The Sunday of race weekend is always bittersweet for me. I’m tired from all of the walking the previous two days, so a part of me is ready for things to be over that afternoon, but the other part of me knows that means it’ll be a while before I’m around all of this again. I know I’ve said it before, but I absolutely love being at a race, so the “I don’t want Sunday to come” side of me usually wins out. Today, however, was slightly different.
As part of our 2-race credentials purchased through IndyCar Nation, we each got a hot lap ride, scheduled for Sunday morning as the track was opening. This meant we had to be up really early, arriving at the track around 7:30 at the latest. Bayley’s alarm actually failed to go off, so she didn’t wake up until about 6:45am when I started texting her asking why she hadn’t arrived at the hotel yet. No biggie, she hopped in her Jeep and got to the hotel around 7am, at which point we hopped the shuttle and got to the track in plenty of time. For those doing this or a 2-seater ride before the track opens in the future, head over to the credentials gate for track access, which this year was just south of gate 5, as that’s the only gate open before the track opens each day (track map for reference).
On arrival, we headed over to the check in desk near the turn 2 safety break, which was the same area Bayley checked in for her 2-seater ride in 2016. Check in for the hot lap was pretty quick, sign your life away, put on a headsock, helmet and HANS device, and wait for you turn! Check out both pics in this post:
I think we were in the 3rd group to go, and thankfully they were able to do 1 rider per car vs 2, as the back seats in those Chevy Camaros are pretty small for someone my size. I’d have sacrificed myself to sit in the back seat so Bayley had a full view, but I’m glad we were both able to sit in front of our own cars.
We had an absolute blast on our laps, as you can see in my video. Sorry it’s not stabilized, I had my gimbal set up for the 360 cam and decided to shoot this with my phone at the last minute due to the overall weight and profile of the 360 setup, so the gimbal wasn’t in a state to be used with my phone.
So. Much. Fun. One of these days I’ll make it into a 2-seater, but for now, the hot lap in a Camaro will do just fine 🙂
Once our ride ended and we handed our safety gear back over, we headed out to get Bayley some coffee before we entered the pits for the final round of IndyCar practice. As I mentioned earlier, we spent way more time on pit road than we did the last two years, and loved every minute of it. Looking back, I don’t think we walked the paddock more than 5 times, which a part of me regrets from a picture-taking aspect, but we love being on pit road, as you can see. We strolled up and down a couple of times again, stopping to watch teams practicing their stops, as we did with Newgarden here:
Once practice ended, it was time to get some breakfast, which today consisted of an Italian sausage for me and some mac and cheese from the Outback stand for Bayley (that was really good, btw), which we took over to the grassy area leading into turn 10 so we could watch the second PWC GTS race. While watching, I happened to be down at the fence line shooting with my 360 cam when a little on-track skirmish happened. Here’s the aftermath, during which I happened to catch one of my favorite Tampa / St Pete area IGers, Andrew Kramer, standing there in the photographer’s bib shooting from that front row spot (Andrew’s definitely worth the IG follow!). I need to get off my butt and process that 360 video to see how much of the wreck is visible.
Shortly after, I just happened to be on Twitter and saw that Vasser Sullivan IndyCar was playing a little scavenger hunt game with a team hat:
That looked a lot like the bench area near Mahaffey Theater, so I headed up to look, and sure enough, it was! I’m a fan of Bourdais and especially of Jimmy Vasser (one of my all-time favorite drivers), but we decided to leave this behind in the hopes that a kid looking for a team to follow might find it and give them a new fan, which did end up happening a little later in the morning. Yay! She must have brought some good luck to the eventual race winners, too!
Our little scavenger hunt over, we spent some time in the paddock checking out the final prep work going on, and getting in a driver pic or two. I actually almost got run over by Hinch on his scooter (100% because I was in the way and not paying attention) right before he stopped to take this picture:
After spending a while in there we grabbed a quick snack before heading to the pits for the grid walk, which is probably the busiest pit road gets all weekend. For those that are unfamiliar, it’s exactly what it sounds like, a time where, if you have the right access, you get to walk up and down pit road among the cars as they are lined up for the start. You don’t necessarily have to have pit lane access for this, as you can also get there via the Champions Club benefits that the GPStPete organizers offer. No one without IndyCar credentials is allowed on the actual pit road stretch until all the cars come out, however, so things get pretty congested in the area behind the pits leading up to it. After you’re allowed on, it’s a bit of a madhouse. Frankly, I kinda feel bad for the teams, as they’re having to move cars and equipment through that huge crowd of people. There’s a ton of honking and yelling for people to get out of the way as a result. Regardless, it’s a blast!
I also put together a 360 degree video tour of the grid walk, so if your machine has the horsepower, check it out. If you’ve got some sort of VR headset (Google Cardboard, etc) that you can watch it with, even better! One of these days I’ll get the Hyperframe (standard view) version up for the 360 degree-challenged among us :).
Once the grid walk was over, it was out of the pits for us. Not having a “race mode” sticker means no watching the race from pit lane, unfortunately (one of these years we’ll figure it out), and having decided against grandstand seats, we headed over to the Pioneer Park side of the track, since we’d never watched any previous track action from over there. My only complaint was a lack of video board in that far area of the track, so it was hard to keep up with what was going on, as cell towers were pretty well saturated, and refreshing in the IndyCar app just wasn’t working. I think we stayed here for about 15-20 minutes before we moved over to the area between T5 and T6 where there’s a video board
The race itself was great, some of the best on-track action I’ve seen in the past couple of years, and while I was gutted for Robert Wickens getting booted near the end of the race after basically dominating the whole thing, I was happy to see Bourdais and the Vasser Sullivan / DCR team take the checkered flag to make it back to back Firestone GP wins for him. Last year we actually got to be in one of the post-race pics with him and the car, again thanks to IndyCar Nation! This year immediately following the race we headed back to the hotel. I’d have loved to stay for the second PWC GT race afterwards, but with a 10 hour drive home that night, I needed to get moving.
Once again, it was an outstanding weekend of racing, with a great show put on by the promoters, IndyCar, World Challenge, and all of the ladder series. I also owe another huge thank you to Riley, James, and everyone at IndyCar Nation for making it an extra special weekend with the Helio Q&A, Fast 6 press conference, meet-up, and of course the hot lap! There’s no other fan community in sports like ICN in my opinion :). We’ve got one more race on our 2-race pass, which will likely be Mid-Ohio, a track I haven’t been to since 1995. Very much looking forward to it! Bayley and I have done 8 races together over the past 8 years, and frankly there’s no one I’d rather spend my days at the track with!
On the flip side, I’m still a little mad at you, Target…