There were two events of note in Elroy, Texas on Sunday afternoon: the FM 812 Outdoor Flea Market, and the opening day and ribbon cutting ceremony at the Circuit of the Americas race track where Formula One will be held in just a few weeks.
I went to the latter, because that one had famous racing drivers, celebrities, exotic cars, and a whole bunch of beautiful women. Free water bottles and Pirelli hats, too! This is just how I roll in Austin on Sundays.
The event was perhaps Austin's first real taste of the sights, sounds and smells of F1 racing. Our city will host the inaugural U.S. Grand Prix the weekend of Nov. 16. True, there have been events at the track before, but nothing like this. It was also the most complete iteration I've seen of the 20 turn, 3.4 mile track, which promoters say is the first modern purpose-built F1 track in the U.S.
The first thing that greeted the members of the media (including international motorsports reporters and local journalists with varying knowledge of F1; one hapless fellow asked, "What's Pirelli?") who stepped off the shuttles was the gaggle of supercars lined up near the paddock. These were brought by
lucky rich bastards so-called VIPs who would later have a chance to whip them around the track.
They weren't messing around. There was a host of Lamborghinis, a McLaren MP4-12C, several Ferrari F430s, a couple FFs, and far and away most notably, an F40. This was my first time seeing one in person. Yes, it was a religious experience, in case you're wondering.
Also on display were a ton of race-prepped cars from various series, including a Porsche GT3, an Audi TT-RS, and the mid-engine Corvette they race in Grand Am. There was also a Lotus F1 car they were letting people sit in, and some folks got rides around the track in F1 three-seaters.
We were then treated to the actual ribbon cutting on the track, which was immediately followed by the highlight of the day: some hot laps around the track by Mario Andretti. Apparently, he was supposed to do it in the Renault R30 car from the 2010 F1 season, but it was having some issues that day.
Instead, Andretti did it in a John Player Special Lotus 79 Cosworth, the same kind of car he used to win the championship in 1978. No one was arguing with that.
If you've never heard the sound of an F1 car going around a track, especially one of that vintage, I can now tell you from experience that it is the most insane, unholy, ear-shattering noise on the planet — but in a good way. Hearing Andretti go flat out on the stretch before dropping through the gears to go around the hairpin Turn 1 was something I will never forget. I can't wait to hear more of it in a few weeks.
Other than Andretti, Lotus reserve driver Jérôme d'Ambrosio and noted racing enthusiast Patrick "McDreamy" Dempsey were there. (He was the second handsomest Patrick at the track besides me, obviously.) Also, a colleague of mine reported that Ryan Gosling* was there. I talked to him for a minute about that vintage, white two-seater Ferrari without ever realizing it was him. He's a pretty nice guy, and he must have been hot in that blazer.
And then there were speeches by dignitaries like Texas Comptroller Susan Combs and Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gomez... but I know you don't care about that stuff. You care about cars! So click through the gallery and tell me what your favorites were.
Until now, when I've written about F1 in Austin, it's all been in kind of a conceptual sense. But things got real today. This is actually happening, and I'm pretty excited about it. I hope Austin can pull it off.
*Update: Officials at COTA have informed me that this fellow was not Canadian heartthrob actor Ryan Gosling, which was tweeted by local media, but rather Austin fashion deisgner Ross Bennett! Sorry to disappoint, Jalop-ettes.