The track is now silent as the Pirelli GT/GTS race is over. Race 1 of the Austin 400 will begin shortly. The 2-day race weekend is broken up into four 100 kilometer races – two today and two tomorrow. I’m not used to these sprint races, but it’ll be interesting to see four unique races. I’m back at my seats and before I know it, we’re off and running.
Here are my favorite pictures from Races 1 and 2 both won by Jaime Whincup.
When we arrived at the track this morning, Bobby, Phil, Hazel and I all agreed that we’d call it a day after the second V8 race and skip the final Porsche GT3 race. Race 2 is winding down and I want to get out of the sun and get the car cooled off before everyone gets there. I’m back at the car in no time and Andy’s new loaner truck has first-class air conditioning and it’s cooled off rather quickly. I am, however, spent.
Race 2 is over and here comes the crowd. I scan the parking lot for my guests and I spot Phil and Hazel. We get their equipment loaded up in the back and I’m just about to shut the rear gate when Bobby comes walking up. He’s a nice shade of lobster red from his day in the sun. Even though everyone sprayed on 100 SPF, I think Bobby underestimated the Texas sun. I get a text from Ian and David – they’re taking a taxi home and will take a taxi back to the track in the morning. Ok, that just made tomorrow that much easier.
On our way back we discuss tomorrow’s schedule. Phil and Hazel want to get to the track early-ish for an autograph session. Considering I how tired I am and the fact I have to drive home tomorrow night, I tell the crew I’ll pick them up in the morning, get them to the track where we’ll pick a rendezvous spot, head home to relax before heading back to the track for the return trip home. It’s all settled. I head back to Emily’s where I shower, order a pizza, and call it a night.
Sunday – College Lacrosse and V8 Racing
After a good night’s rest, I’m up and at the Hyatt in no time. Waiting for me out front are Phil and Hazel. No sign of Bobby. I call his room but no answer. Phil and Hazel want to get to the track now and Bobby knows the plan, so we hit the road. With very little traffic, we get to the track quickly and make our way into the parking lot where we find a lot marker and designate that as our rally point. Phil and Hazel are on their way and I’m headed back to Emily’s.
At Emily’s, it’s your typical lazy Sunday morning at the Garrigan residence. Lily and Cam are up and moving about with Emily sitting at her laptop finishing some work and Andy lazing on the couch. We’re watching something random on TV, when Andy switches it over to ESPN for the second round of the college lacrosse playoffs. As long as I’ve known Andy, he’s been a lacrosse coach. From high school club teams, to private summer lessons, to eventually being named the University of Texas lacrosse club head coach earlier this year, it’s been a long time for Andy to finally get the recognition he deserves. Andy’s taught me a thing or two about the sport and I genuinely enjoy watching lacrosse. Today is Duke/Notre Dame and Denver/North Carolina. I don’t remember much about the Duke/ND game, but the Denver/North Carolina game was awesome. Denver was down 8-1 or something like that when they went on a ferocious comeback to win the game 12-11. As cool as that was, this is a racing report, not a lax report.
It’s about noon when I call back to Bobby’s room. This time he answers and I tell him my plan for the day. He was a bit spent from yesterday’s activities and decided to sleep in. And when you consider the races aren’t starting till 3:00, we’re not missing much. I tell him I’ll pick him up around 2 and we’ll be there in time to catch the first race. Done. So I get some lunch – and learn the magical qualities of crock pot cooking – and we watch some more lacrosse.
Right at 2:00, Bobby is waiting out front and we make our way to the track. I park as close to our rally point as possible and we head in. Just as we enter the gates, we’re treated to another flyover, this time right down the main straight, a B-25 Mitchell flanked by three T-6 Texans. Bobby makes his way up Turn 1 and I set up camp just past the start/finish line – I’m not about to make the walk up to Turn 15 again.
It’s not long before the V8’s are on-track for their warm up. Race 3 is moments away.
It’s again blistering hot, so I don’t take many photos, but here are my favorites from Races 3 and 4.
The cars fly past me one after one. There isn’t much to see from my vantage point and there isn’t a whole lot of action into Turn 1 – not as much as at the Turn 15 complex – but the one thing that stays with me: the sound. The deep throaty growl of these engines, especially being this close, is amazing. Turn your speakers up.
Fabian Coulthard finally broke through and won Race 3 while Jaime Whincup returned to the top step of the podium for Race 4. In between Races 3 and 4, I got up to get some shade and a bite to eat. While chowing down on a burrito wrap, I struck up a conversation with another Australian. I asked what he thought of the track, the race, Austin, and his overall experiences being here in Texas. He loved the track and was quite impressed. He was a little disappointed in the race action; he thought they were too passive. He understood why they held back, but it wasn’t what he was used to. He has thoroughly enjoyed his time in Austin. The locals were more than helpful getting him around town and telling him what to see and do. He couldn’t have been more engaging. We chatted for a while until it was time for the final race to begin. We bid each other safe travels and went back to our seats.
Race 4 is about halfway over and I need to get back to the car – both to get out of the heat and get the car cooled off the the group. Bobby makes his way to the car without issue and we drive to our designated spot. Just as we get there, Phil and Hazel are flagging me down. Perfect timing. On our way back up 130, we’re passed by a Mustang “racing” with a Ferrari 458 – it wasn’t even close. But it was funny to watch the Mustang try to keep up. We get back to the hotel and exchange handshakes and business cards. It was a great weekend spent with some new friends. I genuinely enjoyed my time with Bobby, Phil and Hazel.
I get back to Emily’s for a much needed shower. I pack up my stuff and I’m on the road by 7 and home 3 hours later. Part of me is glad to be home, the other part wishes I’d stayed the night and left in the morning; I’m exhausted.
Looking back on the race weekend, some things were great, others need some major rethinking for next year. I absolutely loved the V8 cars and the people I met. Just seeing a different style of racing than what I’ve previously experienced was well worth the trip. The track was, again, brilliant. The Australians I interacted with were fantastic. The schedule, however, was poorly done. This was a V8 Supercars race weekend but there was more racing from the support races than the actual V8s. In the grand scheme of things, there was far too much time in between the V8s being on-track. Qualifying at 11 and then the race 4 hours later? I don’t know who did the scheduling, but that was far too long to wait for the main event. Sure there were support races to keep us entertained. But I wasn’t there to see Minis race Civics or even the beautiful R8 versus the SLS. Granted, had it not been as hot as it was, my opinion might be different. Looking back on the schedule, on Saturday and Sunday, the V8 cars were actually on the track for around 2 hours a day – 4 hours total! The other series combined were on-track for 3 hours on Sunday alone! I understand why they did this, but, come on. I hope I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Scheduling issues aside, the race weekend was a success. With Jaime Whincup winning 3 of the 4 races in front of over 68,000 fans for the entire 3-day event. Granted, that’s not F1’s 250,000+ for 3 days, but it’s still pretty good. Currently, there are scheduling conflicts between the V8 series and the ESPN Summer X-Games being held at COTA in 2014, but I’m sure they’ll work it out in the coming months.
I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the V8 racing and the people I encountered. From my GPT guests to Glenn and other random Australians I met and interacted with over the weekend, I loved every minute of it. While I am excited about the ALMS/WEC race weekend next month as well as the return of F1 in November, I am equally excited about the return of V8 to American shores next year and I look forward to catching up with new friends and making many more.