A Weekend at the 2018 Grand Prix of St Petersburg

I’m a little late getting this out considering the race happened three weeks ago, but hey, better late than never! This is the 3rd year in a row that Bayley and I have attended the Grand Prix of St Pete, and while I did write about it in 2016, I never got around to it last year for some reason, so I’ll make up for that by being extra wordy this time. One thing to note here, I’m not going to cover the race itself, there are plenty of motorsports writers who do it for a living that cover it far better than I could. If you’re looking for well-written recaps, hit up TrackSide Online or the IndyCar section of Racer’s site. I’ll be talking to our experience as fans at the track, and maybe throwing in some tips along the way!

In past years, we’ve purchased grandstand seats in turn 10, along with paddock and pit passes. This year we decided to do something different and go with a 2-race credential package through IndyCar Nation, IndyCar’s fan community. Those give you general admission access to the track, along with paddock and pit access, so we were only losing grandstand seats, which really wasn’t a big deal to us, as we prefer to check out the action from various locations around the track. As the site indicates, it also gets you a hot lap, a big added bonus in my eyes. Being an actual IndyCar-issued hard card doesn’t hurt either!

When I’m attending races, I like to spend as much time at the track as possible, so I’m usually there around the time the gates opened. On Friday I was entering alone, as Bayley had a couple of classes at Eckerd and wouldn’t be arriving at the track until around 1pm. No problem, I hopped the free shuttle from the Hollander and was on my way, arriving at the track right about 8am. Friday mornings tend to be the least busy time of the weekend, so I usually end up doing a ton of walking, trying to cover as much of the track as possible while things are quiet. When I arrived this time, the PWC area was first up. I wanted to go check out Flying Lizard’s space, as they were back with a couple of Audi R8 LMS GT4s this year. Sure, their Porsche liveries are classic, but as an Audi owner, I do love the R8 ūüôā

The walk over there isn’t a short one, and thanks to the security area between the PWC and IndyCar paddocks, isn’t always an easy one either. We did the walk a couple of times on Saturday last year and were less than impressed with the speed of the lone security checkpoint between paddocks used for the return trip, as the line to go through the metal detector could get pretty long. They did move the security location closer to the pedestrian bridge between T2 and T3 this year, but it’s still basically a funnel into a single metal detector. As much as I’d have liked to visit the PWC side more, that security gate made me decide to stick to only two visits, and only on Friday.

After a long walk up and down their paddock area checking out a number of teams, I headed back over to the IndyCar side to catch PWC¬† practice and USF2000 qualifying from the pits. The best place to be for any on-track action in my opinion is the pits, as there’s nothing like hanging out back there watching the teams go to work. Honestly, pit passes may be pricey, but they’re worth every penny. The only Indycar session we didn’t take in from pit lane was the actual race on Sunday, but only because we didn’t have race mode tags allowing us to be there. One of these years we’ll figure out how to get our hands on those!

While I was down there taking in the action, I got a text from Riley, who runs the IndyCar Nation program, asking if Bayley and I wanted to sit front row for the Friday Q&A session with Helio Castroneves. Heck yea I did! This is just a small example of why IndyCar Nation is the best fan community in sports, and easily worth the price of admission. Helio’s session was being held at 12:30 in the Mahaffey Center, shortly after IndyCar practice wrapped up, so I texted Bayley to see if she’d be at the track by then. She seriously considered skipping class, but with a quiz scheduled decided to stay, so I went alone. The event was a blast, Helio’s very well spoken and has a ton of interesting stories to tell. Here’s a clip of him talking about last year’s Indy 500:

At the end, he even did a little video selfie for the promoters, which I’m visible in! Bottom of the video in the white shirt with the huge grin on my face:

About the time Helio’s session ended, Bayley arrived at the track, so I met her outside the paddock near the bridge at the gate 5 entrance. Shortly after she arrived, we grabbed some lunch from one of the stands in the main shopping district (for lack of a better term) between the Dali museum and the front stretch grandstands. The food’s mostly the type of thing you’d find at a fair/carnival, so expensive and bad for you, but super tasty. I hadn’t eaten all morning, and the foot long corn dog I inhaled really hit the spot, while destroying the diet I’ve been working on for the past two months.

After lunch, we decided to take a stroll over to the PWC/support series side again so she could check it out before the security area got overloaded. Thankfully things moved pretty well and she got to check out the whole area before we headed back over to catch more pit road action as Indy Lights qualifying was starting, followed by more PWC action and IndyCar practice session #2. Is there anything better than the sound of those cars?

After a full day at the track, mostly spent on pit lane, we headed out to get some rest before enjoying a delicious dinner at Hawkers with Bayley and one of her roommates. Day 1 was a success, and we still had two more days to go!

Up next on page 2, Saturday at the track!

