Austin is the perfect city for a world-class new race track. The city has an endless supply of great restaurants, riveting nightlife, and fun people. Plus it’s accustomed to hosting the much larger SXSW conference. It’s easy enough to get around, and the track is very close to town. Race day traffic was even surprisingly quick. Arriving late Thursday night, I had to tear my friend away from a riveting conversation with a famous MotoGP commentator at some pre-party that sounded like way too much fun for a Thursday night.
We’d rented a 5 bedroom 3 bath house in SoCo for the weekend. 12 of us, in fact. So we didn’t miss the camaraderie of Monterey’s Cannery Row or Indy’s “Motorcycles on Meridien” too much because home was always a party.
Still, we had dinner at Ben Spies’ favorite restaurant, Kenichi, on Friday night after a long day of fun at the track, and checked out some of the local nightlife. Morning practice was interesting, to say the least, as most riders had never laid eyes on this track, much less actually ridden it. Last week, MotoGP star Cal Crutchlow was begging his twitter followers close to home (Isle of Man) to lend him their PS3 of a car racing game for this track. Everyone knew that Circuit of the Americas is like none other on earth, and would therefore present a steep learning curve.
The morning practice sessions were slow, but also interesting because some of the faster riders were slower than the ones we’re used to seeing finish toward the back. Which is part of why they’re faster, because they took the time to really comprehend this difficult track. Despite some of the racers looking like they were pushing way too hard, and couldn’t possibly finish without crashing, they brought it home. The rear wheel slides into some corners were breathtaking. Marquez further cemented his position as more than just MotoGP rookie of the year (the only one on the list, in fact) by not only securing pole position, but beating his seasoned teammate Dani Pedrosa in the race.
The Hondas were a favorite at this track, as the corners are mainly of the “point and shoot” variety. These types of corners favor the more powerful Hondas over the more lithe yet underpowered Yamahas. Yamaha fan favorite Valentino Rossi was a bit more dour than usual in predicting it would be impossible for him to win, the most he could hope for would be a podium finish.
Yet his rival Cal Crutchlow finished ahead of him, despite being on the second-tier Tech3 bike and having predicted finishing no higher than 6th. While Vale is clearly stoked to be back on a very competitive bike, it’s also clear that Cal’s desperate hunger to get that factory seat in 2014 is a more high-octane fuel than Vale’s gratitude. This will be a truly exciting season, between Crutchlow’s drive for the top seat and Marquez eclipsing the Repsol team favorite Dani Pedrosa.
On Saturday around lunchtime I walked around with a friend who’s also an umbrella girl and race fan. We walked to the iconic tower, and explored the entire vendor area, searching for the Paella joint she’d seen the day before at the Main Grandstand vendor area. We didn’t find one by the tower, but there was an incredible variety of interesting, healthy food available. Prices are high, but I’d rather pay $9 for a couple of tasty empanadas than $5 for the same nasty burger I can get at any race track in America.
We didn’t walk up the tower because it’s the same price to walk up as it is to ride the elevator, a steep $25 for 10 minutes above it all. Photographer Jules Cisek took advantage of the Friday access for photographers and got some amazing shots, like this one.
There’s also a massive ampitheater, which seriously dwarfed the band playing to a handful of people while the Bridgestone, Yamaha, Ducati and Honda vendor tents that ringed it were jam-packed with fans. The track is gorgeous, and there are great views of the racing action from just about anywhere you stop, which makes walking a lot more pleasant.
I only wish there was a tunnel under the front straight for those of us in the paddock who want to visit the main grandstand vendors. The shuttle service was great, though. The grandstands flanking the front straight have a jumbotron for the Main Grandstand ticket holders, and a microtron for the paddock VIP pass holders, which was decent. That was still ok, because it came with so many other perks like paddock access and monitors inside the luxurious dining room.
Austin nightlife was wonderful, as expected. Making it even better was The One Motorcycle Show, a show of stunning vintage custom bikes. The show was so much more than that, with a killer DJ, a bar, a coffee bar from LA’s Handsome Coffee Roasters, local Derby girls on patrol rolling through the show to make sure people like me stayed off the bikes. Clearly that wasn’t the best strategy.
After the One Show, we went to cramped and artsy dive bar with chandeliers and PBR art that played only 90’s hiphop to a very hipster, mostly white crowd. Like most of Austin, actually. It’s not quite as sharply segregated as it was when I visited in 2007, but it’s still no NYC. We’ll definitely return next year.
Photo Credit: Jules Cisek
Susanna Schick is a fashion designer, racing correspondent and alternative energy evangelist based in Los Angeles. She rides a gas-powered Yamaha R1 and electric Zero FX.