I’ve been a car lover for as long as I can remember. From the Hot Wheels I owned as a kid to the sports car pictures adorning my binders in middle school to my current obsession with many modes of transportation (including a very temperamental E46 330i), cars have been a huge part of my life.
On my most recent trip to Austin, apart from reuniting with my college flatmates Jay, James, & Kevin, sampling barbecue and brews, and exploring the many sights that make Austin such a wonderful and weird city, I got to experience the first car race of my life. And what better race for this moment than the Formula 1 United States Grand Prix?
To the uninitiated, Formula 1 hosts races for the fastest road course racing cars in the world. The race cars look like giant go-karts with massive wings and high-pitched engine screams, hitting speeds of up to 230 mph. The sport’s traditional fan base is in Europe but has expanded worldwide over the years.
There are currently 21 races (each race is a Grand Prix) at designated race tracks around the globe. The United States Grand Prix at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas race track is a relatively new location, having started in 2012. So you could imagine my excitement at the opportunity to be part of the 270,000 fans that attended the race over the weekend.
Before the Race
On Sunday morning, our group enjoyed breakfast in downtown Austin before boarding a shuttle at the Austin Convention Center to get to the track. The ride took about 25 minutes as we headed southeast to the outskirts of the city. Stepping off the bus, we were immediately greeted by the sounds of race car engines echoing through the air.
We trudged up a small hill to reach the front gate, went through the security lines, and found ourselves standing in the crowds at the Circuit of the Americas. First order of business? Pick up some sweet F1 merch to commemorate our inaugural Grand Prix. The atmosphere was festive – a live band greeted us at the entrance while people milled about with food and beer, wearing the colors and gear of their favorite team. The entire place reminded me of a music festival.
There was still some time before the start of the race, so we walked around the Grand Plaza, the hub for crowds, merchant booths, and food. The entire venue was huge. It wasn’t just the race track and plaza, the place had an amphitheater, game zone, sports bar, and even a “Super Stage” festival lawn. Taylor Swift had performed there the previous evening.
James, Jay, Kevin, and I spent some time looking at all the awesome (and pricey) merchandise at the team booths. We took pictures next to cardboard cutouts of our favorite race car drivers. We bought some food and chilled on the grassy lawn area next to a giant pool. Before long, it was time for the race.
The Grand Prix!
We grabbed some beers and beelined to our bleachers at Turn 12. As the bleachers loomed into view, I couldn’t believe my eyes. These were multi-story structures that blocked out the sun at the base. They put the ones I sat on in high school to shame. After trudging up to the top, I experienced the most breathtaking moment of the day – getting a unobstructed view of the entire race track.
It was a beautiful, sunny day and excitement filled the air as thousands of fans took their seats for the race. After the National Anthem, a squadron of military helicopters flew overhead as the crowds cheered. The racers took their places at the starting grid and we heard the roar of the engines as the cars took off. The race had begun!
Turn 12 was one of the best places to watch the race. The cars would scream down the straightaway before heavily braking and sharply turning left, which meant we would have the most opportunities to see exciting overtakes. Over the next couple hours, we spotted drivers skillfully maneuvering their cars to avoid collision, a couple of cars breaking down, and a last-minute push by a veteran for a controversial but ultimately successful overtake to snatch fifth place.
While the race itself was exciting, the outcome played out fairly predictably. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, who won 3 of the last 4 races here, won this year’s race by a comfortable margin. His teammate Nico Rosberg finished second and still has a big lead in points to win this year’s champion title.
And with that the 2016 US Grand Prix was over. We spent a bit more time at the circuit grounds before taking the shuttle back to the city. Over the next day or so we eagerly followed news outlets recapping the race and read about the exciting possibilities for the rest of the season.
Attending the United States Grand Prix was an amazing way to check off a bucket list item, and I had an absolute blast at the event. This was my first race but definitely not my last one, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself back at a Grand Prix in the near future, whether it’s in beautiful Austin or another incredible city around the world!