A Weekend at the 2016 Grand Prix of St Pete

Last week I took a few days off and headed down to Florida to hang out with the kid. This wasn’t just any random trip, however, it’s one we’ve been planning for a few months now. Her school is about 10 minutes from the location of the IndyCar season opener, the Grand Prix of St Petersburg, and being big IndyCar fans, seemed like the perfect location to blow my annual racing budget. There’s nothing better than a street race, and mid-March in St Pete seemed about perfect.

Since she already had a place to stay, I just needed somewhere for me to sleep. Looking at the hotel situation back in early January, I could see I was going to have to get creative. Many of the downtown hotels were near capacity, and the cheapest rates I was finding started at ~$200/night for what are normally low budget hotels, climbing to over $400/night for the 3 and 4 star stuff. That just wasn’t going to work. After a quick search on Airbnb, I found a perfect little studio-ish apartment for 1 that was easily within walking distance from the track. Great, quiet little place with parking that wasn’t more than a 10min walk to the track’s gates, all for a total cost of what the average one night hotel stay in downtown would be.

I drove down Wednesday, with an overnight stop in Ocala so I could arrive in downtown St Pete on Thursday morning. My timing was intentional, as (with a huge amount of help from someone at IndyCar) I’d managed to secure an early birthday present for Bayley, a ride around the track in one of the two-seaters on Thursday at noon. I got in around 10am Thursday just to scout things out, and quickly realized that St Pete doesn’t do things like Baltimore did. At those races, the track and paddock areas weren’t closed in on Thursday, you could walk around pretty freely and check out the activity as the IndyCar and support series teams were unloading the transporters. At St Pete, the track is totally enclosed by Thursday morning, and unless you’ve got a reason to be in there, it’s not happening. A shame if you ask me, as we saw a lot of locals in Baltimore walking around and checking things out. It’s the kind of thing that could possibly draw interest from people who hadn’t planned on buying tickets, if you ask me.

Bayley got in to downtown about 11am and met up with me at a parking garage near the track. After a short walk back to the entrance gate, we presented her IndyCar Experience ticket and walked back to the area near pit exit where the IndyCar Experience haulers were located. Check-in was pretty quick, and gave us a few minutes to relax while we waited for the event to start. While walking around right there, we saw both Mario Andretti and Davey Hamilton come over, both of whom were drivers for the experience. A few shots from prior to her ride:

IMG_6595 IMG_6598 IMG_6599 IMG_6601 IMG_6605 IMG_6606 IMG_6613

After everyone was ready, they walked them across pit exit to where the 3 two-seaters were set up between turns 1 and 2. Everyone already had their fire suits on, but were given headsocks and helmets. Bayley went out in the first group of three, with Davey Hamilton driving her car. Being in that first group proved to be a lucky thing, as for whatever reason, they did two laps, not the usual one lap the groups behind them got. After getting back and hopping out of the car, I could see by the look on her face she had an absolute blast. Again, I can’t thank IndyCar enough for setting this up for us at the last minute. Without giving anything away, I’d like to send a huge thank you to a few key people over there (you know who you are :)). A really special gesture that neither of us will soon forget.

IMG_6618 IMG_6620 IMG_6622 IMG_6624 IMG_6628

Friday morning started with me walking the track alone as soon as the gates opened. A good friend of Bayley’s had been in town all week, heading back to her school early afternoon that day, so it gave me a chance to check things out, having never been to this race. For this one, I’d bought grandstand seats near the top of GS 23, which is in turn 10 (here’s the track map for reference), and had also purchased both pit and paddock passes for us. To me, paddock passes are a must for any race, as it gives you closer access to the teams and drivers. We’ve had it for every race (both IndyCar and IMSA) we’ve been to, but this was the first time she was old enough for actual pit passes (generally have to be 18), so I spent the extra money on those, too. Well worth the added cost in my opinion, but more on that later.

Walking around, I found the atmosphere to be pretty much what I expected, sort of a street carnival setup on the inside of the track, with a lot of food, drink, and other vendors all over the track. Plenty of race viewing areas for general admission ticket holders, too. I walked up to our grandstands to see how good the seats were, and was pleasantly surprised at the view, as GS23 provides a great look at the straight coming in to turn 10 and on to Dan Wheldon Way:

IMG_6921

After watching some of the USF200 and Pro Mazda practice, I headed across the pedestrian bridge to the paddock area for the Pirelli World Challenge and Indy Lights teams. Both had track time coming up, and as I got over there, the Lights teams were already heading to pit lane for morning practice. All of the Pirelli teams were hard at work, however, as they had GT, GTA, and GT Cup qualifying after Lights was done with practice.

