Circuit of the Americas impresses hardcore racing fans

As cars began roaring around the track today, Turn 1 — the highest spot on the track — caught a lot of buzz.

Bruce Mahoney, 62, from Paducah, Ky., said the track is “unbelievable."

“This is phenomenal," said Mahoney, who has attended eight races in Indianapolis. “It’s a very, very technical track."

Overlooking the Turn 1, Mahoney made his prediction for the race: 26-year-old French Lotus driver Romain “Grosjean will never make it past this first turn."

Damian Mayo, 32, a Formula 1 fan from Cleveland, Ohio, said Austin is his first race. “The views are great," he said. “The track’s beautiful."

Scott Samsom and Helga Siegel of San Diego were among fans who lined up six-deep around the autograph tent and waited more than an hour to catch a glimpse of drivers Kamui Kobayashi and Sergio Perez.

Sansom and Siegel lived in Texas in the 1980s and 1990s and have followed F1 for more than a decade.

They flew to Austin on Tuesday — “Pretty much the first thing we did was go Salt Lick, and we saw some race fans with the biggest beer cooler I’d ever seen," Siegel said — and said they were struck by how much Austin has grown.

Siegel said she was impressed that Circuit of the Americas was able to move from the initial announcement of the race in 2010 to opening the track in such a relatively short span of time.

When two SUVs finally pulled up and Kobayashi and Perez were hustled past, Sansom and Siegel were among the first in the throng to start cheering.

“Kobayashi gave me a thumbs up!" Siegel yelled. “He gave me a thumbs up!"

Zach Allen, a 23-year-old Purdue University student, was among those who rented a FanVision device. The monitor on the handheld computer, which is bigger than a smartphone but smaller than an iPad, gives on-board video from the cars and race statistics, among other features.

Lines to get one of the popular devices stretched a few hundred people deep early on Friday, and rental booths remained busy all morning and into the afternoon.

The devices for serious fans can be rented for $80 for the weekend or daily for $39, but there are limited numbers of FanVisions, which fans have been able to reserve ahead of time.

Allen, who said he was hooked on F1 since the 2010 championship, is staying in Manchaca, south of Austin, in a short-term rental.

“I don’t need anything crazy. I don’t need a fancy hotel," he said. “I’m here to watch a race."

A fan of Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, Allen said he hasn’t been to Austin since he was a child, but has been enjoying the city’s bars this time around, the Gingerman in particular.

“I don’t think it could go better," Allen said, then paused he for a second and noted that a VIP pass might slightly improve the race for him.

But if there is one thing that bugs Allen about the F1 experience, it is the race’s reputation as a set of elitist events. It’s not a “glitzy, glammy thing," like some media outlets have portrayed it, he said.

“There are tons of people here that are just your average kind of person," Allen said.

One beer vendor at the track, who declined to give his name, was having a good time as he tried to sell cold Budweiser cans on Friday.

He might have drawn some attention to himself and the cold beer, but Anheuser-Busch might not be too excited about his jocular sales tactics.

“Get your over-priced beer here," he said. “We want to charge you up the wazoo here."

The vendor also noted that the $8.50 beers would cost a customer just $2 anywhere else. “It’s your own fault for not pre-gaming," the vendor said. The Statesman

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