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Past and present Formula 1 drivers rave about Circuit of The Americas
Patrick Dempsey (L) and Mario Andretti
For the past two years the primary sounds emanating from the new Circuit of The Americas race track have been those of construction crews operating heavy equipment and carpenters hammering together buildings and grandstands. That all changed Oct. 21, when the sounds the track was created to produce – those of race car engines – finally filled the air.

A host of race car drivers from across the country had a chance to take the first high-speed test drives on the track today. But the stars of today’s First Lap Ceremony at the Circuit were American racing legend Mario Andretti, actor and part-time race driver Patrick Dempsey and Lotus F1 Team driver Jerome D’Ambrosio, putting a Lotus F1 Team car, the R30, through its paces, just one month before the Circuit opens to the public for the inaugural FORMULA 1 UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX.

Andretti, the only driver to win both Indy Car and Formula One World Championships™, expressed pleasure with the end result. “It’s everything I expected, and more,” Andretti said. “You can tell that there was a lot of thought put into the design of this course. The track is extremely technical, with 3.4 miles of real estate to learn.  And that’s what we’re doing all day out here.  With each and every lap, the driver learns a little bit more. But quite honestly, I think the track is phenomenal. It has all the features that race car drivers are looking for, as far as giving them the opportunity to overtake other drivers in the tighter corner. But then it widens out so there’s plenty of room to maneuver.

“So bottom line, there should be some really terrific racing out here in the months and years to come,” he added.

Patrick Dempsey, perhaps better known in his role as a doctor on the television series, Grey’s Anatomy, is also a part-time race car driver and racing team owner. He’s now in his fourth full season of racing, campaigning a Mazda RX-8 in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car series.  Last year he and his racing team finished a career-best third in the 24 Hours of Daytona.  This marked his first time behind the wheel of an F1 car.

“Frankly, it was a really great experience for me to get behind the wheel of an F1 car for the first time.  I was in one of the first cars to go around the track, which was a great honor.

“I see this track being really great for the Austin area, and great for motor racing, too. I think all the drivers are really going to be excited to have the opportunity to come racing here.  Not only is it a thrilling course, it’s a very technical course. There are some genuine challenges out there, too. There are some technical aspects of the track that are really going to challenge a driver’s skills.  It’s a very fast track, and has a great rhythm to it.

“I think Circuit of The Americas will have a spill-over effect on all of auto racing, specifically a renewed interest in road racing in this country. I’m hoping that it helps us return to the hey-day of road racing that we enjoyed back in the fifties and sixties,” he added.

Dempsey also believes the new circuit will be very important for building the F1 brand here.

“They’ve never really had a home base, here in the United States,” Dempsey noted.  “Although they worked really hard to make a go of it at Indy, things just didn’t work out.  So I think Circuit of The Americas represents a real opportunity to re-establish F1 brand and experience in the U.S. market again, and start to develop a good strong relationship with the American fan base. “

Also commenting on the virtues of the track was Lotus F1 Team test driver, Jerome D’Ambrosio. “The track is going to provide plenty of challenges.  It has several unique features that make it quite complex.  It will challenge the skills of even the most experienced drivers,” D’Ambrosio said. “It will certainly expose any weaknesses a driver may have, especially when it comes to handling the cars through the turns, especially the esses in turns 12 to 15,” he said.

D’Ambrosio, who had never driven on an American racetrack prior to today, also had good things to say about Austin as an F1 host city. “I see the whole event will having a personality all of its own, and in some ways reflecting the character and temperament of Austin as well as providing a positive exposure for the Texas culture.”
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