IMG_6659 IMG_6660 IMG_6662 IMG_6665 IMG_6669 IMG_6672 IMG_6675

After a short walk through the pits during Pirelli qualifying, I headed out to meet Bayley and her friend for a late breakfast. They were headed to the airport after that, so I ended up getting a little more track time by myself before Bayley made it over a little after noon. We spent the day enjoying the pits, walking the various paddock areas, and even taking in something we’d never seen live before, the practice session for the Stadium Super Truck series. Wow. Those things are so cool to watch in person. We hung out near our grandstands for them, as they had a ramp set up just outside of turn 10, in full view of our seats. They raced both Saturday and Sunday, and we made sure to catch both races, those things are cool, just hit play on the video below to check em out:

 

IMG_6889

The weekend was pretty much the same activity on our part both Saturday and Sunday, meaning we spent a lot of time walking the paddock, pits and enjoying some activity from our seats, but the highlights pretty much revolved around those pit passes. They weren’t cheap (especially since they required purchasing grandstand seats), but they were worth every penny in our opinion. They give you access to the pits pretty much any time other than the actual IndyCar race on Sunday. We watched practice and portions of races for the various support series from pit lane, as well as all IndyCar practices and qualifying. It’s so much fun to be standing right there watching the teams work. The walkway between the team equipment areas and front-straight grandstands is pretty narrow, too, so you really have to be cognizant of what’s going on around you, too. Teams have a job to do, and need to be able to get up and down that lane on their carts to shuttle parts and equipment between the pits and transporters.

IMG_6687 IMG_6689 IMG_6693 IMG_6707 IMG_6824 IMG_6960 IMG_6964 IMG_6977 IMG_7042 IMG_7055 IMG_7070 IMG_7089 IMG_7093 IMG_7357 IMG_7368

One cool thing were the pit lane monitors they put up every few pit stalls. During practice and qualifying, it allowed us an easy way to keep current on how things were going on track. We were also constantly running in to drivers and owners walking around down there. The highlight of our time in the pits had to be during the IndyCar pre-race, however. For those with pit access, you can go out on to pit road for the grid walk, checking out all the last minute activity going on, this time from the other side of pit wall. It was pretty cool, and we even ended up on camera during pre-race. We’re standing on the left hand side over Allen Bestwick’s shoulder. Next to that screenshot is a pic I took of them a second before:

20160319_145315433_iOSIMG_7519

Here are a few grid -walk pictures, as well:

IMG_7480 IMG_7481 IMG_7490 IMG_7494 IMG_7496 IMG_7499 IMG_7503 IMG_7511 IMG_7515 IMG_7516 IMG_7522 IMG_7534

After all of the drivers have arrived following introductions, they start to move out anyone who doesn’t have a team related hard card or a “race mode” tag on their pit pass. Even though we had neither, we did manage to hang out on pit lane for the start of the race and the first few laps before they finally noticed and sent us on our way. Here are a few shots I got prior to getting kicked out of the pits, including one of an¬†early stop by Hinchcliffe after he suffered a cut tire:

IMG_7539 IMG_7552 IMG_7556 IMG_7558

We did head to our grandstand after that, watching the rest of the race from our seats. We had a great view from GS23, but next time we have to figure out how to get hot-passes, as I think we’d have both preferred the excitement of watching all the activity from pit lane!

This is the 3rd different street course we’ve been to together for an IndyCar race (having done Long Beach and Baltimore as well) and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The city and race organizers definitely know how to put on a good show, and should we get the chance next year, we’ll definitely be back. I’d hoped to make the inaugural Boston Grand Prix¬†in September, but I’m pretty sure I’ve blown my racing budget for the year. It was all money well spent though, a truly amazing weekend hanging out with Bayley watching¬†something we both love ūüôā

Here are a few shots of Bayley with some of our favorite drivers. For more, including a few video clips, check out my personal Instagram feed¬†and all of the pictures I’ve posted on our SmugMug site, they’re both full of stuff from the weekend.

Oh, and congrats to JPM, heck of a drive to win that race!

IMG_7029 IMG_7035 IMG_7037 IMG_7172 IMG_7426 IMG_7432

Roar Before the 24

Last weekend I decided to take a very last minute drive down to Daytona for an event I’ve never attended, the Roar Before the 24. For those not familiar with it, the Roar is a 3 day test at Daytona International Speedway for those teams competing in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, which Bayley and I have attended twice, including last year. Being unable to attend the 24 this year, I needed a racing fix before she¬†and I head to the Grand Prix of St Petersburg in March, so late¬†last week I decided I’d give the Roar a try.

IMSA and the speedway put in a lot of effort to ensure people have a good time here. The speedway hosts Scout Days, where Scouts and their families can purchase tickets allowing them to camp in the infield, fish in the lake, and take in the various activities the Roar itself offers. Pretty cool stuff, but what about the rest of us? Well, for $15 per day (or free if you already have Rolex 24 tickets), you get to:

  • Park in the infield
  • Have full garage access to¬†both the CTSC and WeatherTech paddock areas
  • Take guided tours of the garage
  • Participate in fan forums
  • Watch the on-track action during

So basically, you get a lot of the same benefits you can get for the 24, but for a lot less money. Sure, there’s no actual race going on, and unless you’re a Scout you can’t stay overnight, but frankly I had a blast while I was there. I spent the vast majority of my time in the WeatherTech paddock, with some walking of the infield thrown in. I can’t speak to how the fan forums or garage tours were, as I skipped both. I actually meant to check out the fan forum, but totally forgot about it while walking the paddock Saturday afternoon.

Some tips for those who go in future years:

Parking

When driving into the infield, come in through the turn 1 tunnel. Personally, I like that tunnel better, and it puts you closer to better parking. I came in this way Sunday morning, and ended up with a front row parking spot¬†not far from¬†where the Porsche car corral normally is during the 24. Here’s ¬†clip of some of the on-track action while I was standing in front of my car on Sunday:

You can still get to that area if you come in the turn 4 tunnel, I just like the turn 1 entrance better. I did come in turn 4 Saturday morning, and ended up parking over by all the driver and crew rental cars. I only know this because I encountered drivers coming and going from the area more than once Saturday, including Dion von Moltke and Bruno Junqueira, which was pretty cool.

Garage

Enjoy the garage access. Seriously. Some of the best times to be in there were when the cars were heading to and from the pits, and while they were on track. Sure, seeing them all in their garages being worked on between practices is cool, but the other times I mentioned above were great as well. Watching a line of cars drive right past you while heading out to the track is really cool, and you never know what you’ll see while walking around in there while practice is underway. Teams come and go as they need to make major adjustments on their cars, and every now and then you’ll run in to a driver or team owner down there too. Here are a couple of clips of the cars coming and going from the garage.

Keep your head on a swivel when in the garage. This applies for any event, to be honest. The teams have a job to do, and they won’t hesitate to move you out of the way so they can get things done. During the more busy times, hearing the horns on their carts was a pretty common thing, and occasionally you’d hear someone getting yelled at as a moving race car was headed towards them while they weren’t paying attention. Seriously, keep track of your surroundings and stay out of their way. Want to know how easy it is to get caught up in the action? Check out my clip of the Rahal BMWs leaving the garage. I’d been recording the Vettes in the garage next door heading out when the first M6 departed. That wasn’t a big surprise, it was when the other one was pushed out to my left, which I wasn’t expecting. Fortunately I was able to (I hope) stay out of the way for it, but there was some initial surprise as the wing of the 25 suddenly came in to view right next to me :).

Food and drink

Just like the 24, you can take your own food and drink in. I completely forgot to bring my cooler with me, so I ended up buying food and drink at the track Saturday. The prices aren’t NFL-diculous, but still, I could have saved a few bucks and avoided some lines by stocking up before arriving.

Cameras

Keep at least one camera at the ready at all times. I didn’t take any serious gear this time, I just kept my iPhone gear and GoPro handy, and frankly, enjoyed using the GoPro to capture the cars. I picked up the 3-way arm for it Saturday morning, and while I liked having the additional reach, it allowed for more camera shake than I liked, so maybe I’ll pick up an arm with a gimbal for St Pete. I was also burning through battery in both pretty quickly, so had to recharge them both with my portable charger a few times on Saturday, so be sure to keep one handy. Also, if you’re bringing gear to try and get good shots of the cars on track, bring a step stool so you can get a clean shot over the fences. I used one during our first trip to the 24 in 2012, but forgot it last time and again for the Roar, and was pretty mad at myself both times. Sure, I could have left the track and gone across the street to Target to pick one up, but leave the track? Seriously?

Enjoy the facilities!

Don’t just stay near the fan zone and garage, get out and walk the infield. I walked out to speedway turn 2 on Saturday and took in some of the action on the high speed turn, then walked the lake back over to the boardwalk club. There are some great spots to enjoy the action all over the track, so don’t limit yourself to one location. My Microsoft Band claims I walked 13.1 miles on Saturday alone!

Tickets

One thing I learned the hard way, get your tickets far enough in advance for them to arrive before you go. I didn’t have much choice here, since this was so last minute, so I ordered online with will call pickup as my only choice. For Saturday that was fine, I got there shortly after 8am, and the will call window was open, so I picked up my ticket and headed in to the track. I’d originally only ordered my Saturday ticket, as I wasn’t sure if I was going to drive home that night, or wait until Sunday. Well, I’d decided to stay for Sunday, but couldn’t go ahead and buy my ticket at that point, as will call was the only thing open, and I didn’t want to wait until the regular ticket office opened at 9am. Guess what? I had to Sunday morning. I’d gone ahead and ordered online for will call pickup Saturday night, but on Sunday, will call doesn’t open early, so I had to wait until 9am to get my ticket and head in. Sure, it was only an hour delay, and the WeatherTech cars weren’t on track yet, but I like to get inside as early as possible :).

I think that about covers it. I really did find the weekend worth the 13 total hours of driving I did to and from Daytona, as the Roar ticket is a heck of a value, even if it is just testing. Getting to see the new Ganassi Racing Ford GT was a pretty good bonus too, that thing is an absolute demon (in a good way ūüôā ).

Enjoy some of my favorite pics from the weekend, and if you can make it out to the Roar and/or the 24, do it, you’ll have a blast!

IMG_5399IMG_5114IMG_5113 IMG_5158 IMG_5161 IMG_5169 IMG_5189 IMG_5192 IMG_5201 IMG_5203 IMG_5207 IMG_5245 IMG_5335 IMG_5436IMG_5407 IMG_5464 IMG_5493 IMG_5299IMG_5501 IMG_5508 IMG_5531 IMG_5534 IMG_5535IMG_5536 IMG_5577 IMG_5604

24 Hours of Speed – Part 2

Picking up where I left off in part 1, after grabbing a golf cart from the suite back to the infield, we immediately headed for the Ferris wheel. One of the best views of the race at night is from that thing, and at that point in the night, it wasn’t busy all, so we got an extra-long ride. To get an idea of the view you get of the infield, here are a few night shots I took, and be sure to check out the video I posted of a full rotation while looking over the infield.

WP_20150125_00_23_14_Pro WP_20150125_00_26_36_ProWP_20150125_00_23_31_Pro

With our midnight Ferris wheel ride over, we decided to rest in the Audi Boardwalk Club¬†for a few minutes before walking the paddock¬†and pits. When we walked in and sat down, there was only one other table of people in there. It took all of 2 minutes for Bayley and I to realize who two of them were; Conor Daly and James Hinchcliffe. Hinch was at the 24¬†as a co-driver on the #70 SpeedSource Mazda, and as mentioned in the previous post, their race¬†had ended a little earlier with an oil pump failure. We’re both big fans of the Mayor of Hinchtown, so it was cool to walk in to that. I’m not one to bother someone (regardless of who it is) while they’re hanging out and relaxing, so we just sat and rested for a few. At one point, Hinch got up and walked past us, so I went ahead and asked if we could get a pic with him and Bayley, and as usual (he’s one of the most fan-friendly IndyCar drivers), he was happy to oblige:

WP_20150125_01_05_10_Pro

Shortly after that, somewhere around 1am, the three of us decided to head to the paddock to see if any cars were in for work. Sure enough, there were a few teams hard at work repairing cars, and a couple cars covered due to terminal issues. Walking pit lane, there was plenty of action there too with teams filling up fueling rigs, getting misc parts together, and preparing for pit stops. These shots are another example of how much of a team sport this really is. There’s also one in here taken just before the Paul Miller Racing guys did a driver change, with Christopher Haase standing on the pit wall in full gear waiting for their Audi R8 to make its way to the pits.

WP_20150125_01_20_21_Pro WP_20150125_01_22_26_Pro WP_20150125_01_24_41_Pro WP_20150125_01_27_05_Pro WP_20150125_01_28_13_Pro WP_20150125_01_34_38_Pro WP_20150125_01_47_17_Pro WP_20150125_01_47_57_Pro

After walking around down there for a bit, the kids decided they wanted to rest for a while, so they headed back to the boardwalk club, while I continued walking around. I’d hardly done any shooting with the Nikon D750 I rented for the trip, so I decided to head over to the infield grandstands to get some shooting in. I forgot to bring my step stool, a very handy tool for getting shots over the fence line at the track, so I used the grandstands in the turns 3, 4 and 7 areas to do some night shooting. While I didn’t shoot nearly as many pictures as a did last time, I did get a few that I like:

DSC_2020 DSC_2030 DSC_2043 DSC_2049 DSC_2134 DSC_2149 DSC_2161 DSC_2184 DSC_2204 DSC_2271 DSC_2313 DSC_2314 DSC_2317 Header2

Between walks of those grandstands, I stopped in the Boardwalk Club to check on the kids. They were both pretty tired, but on my stop in there, her friend and I downed some Red Bull to stay awake. They did use the floor in there as a bed for about 10 minutes each, but that was about the extent of the sleeping. I’m pretty sure we were the only ones with the Audi ME tickets who stayed the entire night, as we were the only non-employees in the Boardwalk Club between 2am and 6am.

WP_20150125_03_22_18_Pro WP_20150125_03_59_10_Pro WP_20150125_04_14_05_Pro WP_20150125_04_26_05_Pro WP_20150125_04_26_11_Pro WP_20150125_04_26_56_Prov

Around 6am, the catering staff began to arrive, and we cleaned up our area a bit so we weren’t in the way. As more people began to show up, the sun started rising over the backstretch. I absolutely love watching the sun come up at the track, and the patio area of the Boardwalk Club was a great place to do so.

WP_20150125_06_42_47_Pro WP_20150125_06_43_56_Pro

After breakfast, we had to head back to the room for a few minutes to check on Bayley’s cat, so we grabbed a golf cart back to the car corral, piled in my daughter’s Jeep, and were on our way. I admit, it was nice to clean up a little at the hotel after being up for more than 24 hours. We only stayed for about 20 minutes, then headed back to the track, where we decided to spend some time relaxing in the suite. If I recall, we were the only ones in there at that point, so the kids hung out inside while I sat in the seats outside for a bit, taking in more of the race.

At about 10:45am, after just over an hour and a half hanging out in the suite, we decided to head to the Boardwalk Club for lunch. One of the things we hadn’t taken advantage of yet were the race updates. Audi¬†did these a couple of times Saturday and once or twice Sunday, and it was basically a short update on the status of the Audi teams from one or more of the drivers. For the 11am update today,¬†Dion von Moltke from Paul Miller Racing¬†was there between stints to update us on their race. They’d had a pretty good race up to the 17 hour mark, fighting for the win, but a couple of issues late in the race had them fighting to get back up front. While Dion was in there talking, we could see on the monitors above him that another issue struck the car, as it was spending an extended period of time in the pits. In the shot below where you can see the monitors above him, the one on the left is the live shot out the rear of his¬†car as it was sitting on pit lane.

WP_20150125_11_05_55_Pro__highres WP_20150125_11_06_38_Pro WP_20150125_10_46_52_Pro WP_20150125_10_46_38_Pro

The update was cool, something I wish we’d taken advantage of on Saturday, but live and learn. After Dion finished up, we enjoyed one last meal in the Boardwalk club (off that awesome menu above), and headed back to the suite to end the race. We expected it to be full late in the race, so we wanted to get there as quick as possible to get decent seats, which we managed to do. There were only a few people there at that point, so the kids grabbed some seats along the window inside, and I grabbed a spot outside to enjoy the final couple of hours. It did get pretty busy, as expected, but it was a great place to watch the end of the race. We were all worn out, and walking around really wasn’t an option. Those last 15 minutes made for a good race, as Jordan Taylor, was putting on a show trying to get back up to Scott Dixon, only to have all of that work undone by a miscalculation by the team on his time in the car. When the caution came out for a wreck near the bus stop and Jordan brought the #10 in to the pits, the assumption was they’d miscalculated on fuel, but jaws dropped around me when they did a driver change.¬†The guys over at Jalopnik have a pretty good story on what happened, it’s well worth the read.

With the race over, we headed down to grab a cart from the suite back to the car corral one last time. We hopped in our cars, headed to the hotel to rest, clean up, eat dinner and get a full night’s sleep. Bayley’s friend had never been to a race like this before and seemed to really enjoy himself all weekend, so hopefully we helped bring a new fan in to the sport. Regardless, the entire weekend was a blast. I was really happy with the decision to buy the Audi Motorsport Experience tickets, and can’t say enough good things about the staff, they were great all weekend. We’ve now done this race in two completely different ways, so next time maybe we just need to rent an RV and camp out in the infield all 4 days. One of these years, hopefully :). That last shot below of us on our balcony was taken after the race, just before we cleaned up for dinner. After roughly 36 hours of being awake we were wiped out, but loved every minute of it. Huge thank you to Audi Sport, Paul Miller Racing, and Flying Lizard Motorsports for an awesome weekend!

WP_20150125_09_15_40_Pro WP_20150125_09_16_21_Pro WP_20150125_11_37_52_Pro WP_20150125_11_42_17_Pro WP_20150125_12_07_02_Pro WP_20150125_12_35_41_Pro__highres WP_20150125_14_39_54_Pro

24 Hours of Speed – Part 1

As I said in my recap of the last Rolex 24 we went to, being at a race is definitely my happy place. There’s something about the sound of a race engine roaring to life, or a race car flying by me that I absolutely love. Last weekend Bayley and I, along with her best friend, made the trek to this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona. There are plenty of places where you can read coverage of the race itself, including my one of favorite sites, Racer.com, so I’ll stick to covering our experience. The race itself was great, with a lot of action on track, and a crazy last few laps. Being a fan of Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, I was happy to see them cross the stripe first for the overall victory, but I’d have loved to see my favorite GTD team, Flying Lizard, finish higher up the order. No matter, they fought hard the entire time to get back up to 10th¬†in class after some early clutch issues, and were still pushing hard when the clock hit zero on Sunday afternoon.

This race weekend was a much different experience than any past IndyCar or sports car race we’ve been to. Normally I just get the standard¬†3-4 day weekend package with grandstand seats for whatever race we’re going to, but this time I splurged a little and went with the Audi Motorsport Experience tickets. We’ve never done a race on any sort of hospitality tickets, and looking back, I couldn’t be happier with the choice, Audi took great care of us all weekend. The tickets themselves included access to a number of things we’d never had access to at a race before that will all be covered here, and we loved every minute of it.

WP_20150114_14_49_37_Pro

When we got to Daytona on Friday evening we went straight to the track. Even though the Continental Tire Series race had just ended, I had business to attend to in the garage area before the teams called it a night, and we wanted to hit Tijuana Flats for dinner after that, which is right across the street from the track. Walking the garage at a track off-hours definitely reminds you that this is a team sport. While the drivers may be off doing appearances or resting up for the race, the crews are usually hard at work getting the car ready.

WP_20150123_17_22_35_ProWP_20150123_17_23_04_ProWP_20150123_17_51_45_ProWP_20150123_17_55_13_Pro WP_20150123_18_04_10_ProWP_20150123_18_07_08_ProWP_20150123_18_19_59_Pro

Come Saturday morning, our normal race weekend plan kicked in. Bayley knows that I like to get to the track as early as possible, so that meant getting to the Audi Boardwalk Club, the heart of their hospitality setup located in the middle of the infield, as soon as we could. We left the hotel around 7:20am and got to the Audi car corral about 20 minutes later. They’d included two parking passes with our tickets, so my daughter parked her Jeep over with the other non-Audi cars, while I parked my little TT roadster in line next to a beautiful R8.

WP_20150124_07_52_15_Pro-2WP_20150124_07_52_58_ProWP_20150124_07_53_36_ProWP_20150124_07_54_55_Pro

Once we had all of our stuff, we hopped on the Audi golf cart shuttles, which took us pretty much wherever we needed to go over the course of the weekend, and headed to the Boardwalk Club to get signed in. These tickets included a few behind the scenes things that we wanted to be sure and get spots for:

  • Hot lap
  • Audi paddock (garage) tour
  • Hot pit tour during the race

When we initially signed up, we were on the 11am hot lap list, which was pretty long. Right after we went and sat down in the Boardwalk Club to enjoy some breakfast, one of the girls from the front desk came over and asked if we wanted to switch to the 8:30 hot lap, as they had a couple of openings. We enthusiastically agreed, and hopped on one of the carts to head to the IMSA (series) hauler to sign our lives away.

The hot lap is exactly¬†what it sounds like. A lap around the track at speed. Since we were with Audi, that obviously meant doing the lap in an Audi, specifically a new S3 (the blue one below). It was pretty wet out, and even started raining a bit harder as we were standing on pit road waiting for our turn. We expected them to shut it down, considering all the high speed infield turns, as well as the steep speedway turns. Nope. The line of hot lap cars came in, and we hopped right in and took off. It was an absolute blast, with our driver telling us that they weren’t even holding back in the wet, the cars were gripping just fine. Coming off of turn 7 (speedway turn 2) on to the back straight, we were doing almost 120mph in a street car. So. Much. Fun. In addition to the pics below, I’ve got video of the hot lap up on YouTube beneath them.

WP_20150124_08_27_11_ProWP_20150124_08_28_43_ProWP_20150124_08_28_50_ProWP_20150124_08_29_55_Pro

Once the hot lap was over, we walked around the garage a bit before heading back to the Boardwalk Club. Our first two activities were almost back to back, with the paddock tours scheduled for 9:30am. On arrival, we once again boarded a golf cart shuttle and headed back to the garage area. This time around, we were getting a behind the scenes tour of the garages for both Audi teams, Flying Lizard and Paul Miller Racing, along with a tour of the Audi Customer Racing parts hauler. We all had a blast. In addition to getting to see the crew of my favorite car at work (the #45), our guide Mark did a great job of explaining things along the way and answering questions as they came up. The guys in the Audi hauler were really cool, too. The hauler is equipped with two spare R8 chassis and enough parts to build a couple more cars. They just sit there and wait for one of the teams to come over needing a part. A good race for the Audi teams means the guys in the parts hauler have no work :).

WP_20150124_09_31_08_ProWP_20150124_09_31_56_ProWP_20150124_09_32_27_ProWP_20150124_09_33_37_Pro WP_20150124_09_36_18_ProWP_20150124_09_37_14_ProWP_20150124_09_38_40_ProWP_20150124_09_39_15_Pro WP_20150124_09_41_10_ProWP_20150124_09_49_46_ProWP_20150124_09_51_19_ProWP_20150124_09_47_46_Pro

Once our paddock tours ended, we were left to do whatever we wanted until later that evening, as our last scheduled event was the hot pit tour at 9pm. We walked around for a bit, checking out the final activity in the garages, and headed back over to the Boardwalk Club for lunch. One of the nice things about these tickets is that they included all meals, as well as snacks overnight. All of the meals were outstanding. Our lunch menu on Saturday included some delicious weiner schnitzel and German potato salad, among other items. During lunch, the drivers for both of the Audi teams arrived for the pre-race driver meet and greet for Audi hospitality guests. Each of the teams were on stage for a few minutes talking about how their car was running, what they expected out of the race, and doing a short Q&A. Definitely a nice touch.

WP_20150124_10_06_35_ProWP_20150124_10_07_41_ProWP_20150124_10_08_51_ProWP_20150124_10_09_15_Pro

Once we were done with lunch, we headed over to the autograph session. We’d gotten some Audi flags at the Boardwalk Club, and decided to get them signed by all 8 Audi drivers. The autograph tables are divided into stations, with something like 6 tables per station. Fortunately both of the Audi teams were at the same station, so we only had to stand in one line, but on the flip side, Patrick Dempsey’s team was also in the same station, which meant it’d have a very long line. We got there a little early and waited in line near the front, but it was a really long line by the time the session started. I feel bad for the Dempsey fans in line, too. About 10 minutes before the session started, someone with his team walked by to let anyone waiting for him know that Dempsey would be a no-show for autographs (no reason was given), and would be replaced by Hurley Haywood. While it was cool to see a legend like that sit in last minute, I’d bet less than half of those waiting for Dempsey even know who Haywood is. Regardless, we got what we came for. In addition to the smaller flag, I also got a flag I bought at the 2012 race signed by the entire 2015 Rolex 24 Flying Lizard team this weekend. Drivers, crew, everyone. Of the few pieces of autographed memorabilia I have, this is easily a favorite. The picture¬†of me holding that flag was shot very early Sunday morning, so ignore how rough I look ūüôā

WP_20150124_11_53_56_ProWP_20150124_11_56_20_ProWP_20150124_11_54_48_ProWP_20150124_13_10_57_ProWP_20150125_04_45_53_Pro

Our autographed flags in hand, we hopped a golf cart to the car corral to switch out some stuff before the race started. Our plan was to watch the start from the Audi suite on the front stretch. None of us had watched a race from a suite before, and while I normally like to be closer to the track during a race, this was actually a great spot. We had an excellent view of the pits and front stretch from the seats in front of the suite, and Audi staff were on hand inside the suite offering up drinks and snacks, all included with our tickets.

WP_20150124_13_27_39_ProWP_20150124_15_12_38_ProDSC_1569DSC_1586 DSC_1742DSC_1650DSC_1722WP_20150124_15_28_00_ProDSC_1623

I’m not good at sitting in one place for any length of time, so after a couple of hours enjoying the action from the suite, we hopped a cart and headed back to the infield to watch the race from the Ferris wheel. This is one of the coolest places to see the race from, especially at night. We did both a day and a night ride, fun stuff.

WP_20150124_16_47_45_ProWP_20150124_16_47_53_ProWP_20150124_16_49_32_ProWP_20150124_16_48_47_Pro

After the ride and a walk through the carnival games area, we headed back to the Boardwalk Club for what was easily the best meal of the weekend. Inside, Audi’s chef had a long table with things like roasted potatoes, penne Gorgonzola, and beef tenderloin. Outside they had a table with a large amount of smoked sausage and corn on the cob, along with¬†a table of oysters. Did I mention Audi took really good care of us all weekend? To top it all off, they had a delicious wall of dessert inside.

WP_20150124_17_03_23_ProWP_20150124_17_12_43_ProWP_20150124_17_17_10_Pro

WP_20150124_17_13_30_ProWP_20150124_17_14_33_ProWP_20150124_17_30_49_Pro

Not long after dinner we did break my main rule of the Rolex 24: once you’re in the track, you’re in until it’s over. With the kids heading back to college after the race, my daughter had her cat Luna with us¬†(who lives with her in her dorm at Eckerd), and he was back in the hotel room alone, so we left for a little while to go check on him. We couldn’t stay long, however, as our last scheduled event was on tap at 9:15pm, the hot pit tour. We left the track a little after 7:30pm and got back about 8:45pm. Upon arriving, we took a cart straight back to the Boardwalk Club to check in for our pit tour.

When we got to the pits, they gave us IMSA visitor hard-cards and some headsets so we could talk to Mark. Because of how busy the Paul Miller Racing guys were (fighting for the lead in GTD at the time), we only got to tour the Flying Lizard pits, but it was a blast. We hung out in there for a little over 10 minutes and got to see one of their pits stops, along with the final pit stop of the #70 SpeedSource Mazda prototype before it retired with a fatal oil pump issue. It was all very cool to watch, those crews really bust their butts. The last pic below is the Mazda in for its stop.

WP_20150124_21_19_50_ProWP_20150124_21_22_18_ProWP_20150124_21_22_31_ProWP_20150124_21_22_53_ProWP_20150124_21_23_09_Pro WP_20150124_21_24_03_ProWP_20150124_21_25_08_ProWP_20150124_21_30_51_ProWP_20150124_21_33_39_Pro

After the pit tour, we decided to hang out in the Boardwalk Club for a while and watch the 10pm fireworks. This is always a highlight of the evening, one that everyone attending should make a point to watch. Race cars and fireworks. What could be better? I’ve got videos of the fireworks as seen from the patio at the Boardwalk Club here, and here. Looking at the last one, the smoke from the finale must have been blinding for the drivers as they came down the backstretch. Shortly after the fireworks, the staff put out some sliders for everyone who was still there. Not that we needed more food, but hey, might as well get our money’s worth, right?

Our last move of Saturday night was grabbing a cart and heading back to the front stretch suite to watch the race from there for a while. The suite closed at midnight, so by the time we got over there, I think we only stayed for about 45 minutes before heading back to the infield as Saturday ended. It was well worth the cart ride, the suite provided an outstanding view of the track at night.

DSC_1852DSC_1856WP_20150124_23_33_00_ProWP_20150124_23_33_43_Pro

I think that about covers our Saturday at the track. We really enjoyed all of the special events Audi put together, and were enjoying the race as well. Next up in part 2: Sunday at the Rolex 24!